A couple of weeks ago I had one of those experiences that changes your whole perspective on the world.
It was a Wednesday night, and Lauren and I were hosting a call with some of our scholarship girls in Sierra Leone, and our Project Officer, Emmanuel (the calls are something we offer to our Founding Members of Graduation) – We wanted to hear a direct update from them about how being back in school has impacted their life and how every day life was going after the Ebola outbreak had calmed down.
We’ve hosted a call like this once before, and it was amazing to hear from our scholarship girls and actually hear them. As the Chief Wordsmith at One Girl I’m constantly reading incredible stories about our scholars, seeing their photos, and even footage of them – so it often feels like I have met them before even though I’ve never been to Sierra Leone.
But hearing them on the other end of the phone is just a totally different experience. Being able to chat to them about their favourite subjects in school, what a typical day in their life looks like, and how much a difference education has made for them – is an absolute highlight of my job.
So we were super excited for our next one, but just a few days before we’d scheduled to have a call with Emmanuel and two of our scholarship girls in Freetown, Madeline and Fatmata, the city was devastated by some major flooding.
Every year the monsoon season in Sierra Leone brings heavy downpours and the worst affected areas are often the slum communities where our scholarship girls live with their families.
We went back and forth about whether or not we should bring this up on the call – but we knew we wanted our supporters to hear the hard realities of our work, as well as the incredibly uplifting inspiring parts.
We’d received some emails and photos (which we’ve added here) from Emmanuel in the days before, and he described the destruction and chaos following on from the floods. There were around 4,000 people displaced – and already several fatalities – and some of our scholarship girls were directly affected.
Four of our scholarship girls and their families were being housed in the National Stadium where the government had set up temporary housing for those who had lost everything. Even weeks later, there are still thousands of homeless and displaced Freetown residents living in the stadium.
Altogether fifteen of our scholars and their families were directly affected. Emmanuel himself went around to personally check in with the families and find out what their immediate needs were. He told us about girls who had literally lost everything in the floods.
The homes of many of the girls live in within the slums are often just makeshift houses, and without any kind of structural support the water can simply wash them away – and with it everything they own.
Books, clothes, personal items – all washed away with the rolling floodwaters.
On the call I struggled to comprehend the level of destruction these girls and their families had experienced. I couldn’t even imagine losing everything I owned, including my house, in a single moment. And not just material possessions – but a home, a place to sleep, a place to seek shelter and feel safe.
All of that washed away, in an instant.
My heart broke for them. First their country is torn apart by Ebola, and just has they’re beginning to recover, to pick up the pieces, floods rage through and devastate their community all over again.
But Emmanuel continued to tell us of the girls’ strength and resilience as well. He visited one scholar, Jeneba, who let him know that her uniform and books had been washed away, and she would need new ones.
Their minds immediately went straight back to school, and when they’d be able to return.
Emmanuel said it was a similar experience when Ebola had forced schools shut. Whenever he would check in with the girls and their families, they would constantly ask “when can we go back to school?”
It’s totally heartbreaking and completely inspiring all at once. It feels like it’s just one thing after another that they are coming up against, but as always the resilience and strength of the girls just blows us away.
They’re always looking forward and preparing themselves for what is next. They take what life throws at them, and they simply keep on going. The strength that takes is mind boggling. These are girls who will not give up.
And we knew we had to do something to help. So as we did under Ebola, we will be providing Hardship Grants to our scholarship girls and their families, to ensure their immediate needs (namely shelter, food and medical supplies) are met.
These grants will be coming out of our general funding, so if you’d like to contribute to this fund you can do so here.
We’ll keep you posted with more updates about the recovery after the flooding and how our scholars and their families are doing as we hear it from Emmanuel.