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Families whose homes were destroyed by fire on May 5, 2018, in Joyah, Sierra Leone. The fire left 75 residents homeless. Photo by Elizabeth Mattia.

Photo by Elizabeth Mattia

Families whose homes were destroyed by fire on May 5, 2018, in Joyah, Sierra Leone. The fire left 75 residents homeless.

Fire destroys eight homes in remote Sierra Leone community

 

By Phileas Jusu
May 31, 2018 | JOYAH, Sierra Leone (UMNS)

A mysterious fire that gutted eight houses here left about 75 residents homeless and with no means of earning a living.

The remote community was already receiving basic services from the Sierra Leone Conference’s Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development program, including a $40,000 health center.

The health center barely pays for operating costs and since the fire has been treating patients for free, said Mary Gulama, the nurse in charge of the health center.

Most of those affected by the May 5 fire are subsistence farmers who were away on their farms preparing for the planting season. They now need food, clothing, shelter and seed for planting.

“We arrived when everything had been burnt down. Up to date, we do not know the cause of the fire. In our community, one is considered lazy if you do not go to the farm in the morning, especially during the planting season. It is a busy season; so we all go to the farm at dawn. We lost everything including my teacher certificates,” said Lamin Smart Gbappi, a volunteer teacher at the United Methodist primary school.

With a new government policy that placed a priority on free education, Gbappi hoped to be approved as a paid teacher by education ministry, since more teachers are needed to support the policy.

But he said his hopes went up in flames with his certificates, leaving him doing odd jobs to pay for food and shelter for his family.

Men tried to put out a fire that destroyed homes in Joyah, Sierra Leone, but the blaze reduced buildings to rubble. Photo by Elizabeth Mattia.

Men tried to put out a fire that destroyed homes in Joyah, Sierra Leone, but the blaze reduced buildings to rubble. Photo by Elizabeth Mattia.

 

A railroad metal was struck to alert the community to the fire, but Braima Ansu, another volunteer teacher at the primary school, said by the time people rushed back to deal with the fire it was out of control. Ansu lived with nine dependents in one of the homes that was destroyed.

Ansu said his seed rice was in containers in the house and was destroyed by the fire. He said planting season will soon start and he has no seed.

Ansu and his wife are temporarily living in the store of Joyah United Methodist Primary School compound, but he said the ventilation at the store is not good enough for people to live there. His family still needs food, too, he said.

Fatmata Mattia, a nursing mother with a 3-month old baby, said her family was unable to save any of their belongings. “My husband has resorted to doing menial jobs for our daily survival,” she said.

She has four other children attending school in Bo. “I and the baby sleep on the bare floor and it’s very cold for my baby,” she said.

Gulama said most of the victims of the fire disaster complain of general body pain, cold and have tested positive for malaria.

“Many I know sleep in open spaces and on bare floors where they do not have protection from malaria; hence, the reason for their conditions. We treat them for free because they do not have money to pay for the services,” she said.

She is worried that their health might worsen as the rainy season approaches, which is usually the peak of malaria infection.

Luba Amara and nine others affected by the fire are crammed in a very small home that was offered to them by a member of the community after the incident. Her husband was hospitalized in Bo and there is no one else to support the family.

Kaddie Conteh, wife of the village imam, says staying together is among the many challenges her family faces. Her husband, who is ill, stays with friends while each of her five children stay with different extended family members.

Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.