After Fire in Sierra Leone, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation Partners Up to Help

National Headquarters  |  March 31, 2021
A fire burns through Susan’s Bay in Freetown, Sierra Leone on March 24, 2021. Photo/Desmond Jones and Mohamed Dakowa

Written by Dilber Shatursun

On the night of Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a fire broke out in a coastal neighborhood of Freetown, Sierra Leone called Susan’s Bay. It is an area where dwellings – and people – reside crowded together, with many employed as fishermen and petty traders, and where poverty runs high. As a result, though more than 500 homes (which encapsulated 1,597 households) were burned down in the blaze that unfolded, roughly 7,093 residents have now been left displaced with little but the clothing on their backs. 409 people sustained injuries. To help, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation (BTCF) partnered up with longtime local collaborators including Caritas Freetown, the Healey International Relief Foundation, the Lanyi Foundation, and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society.

A bustling coastal community is reduced to ash after fire in Susan’s Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo/Desmond Jones and Mohamed Dakowa

Working under the guidance of government authorities and other non-governmental organizations, volunteers on the ground conducted quick assessments and determined that food, water, shelter, and clothing were of utmost need. BTCF made a commitment to fund and provide both food and non-food supplies that included bags of rice, eco-blankets, clean water, spare clothing, and hot meal distribution points. Together with Caritas Freetown, BTCF established seven separate relief stations where volunteers from the community could help to cook and share meals for up to 2,000 people for the next three weeks (an approximate duration of 21 days).

Locals help to cook fresh food at one of seven relief stations. Photo/Desmond Jones and Mohamed Dakowa
Volunteers line up to get food out to residents as quickly as possible. Photo/Desmond Jones and Mohamed Dakowa

Having worked through many of these issues before in Freetown, Ishmael Charles explained on a previous occasion that much of the relief work of the partnership between these four organizations aligns with many of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. “SDG 6 clearly speaks about access to water, clean water, and sanitation. And as a complementary organization, a partnership, we believe that we have a responsibility to support government efforts,” he explained. As such, hand washing stations (to help prevent the spread of disease and maintain hygiene) were also set up throughout Susan’s Bay.

Under emergency conditions, hygiene is paramount to help prevent the rapid spread of illness and disease. Photo/Desmond Jones and Mohamed Dakowa

Among those impacted by this catastrophe are children, expecting and nursing mothers, the elderly, and those with disabilities. In order to cater to the particular needs of women and girls, BTCF and its partners are also putting together “dignity kits” to distribute. They include sanitary pads, laundry soap, and bathing soap. For those with young children, mothers can receive powdered formula, diapers, and baby food. Such supplies provide necessary comfort to infants, children and women enduring disaster situations and help improve sanitary conditions as well as prevent malnourishment.

Children, especially girls, and women have specific needs that must be met even in disaster situations. Photo/Desmond Jones and Mohamed Dakowa

From March 27 to 30, a total of 127 volunteers worked together to deliver 3,880 kilograms (or more than 4 tons) of rice that benefitted 8,148 people. Volunteers will continue to work together to serve the immediate needs of those affected, providing comfort, nourishment, and hope on the long journey they each have ahead.

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