This article was previously published on Ebola Deeply.
By Khadi Mansaray
Memuna Janneh, a Sierra Leonean living in the U.K., founded Lunchbox Gift in response to the Ebola outbreak. Her organization delivers fresh, nutritious meals to Ebola treatment centers, health workers, and patients in Freetown. Ebola Deeply’s Khadi Mansaray met her in London.
When Ebola first swept through her home country of Sierra Leone, Janneh was thousands of miles away in the U.K. But she knew she had to find a way to help. So in partnership with two NGOs based in Sierra Leone–the Campaign for Good Governance and the Youth and Child Advocacy Network–Lunchbox Gift was born.
It initially provided 2,600 hot meals to vulnerable communities in Freetown during the Ebola lockdown in September, and later rolled out a new scheme to supply balanced meals to patients and health workers at treatment centers in Freetown. It aims to provide 50,000 meals in total. Recovered Ebola patients and health workers have found that eating nutritious meals is key to building enough strength to fight the disease.
Ebola Deeply: Lunchbox Gift is one of the biggest diaspora initiatives to emerge in response to the outbreak. Tell us about the program.
Janneh: Lunchbox Gift provides freshly cooked meals to communities in crisis. We are currently providing nutritious meals to Ebola treatment centers in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Our meals help to aid recovery and provide sustenance for nurses, doctors, and other front-line staff battling to take control of the Ebola epidemic.
Ebola Deeply: What role do you think the Sierra Leone diaspora can play in contributing to the slow of Ebola?
Janneh: It is absolutely essential that the diaspora come together like this. Not just on Ebola but also on other equally pressing issues that affect our country. Events like those held by SLUKDERT (the Sierra Leone U.K. Diaspora Ebola Response Taskforce) bring diaspora organizations together and allow us to support each other. However, the conversation should not come to a grinding halt as soon as those events are over. We must leverage the information superhighway and continue the dialogue online. We could even open the door for input from those on the ground and create a reliable, secure channel for information to flow in both directions.
Ebola Deeply: You also just held a fund-raising event called Lunch on the Run–a fun run. Can you tell us about that?
Janneh: Lunch on the Run was a lighthearted way to raise funds for Lunchbox Gift. It was full of fun and laughter and there was lots of “good mood food” on sale. It was also a coming together of communities directly or indirectly affected by Ebola, a time for reflection and soul-searching but also a time to take action and support the simple, practical solution that is Lunchbox Gift. Most importantly, we raised thousands of pounds and the scene is now set for a repeat of the event next year.
Ebola Deeply: What are you planning to do next?
Janneh: It’s been a speedy, dizzying few months that has brought out the best in us. We have enjoyed the support of so many people; more often than not they are total strangers who are touched by our story and are simply determined to help us succeed. A case in point is our Christmas campaign led by Elizabeth Tsehai in the U.S., raising over $10,000 so far.
Britain’s Commonwealth Secretariat in Pall Mall, London, dedicated their annual African Night to Lunchbox Gift – a fun-packed event that raised a lot of money for our Ebola food program. A poetry evening was also held in Plymouth, U.K., led by celebrity chef Euten Lindsay. A music concert was held in Chile … I could go on and on!
In Sierra Leone there is a steady stream of donations in cash and kind each week – rice, oil, fish, onions and other cooking ingredients. These are local businesses and ordinary people who just want to do their bit to help. The support continues to be overwhelming and it’s a privilege to be of service to Sierra Leone. The Ebola crisis continues and we still have a lot of work to do. We are looking to extend to other parts of the country and plans are afoot to address the humanitarian crisis that will emerge after Ebola. Lunchbox Gift is digging in for the long haul.
Khadi Mansaray is a contributor at Ebola Deeply.