[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] It is 10 months since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the two-year Ebola outbreak in west Africa was at an end; but the aftermath of the two-year health crisis will take many years to resolve. The effects of the Ebola crisis are wide ranging; and include damage to infrastructure, barren farmland leading to food insecurity, significant school drop-out and teenage pregnancy – on top of the 11,000 lives lost in the outbreak. Now, the Anglican churches in the region have developed a five-year mission plan to help the affected countries recover.
The five-year mission strategy in a post-Ebola context was developed at a meeting last month of all Anglican Churches in Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; comprising one of the two internal provinces of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa.
“Ebola had far-reaching effects in every part of the affected countries,” Davidson Solanki, the international programmes manager with the Anglican mission agency USPG, who helped to convene last month’s meeting, said. “With the work force drastically reduced, and no investment in infrastructure for three years, there was a break down in government services, healthcare provision, and the condition of roads and amenities; only now are local authorities starting to repair roads and bridges.
“With fewer people to work in the fields, farms have become barren resulting in food shortages and inflated food prices. Families have lost income, children go hungry, and families are unable to meet basics needs.
“There are many orphans. Some are now in government orphanages, where conditions are not ideal, while others have been taken into care by relatives who are themselves very poor.
“Many children have stopped going to school because they have to work or stay at home to look after siblings. Girls and women have been forced into prostitution. There have been many teenage pregnancies, and these girls drop out of school because of the stigma they face.
“The church was also hit. Congregations have been unable to increase their giving, and there is a shortage of clergy, so the church has been struggling to support the people,” he said.
The new five-year mission strategy will help the churches support communities affected by Ebola, and all communities affected by poverty.
In Sierra Leone, there is already support for children orphaned by Ebola, and the church is building a school for girls who became pregnant. Vocational training is being offered to young people to help improve livelihoods and prevent unwelcome economic migration.
Last month’s meeting, which was funded by USPG, was the first time that the six dioceses in the Internal Province of West Africa (IPWA) had met together. In addition to a mission statement – “IPWA is a unified Christ-centred church called to transform and empower its society through proclamation and demonstration of the gospel” – the meeting agreed five guiding priorities for the next five years.
These include better communication and closer working together, targeted investment, better governance, post-Ebola recovery, and supporting communities to achieve improved livelihoods and food security.
The province will also establish a new secretariat and a provincial synod which will meet for the first time in April next year.
“From my perspective, the meeting was very inspiring and heartfelt,” Mr Solanki said. “I could see God’s hand at work. I was impressed how all participants came together with a determination to establish themselves as an independent and autonomous province.
“There was a real desire to work in collaboration, rather than to work separately in their own dioceses. It was a massive step. The gathering has given everyone confidence and a direction for the future – the dioceses now have a clear vision for what resources they need and what they want to achieve.”
A USPG spokesman said that the agency would “accompany our partners” in West Africa throughout “this ongoing journey.”