5 Minute Inspiration: How responding to Ebola made communities in Sierra Leone stronger

by 21st Aug 2018
Relevance Fontaine is leader of a VSLA in Matboi, Sierra Leone. Relevance Fontaine is leader of a VSLA in Matboi, Sierra Leone.

In Sierra Leone, 91% of people are satisfied with the CARE response to Ebola, both in the immediate aftermath and in long-term recovery. It’s what a lot of people call Nexus programming: emergency response that also builds for the long term. In the words of one woman: “This has made us stronger and less worried since we know there is always a place to [get] money when it comes to unforeseen eventuality." Find out more about what we achieved. 

What have we accomplished?

  • People eat more, better food: 84% of people say they are eating more meals a day after the programme than before, and they are more than twice as likely to eat balanced diets.
  • Families can cope better: The number of people who had to resort to drastic measures (like begging or child labor) to survive was cut in half.
  • Incomes have gone up: 66% of people say they have higher incomes now, and they have 25% more money to spend on food.
  • Savings are a reality again: the Ebola crisis mostly destroyed savings, as groups used their savings to deal with the disaster.  By 2017, people were more than 4 times more likely to save than they were at the height of the crisis. 95% of people were also able to save seeds to they can plant crops next year—something no one could do during the crisis.
  • Families are confident to face the future: 79% of people say that they don’t need the cash transfers anymore, because the investments they made using the cash and increased income has set them up for sustainable futures. As one person said, “The cash transfer program has indeed prepared us well to respond to any unexpected problem that we may face in the future.”

How did we get there?

  • Give people cash: The programme gave each family $30 a month to spend on whatever they needed. At the beginning, families spent most money on food, but as the crisis stabilised, they started to invest more in long-term plans like school and agriculture. 89% of people invested some of their money in production.
  • Build a feedback loop: Communities had hotlines to call when there were problems, and the project made changes based on feedback—like how hard it was for elderly people to reach distribution sites. Because they saw CARE responding to their concerns, the people had a lot more confidence in the process.
  • Buy local: The project gave out seed vouchers and organised fairs that promoted local seed varieties and vendors so farmers could spend their money in local markets and get high-quality products.
  • Get people information and tools: The project hosted trainings on farming, VSLAs, and income-generating activities. People who got this training were twice as likely to be involved in economic activities as those who only got cash.
  • Be efficient and flexible: The project originally spent over $70,000 on a mobile money transfer system that didn’t work for the communities we were serving. In the second phase, they saved $39,000 by going back to more traditional distributions in places without mobile coverage.

The Rapid Ebola Social Safety Net and Economic Recovery project ran from 2015-2017 with $4.5 million from USAID’s Food for Peace project. It reached nearly 50,000 people with cash transfers of 30 a month, training on VSLAs, income opportunities, and farming techniques.

Want to learn more?

Check out the final evaluation, or read USAID’s meta-evaluation of several cash projects from Food for Peace, including CARE’s.

Emily Janoch

Emily Janoch is Senior Technical Advisor on Knowledge Management for the CARE USA Food and Nutrition Security team focusing on ways to better learn from and share practical experience on eradicating poverty through empowering women and girls. She focuses on learning from programming and using that learning to improve impact.

With four years of on-the-ground experience in West Africa, 10 years of development experience, and academic publications on community engagement and the human element in food security in Africa, Emily is especially interested in community-led development. She has experience in food security, nutrition, health, governance, and gender programming, and has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Masters' in Public Policy in International and Global Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Email: ejanoch@care.org