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NEWS : Local News  

Sierra Leone News : From New York to the Ebola frontlines
By Awareness Times
Jul 24, 2015, 17:04
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At the peak of Ebola transmission in Sierra Leone in November last year, when up to 500 persons were infected weekly, 26-year-old bespectacled Mohamed Kakaywas always holed up in the offices of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Freetownporing over loads of data.

 

Intermittently,he would take a glance at information filtering into his two computer screens, even as Ebola fighters from different organizations and of different nationalities breathed down his neck for oneassistance or the other.

 

Before joining UNMEER, Mohamed was in the Bronx in New York, United States, working as a sales coordinator in a retail industry. Sierra Leonean born, in the wake of the Ebola outbreakhe felt a strong pull to be back home as a volunteer Ebola warrior.

 

He had created an online public donation platform, proceeds he hoped could helpsave lives being ravaged by the virus.He was hired by UNMEERin October 2014 and is now its longest-serving International staff in Sierra Leone.

 

Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General and head of UNMEER Sierra Leone, described Mohamed in superlative terms.”A wonderful taste of someone who is resource-driven, reliable, and can deliver in a quick turnaround time.”

 

Coming to his country of birth was particularly alluring.

 

“When I completed graduate studies, I wanted this kind of job – even for free – so long as I contributed to advance human development,” he says. He had little experience working in the humanitarian field,and described the situation on the ground in Sierra Leoneon arrivalas very tense, with Ebola signs and buckets of chlorinated water everywhere.

 

It was a nightmare scenario but Mohamed was unfazed. “The situation was extremely bad. Ebola was really allaround. I saw an old woman vomit and collapse at Goderich.”


Mohamed needed to hit the ground running and, like many involved in Ebola response, he  performedmany tasks. “Everything I had read and learned did not help. So, I needed to find a niche.”

 

He was lucky to be in the same office as Parvathy Ramaswami, a senior and experienced administrator who quickly taught Mohamed the basics. “I worked closely with her day and night and picked up a lot of her skills.”

 

Soon, Mohamed was involved in progamme management, media relations, supervising partners, financial management, budgeting, and writing situation reports. The people who swarmed himdaily knew he could solve problems. His supervisors trustedhim and he was eager to perform. “At the time, there was not enough time in the dayfor work,” he says.


Mohamed later helped to manage up to $9 million Ebola Multi-Partner Trust Fund, which was used to implement critical projects in the Ebola fight. “All Mohamed wants is to get the job done, and on time. If he manages my financial activities, I will go to bed and sleep. He is a true professional,” says Stephen Gaojia, the National Operations Coordinator of the National Ebola Response Centre.


With degrees in International Development, Political Science, Sociology and a certificate in Public Health, Mohamed has an uncommon affinity with the three countries most affected by Ebola. His father is Guinean, his mother Sierra Leoneanwhile some of his uncles are Liberians. “This thing [Ebola] is personal for me,” he says.

 

On why anyone would leave the comfort of New York to jump into an Ebola fight, he waxes philosophical. “It is not how you start that matters, it is how you finish.” He adds that the fact Ebola transmission is now in single digits compared with the apocalyptic situation of late last year shows efforts are paying off.


Indeed efforts have paid off on many fronts, including for Mohamed himself. Just as UNMEER was wrapping up its activities in late June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) offered him another job tocontinue to work on Ebola response in Sierra Leone.

 

“I am excited about my new challenge,” he adds.

 

Not many are surprised that Mohamed is moving to WHO. “He is someone who is ready to listen and to learn,” says Ms. Keita.

 

Working for the UN provides for Mohamed an outlet to express his skills andto demonstrate a love for country. “This is the country I love, the job I adore and the continent I cherish” he concludes.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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