Saved By Air Kisses and Motorcycle Mamas

The two years of the Ebola crisis turned Sierra Leone upside down but surprisingly some good came out of such troubled times - as reported from the Karma Cola Foundation.

Imagine not being able to hug, hold or kiss your loved ones? The terrible irony of Ebola was that when your family and friends were ill and dying it was hard not to physically reach out for comfort, but these little acts of intimacy were the paths that become highways for the disease.

The two years of the Ebola crisis turned Sierra Leone upside down. At its peak five people an hour were being infected, burial crews were treated like pariahs and went on strike, people had to stay at home and the economy and life as people knew it stood still. It was dreadful.

Times of crisis like this are testing but they also inspire resourcefulness, necessity being the mother of invention. In Sierra Leone, the Tiwai and Boma communities supported by the Karma Cola Foundation were miraculously protected from Ebola infection by the inventive mothers and fathers of the community.

Another thing that made the threat of Ebola so difficult to deal with was being stuck, and not able to move around to get food and supplies.

Three women observed this and approached the Karma Cola Foundation with an idea. They wanted to start a business by going out, on motorbikes, purchasing essentials, and then selling them in their villages. The Foundation granted their wish with micro-loans to purchase goods and hire motorbike taxis for transport. So they went out and found essential items: toothpaste, matches, tomato puree, batteries, soap, salt, pepper, sugar and cigarettes (when times are tough, the odd ciggy is a comfort).

This allowed the villagers access to things they needed without risking infection through frequent contact with trade from outside the community.

“The Karma Cola Foundation team and the community committee negotiated with the women explaining that they had to figure out how to sell the produce to the villagers at a price they could afford,” explains Albert Tucker, Chair of the Karma Cola Foundation. “Plus they had to contribute a percentage towards a development fund so other entreprenuers could be helped in the same way, and they could keep the rest as profit and reinvestment in their own business.”

The women have contributed over a million leones (US$200) to the local development fund so far. Now, Ebola is gone but the businesses are still going and growing making affordable goods accessible and saving the villagers transport costs.

The other challenge in the fight against infection was that the average person in Tiwai hadn’t had the benefit of medical or health services; no-one, including the global medical community understood much about how Ebola was transmitted and how to keep safe. So as more information came to light a massive education programme had to happen - and really fast.

A group of community workers, volunteers and leaders tackled this head on. Going from house to house, with chlorine, saba soap and hand washing stations the team convinced everyone to listen, change habits and take the medical advice seriously.

That included not burying family members, accepting, and using the medical and hygiene supplies provided by the Foundation and other NGOs and institutions.

The Karma Cola Foundation also funded medication for local health centres.

It’s incredible nobody was infected in these communities.

“It demonstrates how the people we work with are a strong team, how the village elders make good decisions, swiftly and they can stand on their own two feet, all 4000 of them,” says Albert.

The youth of Sierra Leone also invented new ways of showing their affection without infection – air hugging, air shaking and air kissing.

Thanks for supporting the Karma Cola Foundation by buying Karma Cola and helping the people in Boma and the other Tiwai villages help themselves.

What goes around comes around.

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