Dozens of street beggars living across the Sierra Leonean Capital Freetown had reasons to smile when civil society organisation Citizen Outreach Coalition Sierra Leone (COC SL) offered them food packages and drinks at the height of the COVID crisis in the country
With limited resources, most beggars fend for themselves, a situation COC SL country chairperson Francis Langley thought needed community action to mitigate their ordeal. Mr Langley began a fund raising campaign on facebook and whatsapp and received contributions mostly from Sierra Leoneans resident in Europe and the USA. A team of COC SL volunteers led by Tamba Alex bought food provisions including rice, oil and water which were then distributed to close to 100 people including blind beggars. Most of the beneficiaries faced various mental health challenges which is one of the reasons they were street beggars.
“We need to do more for these people and help to provide a better home and future for them” one of the volunteers said at the end of the food distribution
Project coordinator Francis Langley said this was the beginning of many outreach projects COC SL will be carrying out. “ Sierra Leone is a poor country and many people need help there but we decided to start with street beggars because they are among the most vulnerable people in society. Most of them did not choose to beg while a large proportion of them have mental health issues” He promised to extend the food distribution as soon as the organisation can raise more funding
With a population of over 7 million people, Sierra Leone has just two psychiatrists, two clinical psychologists and 19 mental health nurses which is obviously a critical staffing gap in mental health support in the country
The Boy with the wheelchair
In a related development, COC SL canvassed and raised funds to buy a wheelchair for Issa Fofonah 7, a disabled boy who could not go to school because his movements were severely restricted by his disability. A video was posted on youtube about his plight.
His dire situation was communicated to COC SL by Ibrahim Prosper Bangura, an actor and community activist who said the young boy badly needed help to enable him get a wheelchair and attend school. Again, Mr Langley launched a fund drive and raised enough money to buy a wheelchair for Issa, school cloths and also offered some financial assistance for his schooling. He later travelled to Lungar where he met the young Issa and some of his family members. They thanked COC SL for helping their son fulfil his ambition to finally attend classes especially as the wheelchair gave him the independence he needed