Y Care International’s Robbie Cheyne blogs from Rotherham as he tours YMCAs across the UK to mark the launch of Y Care International’s Tools for Recovery campaign to help rebuild lives devastated by Ebola.
Hearing Tim speak each day to CEOs, staff and young people in YMCAs has been such an inspiring experience. You might think that the same things have been said at each roadshow. ‘Liberia was devastated by civil war’ or ‘Ebola destroyed communities’ – all true of course, but because of how far reaching the effects are, Tim always had something new to say. “I guess these things just come into my head when we are in the middle of the presentation and I remember them again,” Tim explained as we debriefed from yesterday’s session.
Day three began with a beautiful morning in Liverpool and seeing some sunshine put us in a good mood despite the early start. “The sun is finally joining us on the tour” said Tim as we had a quick breakfast in the train station. I think he was very happy to see the back of the wind and rain we’ve had the past few days.
This leg of the tour took us to Rotherham to visit YMCA White Rose to their Myplace Centre. “It’s a funny looking building innit?” the taxi driver told us on our ride from the train station. While I didn’t disagree, we were more interested in the inside of the building.
We were greeted by CEO David Sargent who eagerly told us about the centre and the activities they run. “Young people designed every aspect of this building” said David. I kept the cabbie’s comments to myself, before David added that they still have an active voice on what goes on inside it. ‘You asked – we did’ read one poster, referring to a Facebook page that was setup after the young people requested it.
White Rose YMCA encompasses three areas of Yorkshire; Wakefield, Sheffield and Rotherham, each location with a different focus. Whether it’s delivering outreach work in areas of high deprivation or running specialist disability services, White Rose aims to meet the needs of its community.
It has a history not too dissimilar to Liberia in terms of defining conflicts. The War of the Roses in the 15th century was fought between two rival groups in the country (the houses of Lancaster and York). The civil conflict in Liberia which ended in 2003 claimed the lives of over 200,000 people and destroyed the economy, the education system, and most of the country’s infrastructure. The country was still recovering from the conflict before Ebola, and the further devastation caused by the outbreak has doubled the strain in some communities.
Today I learned more about another Liberian who should have been with Tim and I this week but because of visa issues wasn’t able to. This Liberian was a young man named George, an Ebola survivor. George couldn’t leave Liberia and reach the UK. But his story did.
George is one of the only Ebola survivors in his family; many of his friends and family died of it. Within the community, his father is said to be one of the first people to contract the virus there in the outbreak. After he passed away so too did George’s sister, uncle, aunty, and a friend’s family who helped George care for his father when he was sick from Ebola. George was lucky to get treatment and beat the virus but he faced rejection upon returning to the community. “Don’t touch me, I don’t want you staying in my house!” people would say. It wasn’t until the YMCA peer educators raised awareness of the virus that people soon learned once you’ve had Ebola and been cleared of it you cannot contract it again. Once the community’s perception shifted, helped by Liberia YMCA, George became a genuine example of hope and continued to help spread the message of how to stop the spread of the virus.
After the ordeal of losing his family, contracting the very virus that killed them and then facing stigma when he returned to his home treated and immune, you’d excuse George for thinking about himself for a while. But with the YMCA’s support he continued to work with others in the slum community of West Point to fight the spread of Ebola and improve the public sanitation and hygiene facilities there.
After the workshop White Rose YMCA CEO, David Sargent said “It’s been an eye-opening day for all of us. It highlights that the YMCA in Liberia are needed to help people who have experienced both the civil war and Ebola. As a YMCA global community we should be expected to help because we never know when we might need it. I loved the Join Hands idea for YMCAs, it’s easy, doesn’t cost anything and a visual way of showing our solidarity. I’d urge other YMCAs to get online and find out about Tools for Recovery”.
Like so many other young people, George’s story can’t stop here. There is life after Ebola and support today means that more young people can gain the skills and knowledge to have their own income, can have access to health and hygiene services and are more resilient to future disasters.
The UK government will match every donation pound for pound thanks to the UK Aid Match scheme. This means twice as many people reached, twice as much hope offered. Donate online to the Tools for Recovery Appeal today or text YGIV30 with your donation amount to 70070.