Nun in Sierra Leone brings joy to children affected by Ebola

Published - December 26, 2014 01:27 am IST

Christmas gatherings have been cancelled in Sierra Leone, but 900 children in one town have been brought some cheer by celebrating it early, thanks to the foresight of a local school teacher.

Sister Mary Sweeney, an Irish special needs teacher, has been distributing presents to children whose families have been hit by Ebola in Makeni, a busy commercial hub three hours north of Freetown, after private donations of 1,000 shoeboxes stuffed with presents arrived from schools in the U.K.

“We started to distribute the presents because we wanted them to have something. We couldn’t bring them altogether because of the ban on gatherings this Christmas,” she says.

“They were all so beautifully wrapped and it was a joy to see the little ones’ eyes light up. They were so excited. There were the most gorgeous things inside: socks, shoes, sunglasses, notebooks, markers, football jerseys. In one of them a child had even put in a few pound coins,” said Sister Mary, who has lived in Sierra Leone for 42 years. “The gifts are bringing a lot of joy to the children, despite the grief that they have to deal with.”

The boxes arrived at St Joseph’s school for the hearing impaired in early December after supporters in the U.K. decided to take action in the absence of an international response to Ebola in Makeni. The Christmas delivery was one of 12 pallets of freight to be sent out since September by U.K. supporters. Although humanitarian aid is flooding into Sierra Leone, little was reaching Makeni in the first few months. The pallets cost about £14,000 to get through customs, more than half the charity’s annual funds.

The Bombali district, of which Makeni is the capital, is one of three hardest hit by Ebola in Sierra Leone, but got its first treatment centre only this month. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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