Rotary Jumps In … Hearts First
Writer / Janelle Morrison
As Ebola continues to dominate the media headlines, take lives and leave children as orphans, the local Rotary Clubs within the Rotary District 6560 have stepped up to assist their brother and sister Rotarians in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone, along with Guinea and Liberia, have been ravaged by the Ebola epidemic and labeled by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks to date.
The Sierra Leone government, development partners and civil society including the Rotary Club of Freetown and the Rotary Club of Freetown Sunset, are focusing on educating their citizens on how to prevent the transmission of Ebola. They are also encouraging people to promptly seek medical care in the event that they experience signs and symptoms associated with the disease.
The Rotary Club of Freetown raised nearly $3,000 in August 2014 to help increase public awareness campaigns in the two major epicentres of the outbreak, Kenema and Kailahun in the eastern region.
Radio has been used as a key medium in the current communication and social mobilisation strategy in Sierra Leone.
The region’s greatest obstacle in slowing the advancement and containment of Ebola is the lack of required treatment centres, equipment and supplies. More than 30 nurses and three key doctors have died in the most recent months, essentially because of the lack of proper protective gear. Hospitals and community health facilities have closed down, with health personnel leaving their jobs for fear of being infected. The lack of protective gear, essential drugs and treatment supplies has seriously undermined national efforts to stem person-to-person transmission.
Secondly, the unwillingness and sometimes resistance by citizens to immediately inform public health officials of sick family members and regions’ governments response to remove such individuals from affected communities have contributed to the spread of Ebola.
The latter problem is now being addressed through massive awareness building campaigns to ensure that each household is reached with critical information. Through this process they hope to ensure community commitment and involvement in the halting of the disease.
President Emmanuel Assamany of the Rotary Club of Freetown reached out to his sister clubs including the Rotary Club of Fishers, who they have developed a meaningful partnership with over the years with the Water is Life project. Assamany’s intentions are to garner support and aid from his fellow Rotarians in this time of crisis. His hopes are that by collaborating efforts and resources with other Rotarians from around the world, the containment and possible end to Ebola would be nearer in sight.
The president of the Rotary Club of Fishers Michele Whelchel, spoke about her club’s decision to get involved and to share Assamany’s request for aid with other Rotary clubs in their district.
“In 2008-2009 our club decided to take on an international project called Water is Life,” Whelchel said. “At that time, our goal was to drill 100 wells in Sierra Leone and we partnered with the Rotary Club of Freetown. People were dying because of the water that they were drinking. Since 2009, we’ve been drilling wells and several of our club members have made trips to assist and oversee the progress in Sierra Leone.
We’ve hosted their clubs’ presidents here in the U.S. at our events and they have spoken to our members in regards to the progress that our efforts have contributed to. This project has built a strong relationship and friendship with our counterparts in Sierra Leone.”
When news of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone reached the leadership of the Rotary Club of Fishers, the members felt that they needed to assist their fellow Rotarians overseas with their immediate needs.
“When I first read President Emmanuel’s proposal, I cried,” Whelchel admitted. “I was so struck by his words. Rotarian presidents, past or current, have a kinship that develops naturally. Our District Governor, Tom Branum, Jr. first shared the proposal with me and I then shared it with our club. Our members have fostered friendships with the Rotarians from Sierra Leone. Our board discussed the proposal and we felt that the biggest concern was the need was for personal protective equipment (PPE). Do we think it’s a drop in the bucket? Yes. Will it make a difference and help to save a life? Yes.”
So as not to suffer a mission drift, the Fishers club has invested a lot of money and resources into the wells that have been drilled in Sierra Leone, Whelchel requested that the last three wells of their 100 wells drilled commitment be installed next to hospitals.
“Our Water is Life committee deserve a lot of credit,” Whelchel stated. “They have dedicated a lot of their time, energy and resources and have engaged many clubs throughout our district who have donated to this cause, so they’ve already been committed to saving lives and helping to build this relationship with Sierra Leone.”
Whelchel sent word to Assamany that help is on the way. His response was heartfelt and hopeful.
“Thanks for your support and encouragement in this time of calamity,” Assamany expressed. “Most of our club members are out of the country but the few of us left continue to meet regularly to discuss our input and support to the effort at driving out Ebola from our country. As at now the situation is not getting any better. Most disturbing is the fact that we continue to lose a large number of health care personnel to Ebola. Our hope lies in the consolation that the international community is now waking up to the calamity that confronts us and is beginning to pledge support. Continue to remember us in your prayers.”
Whelchel has partnered with Project Hope who is coordinating the logistics and shipments of the PPEs with the funds raised by this effort.
“We reached out to our connections and after rigorous research, we found our best partnership is with Project Hope,” Whelchel explained. “Project Hope specializes in humanitarian efforts overseas. They are a credible organization and are already well established. They understand customs and are able to effectively safeguard the shipments to ensure that they reach their intended destination.”
Whelchel’s goal is to raise and match donations for a total of a $10,000 contribution. Her club will match up donations up to this amount from donations received from other Rotary clubs, individuals and companies.
“Once we reach our goal of $10,000, we will gladly accept additional donations,” she said. “I created an account in the Rotary 6560 Foundation, so that it is tax deductible. We will then entrust the funds to Project Hope who has assured me that when that shipments arrive on land that they will have President Emmanuel at the dock to receive the shipments, personally. My goal is to have every single club’s name on our shipments that go over there, representing Rotary District 6560. We will gladly accept donations from members of our communities and encourage them to help spread the word. Time is of the essence and we are focused on obtaining the funds quickly so that the equipment arrives to our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone who are desperate to receive it.”
Clubs that have helped out so far include Carmel, Sheridan, Noblesville Midday, Plainfield, Indy North East and Greenfield Midday.
Rotary District 6560 Foundation
2181 Duke of York St.
Carmel, IN 46032
Memo: Fishers Ebola Help