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Washington: Diaspora teleconference call meeting with Sierra Leone Embassy

26 March 2020 at 17:20 | 1891 views

By Geneba Koroma, Reporter-at-Large

Sierra Leoneans gathered on the telephone lines on Wednesday March 25 at about 5:45 PM ET eager to listen to the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington DC. Letters were sent out to community leaders to share among their members, notifying them to attend the meeting. This is the first teleconference meeting the Embassy has called under the leadership of Ambassador Sidique Wai.

The meeting was called to order by the Head of Chancery, Madam Rakie Macarthy. In his opening remarks, the Deputy Ambassador, H.E Sheku Mesali, stated the reasons for the teleconference, which was mainly to brief the Sierra Leonean community in the USA, about the coronavirus, the measures the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington DC is taking to ensure the safety of all Sierra Leoneans.

Ambassador Sidique Wai (photo) started by thanking the President of Sierra Leone, Rtd, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio for zero Covid 19 in the country. He outlined the measures the government has taken to maintain zero Covid 19 in Sierra Leone: closing borders with countries reporting Covid 19 cases, sensitizing the nation to wash hands, practice social distancing and the suspension of airlines into the country.

The Ambassador went on to say that, the president has addressed the nation, on the coronavirus and the need to keep it out of the country. Cuba, China and the American Embassy in Sierra Leone are working in Sierra Leone, in various ways, to assist with the pandemic. He reiterated that if anyone knew any Philanthropic organization, that wants to help to contact the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington DC.

Ambassador Wai and Deputy Ambassador Sheku Mesali

He disclosed that the Sierra Leone Embassy during the coronavirus pandemic in the USA, SL embassy is open unlike other embassies in Washington DC.

The Embassy is practicing hand washing, social distancing, staff working virtually and still responsive to the general membership. He named Dr. Fouad Sheriff and others who have helped among other Sierra Leoneans working with Howard University for a grant of $1.5 million and they are remaining prayerful to get this grant. He cited an incident that happened in Nigeria, where he reached out to Ambassador, Dr. Solomon Gembeh, Sr. in Nigeria to release a Sierra Leonean, and also working with Sierra Leone ambassador to China, Ambassador Ernest Ndominah. The Embassy is also working with the DHS to stop all deportation, due to the Coronavirus, he reported.

Head of Chancery Rakie Macarthy

Dr. Demby briefly stated the way the Ebola was handled comparing it to the Coronavirus. He mentioned the use of protective personal equipment (PPE), communication and mobilization as necessary means to stop the virus from spreading into the country. Dr. Demby wanted all to take the fight individually, like what they did with Ebola. He wanted the Diasporas take the message to their districts, about the use of Clorox, etc., if any symptoms are seen or experienced to isolate the individual immediately and to seek medical help. It is important that we give them the correct information and if possible funds and/ or prayers, he insisted, to people in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Fouad Sheriff

Dr. Fouad Sheriff started by admonishing all that, “We need God’s blessing in the diaspora depending on what we are dealing with now”. He advised that one person should handle the mail in households as it is the weakest link, to transfer coronavirus in any household. Dr. Sheriff also talked about the CDC grant to assist Sierra Leone, to respond to epidemics like Cholera, but it is now a blessing in disguise…..with the advent of the coronavirus, the grant will be timely. Dr. Sheriff had shipped N 95 masks to Sierra Leone for an NGO, but he is now going to donate 500 N95 masks to district hospitals instead, as his contribution in fighting Covid 19 out of Sierra Leone, he explained.

Dr. Judy Kuriansky

Dr. Judy Kuriansky, spoke on the emotional and psychological effects of Covid 19 on Sierra Leoneans and their families. Her experience is that Sierra Leoneans are resilient and survivors based on her findings during the Ebola era, mudslides, the war and now the coronavirus. She understands that emotional issues are going on now and advised all to contact the Sierra Leone Embassy for help and she added that it is normal to be angry, with the current situation.

Dr. Kuriansky described Sierra Leoneans as loving, as they love to hug etc., but advised them to practice physical distancing as she coined social distancing. She asked single moms, people living alone or working at home, to use computers, to fill in the blank, stay in touch with each other and it is ok to hug oneself. If working from home, Dr. Kuriansky asked all to dress professionally. For those living together with loved ones, she admonished all to resist arguing in front of the children and to tell loved ones how much you love them. She reminded us again, that social connection was one of the things that made us recover from Ebola.

On the resilience of Sierra Leoneans, she asked the listeners to think about a bouncing ball. Our thoughts should focus on what we can do to learn and grow from this and not stigmatize people. Dr. Kuriansky expressed a belief in this “too shall pass” and “the sun will rise again”. She ended with a song “Hope is alive”.

Dr. Austin Demby

Mr. Mustapha Wai gave an account of how the coronavirus has affected Sierra Leoneans in the USA. Since most people are not working or has reduced hours, Mr. Wai stated that earnings are now under distress and it is going to affect sending money back home. He mentioned about the USA government working on a stimulus package, tax date extended, mortgage payments deferred as some of the reliefs on the American people.

Mr. Wai highlighted what the Sierra Leone government is doing to maintain the status quo: the Bank governor ensuring that foreign exchange is available, financing the production and distribution of essential goods and services, making food available for sale, all monetary transfers now in the process of going digital instead of going in person for transactions. The IMF working with the Sierra Leone government for rapid emergency fund as the Sierra Leone government needs funds to fight the coronavirus. He gave credit to both the people and government for keeping the virus out of the country. Mr. Wai praised the populace of Bo, how a suspect of Coronavirus was apprehended.

Mustapha Wai

Questions were mostly about tackling the Coronavirus, if it affects the populace, the preparedness of the government of Sierra Leone, in terms of equipment, medication, trained staff and the emotional and psychological wellbeing of the people. Dr. Joe Nuni, the Honorary Consul of Texas, Mr. Patrick Jackson, and the Honorary Consul to California, Mrs. Timbo added to the voices of concern and made inputs in the fight against the coronavirus.

The closing statement by Ambassador Wai included thanking the listeners for staying on the line, even with the few glitches, earlier on the call and promising to put a report to together to share with them.

The Honorary Consul of Sierra Leone in Boston, Mr. Mohamed S. Barrie gave the vote of thanks and on behalf of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington DC, the Financial Attaché, Mr. Senesie gave thanked the participants in the teleconference.

It is clear that this meeting was dynamic and interactive. The message from the Embassy of Sierra Leone is to ensure that Sierra Leone reports zero cases of Covid 19 and to show that they care about all Sierra Leoneans in the USA not just those in Virginia, Maryland and the DC areas. They cannot do it alone, we are all in this together.

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