In the words of Gather&See Co-Founder, Stephanie Hogg:
A country close to my heart is struggling- Sierra Leone.
As I write this from my South London flat, I feel totally helpless. Sierra Leone, the country that I have been visiting for the past ten years has yet again been bought to its knees and it breaks my heart.
Sierra Leone has taught me so much about life, and given me life lessons that I’ll cherish forever. The country has had a troubled past, but its indescribable passion and energy has always been its savior. How people have so much hope and courage has always been an inspiration. I witnessed first hand how the country had slowly shaken off the stigma of a brutal civil war.
In 2011, my husband and I moved to Sierra Leone. We had been spell bound by this small country, having both visited on numerous occasions when my family had lived there. We believed the country had been misrepresented by the West with the media constantly harking back to the civil war. But I was lucky enough to explore the other side. I became determined to show the world that Sierra Leone was far from dangerous and was a place people must visit! I set up NearFar, an ethical fashion label working with local tailors, using traditional West African prints, my aim was to create sustainable employment to Sierra Leoneans but also to dispel Sierra Leone’s negative image.
We spent 3 extremely happy years living in Freetown. We witnessed a country grow from strength to strength in front of our very own eyes. It was such an amazing experience to watch a country develop. New roads were built, new businesses poured in and tourism really started to pick up. We had over 30 friends visit us, and to this day people still talk and reminisce about their trip. Many of them were so moved by the country, the beauty and energy of the people but also the HUGE potential that lay ahead- lots of them were thinking of ways they could stay on longer. We decided to head back to the UK end of March, as we were getting married, I was setting up Gather&See and we felt that we had achieved all we could in Sierra Leone- the time just felt right. It was about to boom, the hotel we had stayed at in 2009 was the UN peacekeeping headquarters, now it was a Radison Blu.
But we had no idea what was around the corner. I remember in our last month being told of a report of Ebola in Guinea. I didn’t know what this was and thought little of it. Never did I imagine it would spread into Sierra Leone and bring such huge destruction with it. We have sat in London and slowly watched this beautiful country fall apart. All that was achieved over the last 12 years has crumbled. Schools are shut, businesses have closed down, and families can’t visit. Not only are people dying from Ebola, there has also been a rise in maternity deaths, Malaria and other diseases, which is terrifying. Worst of all, Sierra Leone is yet again back in the public eye for the wrong reasons. When the guns were put down after the civil war people knew the violence was over. The country may struggle to get such closure from Ebola.
Sierra Leone taught me to smile in the face of adversity - and I know many Sierra Leoneans are still getting on with their lives - they have to, there is nothing else to do. We moved back to Peckham in London which has given us a connection to the large Sierra Leone diaspora community. Speaking to many of them, whose families have been affected, they haven’t given up laughing and smiling- so we shouldn’t either. I think the most important thing is we celebrate this beautiful part of the world, and tell everyone that Sierra Leone is so much bigger than Ebola!
I know many people want to help. So I am asking that you kindly donate to Kings Partnership. They are a brilliant organisation that are tackling Ebola directly while also training local staff who will be around to pick up the pieces of a country that has once again been brought to it’s knees.