THE BLOG

The Toughest Day Of Aid Worker Career: Helping Those Devastated By The Mudslide In Sierra Leone

18/08/2017 14:53 BST | Updated 18/08/2017 14:54 BST
Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters

On Monday 14th August I woke to news of devastating flooding and mudslides in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. As the authorities began to react to the situation, it became clear that hundreds had died and thousands had been left homeless. On Tuesday, although I didn't know it at the time, what lay before me was an incredibly long day and one of the toughest days of my career.

I have been working for Street Child for about a year; working in Makeni in Sierra Leone - the country's third largest city and the hub for Street Child's work - supporting our projects to help some of the country's most vulnerable children to go to school. But on Tuesday, it was not Makeni, but Freetown, that my efforts were focused.

I left at 4am and took the three-hour car journey to the capital. As I approached Freetown, the mudslide was visible from miles away. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The sheer size of it was frightening.

Arriving at our office in Freetown, our first priority was to understand the immediate needs. Our amazing team of social workers were out in the field, talking to victims and finding out how Street Child could best help.

They returned with harrowing stories of mothers so paralysed with grief they couldn't speak, fathers who had left for work and returned to find their home buried in mud, with no sign of their family. Children, lost with nowhere to go. This was the first time in my life responding to a humanitarian disaster. It was the first time in my life where I truly saw what this meant on an individual level. They had been left with nothing.

It was time to co-ordinate a response plan.

Our team told us many people had not eaten or drunk anything for over a day - urgent action was required. So, armed with huge amounts of food and clean water, we headed to Regent, the site of the mudslide. The local government had setup registration points for victims of the disaster. Together with the army, we began to distribute the food. It was hectic. There were people everywhere. Red Cross volunteers were working to remove bodies from the mud. The smell was overwhelming.

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After providing hundreds of people with emergency relief, we returned to the office, exhausted. Once there, we saw just how many donations had arrived from local Sierra Leoneans and expats - desperate to help in any way they could. There were thousands of packets of water and huge bundles of clothing. The Street Child UK office informed us thousands of pounds had been raised internationally. Sierra Leone was facing its next challenge, and the world had responded. It was inspiring.

I have never prouder to work for Street Child than on that day, alongside a great local team. We do amazing work, supporting some of the world's most vulnerable children and on that day, the real difference we can make to so many people's lives has never been clearer.

Since then we have continued to provide emergency food and water to thousands of people. Going forward we will continue to support the thousands of children and families impacted by the crisis, helping them to rebuild their lives and ensure that children can return to school. If you want to support Street Child's response, visit www.street-child.co.uk.