Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grafton alarmed by recent deaths in camp

By Ibrahim Jaffa Condeh and Kevin Hill

On the outskirts of Freetown lies the former internally displaced persons camp at Grafton. With rows of crumbling mud brick and tarpaulin structures housing hundreds of people, the temporary camp has become a permanent community facing serious challenges. With little support from government or NGOs, Grafton and its people have been left to survive on their own.

The camp was founded in 1999 during the war in Sierra Leone to house people forced to flee violence and leave their homes in the provinces, to seek refuge in Freetown.

According to Chief Yaa Alimami Bangura, the community has experienced a recent spate of deaths, which she attributes to the poor living conditions found in the camp. With no toilets or pipe borne water and poor quality housing that does not protect against the tide of water and cooler temperatures of rainy season, residents of Grafton are at a high risk of water borne diseases and illnesses like pneumonia.

Ironically, located directly across the road from the Grafton camp is the Grafton Water Company’s bottling factory, located on the aquifer that supplies pure water, for a price, to people across the country. Although the company does employ between 70 and 80 people from the area, they do not provide the camp with any regular assistance.

According to Sales and Marketing Manager Edwin Fraser it is not up to the company to provide a reliable water source for the camp. “It is not the responsibility of the company. It is the responsibility of government and the community heads. We help when they call upon us to assist them.”

The community has no health centre in the immediate area for residents to receive treatment if they do get sick. Many residents cannot afford treatment if it were readily available.

Aminata Bangura, a resident of the camp, lost her daughter yesterday. She fell ill, affected by the cold and rains, and died. “I am not happy about the situation. I have not eaten for two days because of sadness.” Aminata knows loss very well, as she also lost her hands to rebel butchers in the war. She is forced to leave the camp each day to go to beg for money in Freetown. She must pay Le2,400 in transport fees to get there and back. She places a basket on the ground, near the law court, and some people give one block, or even Le1000. If she does not make enough money begging that day, she must walk back home. “I don’t know. I no feel fine. I’m not getting any help with food to eat”, she said.

Mariatu Kamara, 30, gave birth in the camp six weeks ago. Her tiny son has never seen a doctor and she had only visited a clinic once during her pregnancy. When her child is sick she uses native herbs as medicine. She gave birth in the traditional way, but has been unable to pay the person who assisted her. “Things are hard in the camp. I don’t feel good about having a child (here), with the cold and sickness”, she said. As a single mother, Mariatu has to cut and sell firewood to provide for herself and her child.

Many of the residents of Grafton survive by performing back breaking labour, such as breaking rocks or finding, collecting and selling firewood. Chief Bangura said that the people of her community must “broke stone, before eat” in order to survive.

Saidu Bangura, who guessed his age to be 81, still breaks stone as it is the only job he can find to make money. “I no got money, I no got nothing.” He fears the rainy season because when the downpours come there is flooding and he cannot work so there is no food.

The youth of the camp are particularly marginalized as joblessness rates are high and many have little to no schooling to help them find work. Resident of the camp Alpha B. Kabbia said that the youth have talents for skilled labour like carpentry, but there are no opportunities for them in Grafton. “Wok no dae”, he said.

The youth would like to pursue an education, but a lack of money to pay for school fees, let alone food for the day, keeps them out of the classroom. According to Chief Bangura, approximately 20% of primary school aged children do not go to school and there are no secondary schools in the immediate area.

Hassan Kabbia, 13, said that “there is no sufficient food for the day, no feel good living in the camp.” He was happy before the war came into his life, as he was able to go to school and he had his family. He lived in Magboroka before moving to Ferry Junction in Freetown, but as the war reached his life in the city, he found himself living in the camp, unable to go to school.

With a lack of effective infrastructure this temporary camp has become a permanent settlement with real challenges. The lack of education and jobs available in the camp means that residents want to leave Grafton, but a lack affordable housing and jobs in Freetown means that escape for camp is difficult.

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