While the Ebola crisis sweeping through West Africa is easy to ignore, a Brisbane woman has refused to turn a blind eye.
Jane Shakespeare is a yoga-loving graphic designer who started a charity for an orphanage in Sierra Leone that will bring hope to those left orphaned by the deadly virus. She and her family, husband Jeremy and son Harry, live in Brisbane. The contrast between life in West Africa’s Sierra Leone and this lush little pocket of Queensland is extreme. But Jane has a soul tie with the Ebola-ravaged country.
It was while Jane was living in the quaint, historic town of Warwick, England that she had her first introduction to Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries on earth. While studying for her economics degree at Warwick University, Jane became interested in micro-credit and the impact it had on women’s lives. She was introduced to an organisation called One World Link which already had ties between her home town of Warwick and Bo Town in Sierra Leone. The country had been through a brutal civil war during the ’90s and thousands of young men were murdered. Women had become the backbone of their society and increasingly, the only hope for their children’s education and future.
Jane’s university agreed to sponsor her trip to Bo Town, Sierra Leone and in February, 2006, she spent two weeks visiting women’s groups gaining insight into how these industrious women supported their families through a small kick-start loan. Back in England, she didn’t forget these resourceful women and immediately set about collecting donations of sewing machines.
“I placed an advert in the local newspaper asking for non-electric sewing machines to be donated to send out to the women’s groups I’d come across. I thought I might get 20 or so but ended up collecting 176 which was quite overwhelming,” she says.
While in Sierra Leone, Jane had also met Father Peter Konteh, founder of St Mary’s Children’s Home, an orphanage in Bo Town, Sierra Leone. Fr. Konteh later travelled to England and the two became good friends. So much so, that Jane and Jeremy began the process of adopting a young girl from the orphanage.
“We soon discovered, however, that the international adoptive procedure was very complicated and expensive and we could do far more to help by sending money to the orphanage. I was so concerned about the home’s long-term survival that I subsequently offered to set up a website so people could donate.”
Little did she know how important her gesture would become. In March, 2014, the Ebola virus took hold of West Africa. The World Health Organisation called it “the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak” since being discovered in 1976.
As of 24th December 2014, WHO estimates Ebola has claimed the lives of close to 7,588 people, although more realistic figures cite more than 12 000. There have been more than 2,366 confirmed deaths in Sierra Leone.
Thousands were left orphaned and Father Konteh relayed that St Mary’s resources were stretched to capacity and raising money was becoming increasingly urgent. Jane felt powerless to help. She realised that the only way to assist was to set up an Australian-based charity and raise awareness here.