Ebola's spread a concern for OrphFund founder

The founder of a children's organisation based in Sierra Leone is concerned the spread of Ebola could reach some of those it helps to care for.

Steven Argent, who lives in Campbells Creek near Castlemaine, is calling on the public to raise funds to help his organisation, OrphFund, take steps to prevent the Ebola outbreak reaching villages of children in Sierra Leone. 

Mr Argent founded OrphFund in 2005 and has used the organisation to help build traditional homes, primary schools and secondary schools for children in remote villages, mostly in Sierra Leone and Kenya.

The not-for-profit conducts interviews with families in remote villages to determine who the most vulnerable children are, sends in teams of unpaid Western volunteers to set up appropriate facilities, which are then run by local, paid workers and teachers. 

Mr Argent said the organisation had started out with 40 children in the remote village of Kamakwie, and now had about 2000 children across about five different schools and villages across Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone is considered one of the two most affected countries caught up in the Ebola virus's most recent outbreak, which is causing concern among health authorities because of its spread. 

Mr Argent described Sierra Leone as being close to the epicentre of the outbreak and the worst hit.

He said sanitation issues were a concern in some of the villages, especially because of some aspects of local culture.

"It's not unusual to shake hands for the entire time you are speaking to someone," he said.

"We've got water tanks full of chlorinated water so people wash properly."

He said another concern was the rising cost of food and supplies.

"The cost of chlorinated soap has tripled," he said.

"We do need money for it, the cost of essentials is going up, we can't just increase what we've got coming in (without additional help)."

He said initially, about five or six weeks ago, his local team did not think Ebola was an issue, but that had changed when about three weeks ago a leading doctor in Sierra Leone died because of the virus.

"That made people react," Mr Argent said.

"It's something we’ve had to set up an appeal for, we're concerned we won't be able to protect our kids if it gets into our centres.

"All of them are a concern, you realise they don’t have the resources. Here we can stamp things out quickly."

Mr Argent said what struck the biggest chord with him was seeing pictures of "absolutely empty, desolate streets" in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown.

"When I saw the photos of the capital empty, it just seems really apocalyptic," he said.

"That's scary in a place so usually full of bustling streets and busy markets.

"There is talk now of a 30-day curfew."


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