NEW ROCHELLE, NY (Aug. 15, 2014) Salesian Missions has launched an emergency fund to assist Salesian missionaries in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone who are working to help contain the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. To raise money for the fund, the Catholic nonprofit aid organization has launched an emergency fundraising campaign and is asking the public for donations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the epidemic a global health emergency.
“The situation is extremely urgent,” said Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the international Salesians of Don Bosco.
“We are hearing from our missionaries in the affected countries and they are asking for immediate assistance to help fund their life-saving efforts.”
According to Fr. Hyde, Salesian missionaries are reporting that the local health care systems and government agencies are ill equipped to respond to the crisis. Additionally, the misinformation and myths surrounding how the disease is spread—including that health care workers are the ones spreading it—is having deadly consequences.
“People at risk are not properly informed,” added Fr. Hyde. “This increases the spread of Ebola because people with symptoms are not seeking medical attention.”
In Liberia, Salesian missionaries—along with local volunteers—are working to reach people at risk in rural areas. They are providing basic information and instructions from the Ministry of Health, distributing gloves, long-sleeve shirts, and disinfecting agents such as chlorine. The missionaries are reporting that they are in desperate need of these supplies, which is why funds are needed.
In Ghana, the Salesian-run Don Bosco Youth Network of West Africa is heading up an aggressive public education campaign in an attempt to head off the kind of humanitarian disaster Ebola has wrought in neighboring countries.
“In Ghana, basic hygiene and health safety is limited in the media, despite what’s happening literally next door,” says David Mensah, coordinator of the network. “And, given the porous nature of Ghana’s borders, it is imperative that we act immediately to inform and educate so that we may save lives.”
The campaign will use materials for television and radio broadcast, as well as flyers, posters, banners, billboards and other visual materials to be posted throughout the country — including remote areas where TV and radio are unavailable. Don Bosco Network is also developing plans to share these materials with Salesian youth centers in Nigeria, which is reporting new cases daily.
Salesian missionaries are also working in Sierra Leone where, according to the WHO, 40 percent of the total reported cases of Ebola have occurred.
“They are sharing supplies of rice with other religious organizations working directly with the sick in the few hospitals that remain open,” said Fr. Hyde. “Efforts to contain the outbreak are an exhausting struggle for our missionaries who are working at great personal risk.”
The Salesian missionaries are also running their annual youth camp and are using this as an opportunity to educate 200 youth in attendance. They are learning how to properly wash their hands, how to effectively disinfect surfaces, and how to adjust cultural habits such as frequent hugging and handshaking.
The hope is that these young people will then bring this information back to their families and communities at the end of each camp day, which should have an impact on the spread of this deadly virus.
“We need to reduce the feeling of fear and panic among the people, and try to educate them through their children,” said Father Uba, director of Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown.
Starvation in all of the affected countries is also a concern and something Salesian Missions is responding to as part of its emergency appeal. According to reports from its aid workers in the field, local markets have been shuttered and many farmers have died. Many schoolchildren who could previously count on at least one meal a day from Salesian schools are left hungry because schools have been ordered closed by the government in an attempt to contain the outbreak. So, new (more expensive) methods of food distribution must be undertaken.
Salesian Missions is urging the public to donate to its Ebola Emergency Fund, which will go directly to support missionaries currently working on the ground in countries affected by the Ebola outbreak. Go to www.SalesianMissions.org/ebola to give
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