Rebuilding after fire in Sierra Leone
On 24 March 2021, a devastating fire broke out in Susan’s Bay slum in Freetown, Sierra Leone. 7,000 people were left homeless with no shelter, food, or medical supplies. VSO volunteers have been helping the community rebuild.
VSO volunteers community response
On seeing horrifying reports of the fire on the news, Samuel Turay (30) a national volunteer for VSO, went to Susan’s Bay to assess the damage and see what could be done. The scale of the disaster was unexpected to him.
Samuel explains how “I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. There was ash everywhere and I was coughing from inhaling the smoke. The fire still raged in parts of the community. Children and pregnant women needed looking after. It was truly shocking."
Tragically, due to the community being very poor, some of the most vulnerable people including children and pregnant women couldn't even afford medicine or hospital treatment. "It was very hard to get medical supplies into the community. There is a very narrow access road, not even a motorbike can get in. But this was an emergency. We had to help people."
“I felt absolute devastation for the families. To see children suffer, and the negative impact this will have on their future. They are innocent. They deserve an equal life just like me,” said Samuel.
Following a risk assessment, Samuel mobilised a team of volunteers to help distribute relief packages and supplies to the community including food, phone credit and transport. Food had to be carefully rationed and checked to ensure it was in good condition.
The volunteers helped establish a register to ensure supplies were distributed fairly. The most vulnerable members of the community were prioritised, and 400 women and people with disabilities received food parcels and sanitary supplies.
In the overcrowded slum, the work of volunteers like Samuel was vital in helping to identify individuals not on the register. They were also there to ensure social distancing was being maintained where possible, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Everything burnt down in the fire, including school materials. VSO community volunteers helped identify school supplies for each school.
"Volunteers provided psychosocial support to the families in the community who were experiencing deep trauma. Games and events were also organised to help parents and children recover. Many women were offered support to help rebuild their small businesses.”
Six months on
Some homes have started to be rebuilt, but the situation remains unstable and the community fragile and exposed. "The community has flash floods - water has flooded tents, soaking their clothes and spoiling food. We also lost four children who died from the cold."
VSO volunteers are committed to helping communities rebuild. They understand their needs, and how best to reach them. Many more lives will be saved when communities are better prepared for disaster. VSO helps prepare and protect communities against future disasters through ongoing risk assessments, disaster preparedness mapping and early warning systems - working side by side with local community members and other NGOs.