It has been one year since the first confirmed case of ebola in an outbreak that has since killed over 10,000 people in west Africa.
Rev. Istifanus Bahago of Nigeria was working with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Sierra Leone last March when the deadly disease struck. He assumed leadership of program development there in 2013.
As the disease quickly spread and people evacuated the region, Bahago and other missionaries stayed to help contain the virus.
Bahago was in Smithers last week to thank people here who sent funds to help battle the infection and to seek support for the work that still needs to be done.
“We had this outbreak and cried out. Smithers’ church was one of the first CRC churches in B.C. to send financial support so we could go into this community to sensitize it.
“And that has really helped because the district where we are working, because of this sensitization, has one of the lowest infection rates in the whole country,” said Bahago.
Of the thousands who died and thousands more who were infected, Bahago said the total number infected in the region of Sierra Leone where the missionaries were working was 108.
Doctors Without Borders just released a report that said thousands of deaths from ebola were preventable, and that it was the slow international and internal response that made things worse.
“There was a lot of fear in the villages: ‘what is this, is this a plague?’ So the lack of understanding of it played a big part in complicating the spread of it,” explained Smithers Christian Reformed Church elder Dave Mayer, who was in Sierra Leone last year but coincidently left just before the outbreak.
Bahago credits quick action on educating the local population of what was happening with saving lives.
“This came because of the support we got from Smithers where we were able to go into the community immediately and tell them ‘look, this virus is real, this virus kills, you have to avoid certain things: eating bush meat, body contact, you have to avoid all this’,” said Bahago.
As the spread of infection has slowed, there is a new battle to fight in west Africa.
“We are working [against] stigmatization,” said Bahago.
The reverend made a few stops during his three-week visit to Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver, as well as Terrace and Smithers.
“First I came to thank the people… for their help… and also to create the awareness for others who have not participated,” said Bahago.
“There is need for continued support, so that the support we are giving can be sustained.”
The Smithers church is also helping to do other work in Sierra Leone.
“We developed in conjunction with the Christian Reformed Church of North America what we describe as a holistic, fully integrated assistance program that includes building churches, helping to develop church leaders, helping with heath care, education, environmental protection, drilling wells for water, income assistance, and agriculture,” said Mayer.
The mission is also helping to build schools and an economy as it preaches its Christian beliefs in the region.
“The Smithers church is helping to build a school in the village of Nanfayie. I supervise it to make sure the resources that come in are accounted for and are used for the purpose it was sent,” explained Bahago.
Donations can be made to the Christian Reformed Church at crcna.ca.
Donations to help areas struck by ebola can also be made at redcross.ca/ebola and to Doctors Without Borders at msf.ca.
Bahago did manage to find time to enjoy his visit to Canada with some recreation. It was the first time he had seen snow, so while in the Bulkley Valley he tried snowshoeing.
“I did okay,” smiled Bahago.