On Jan. 15, Project 1808 launched its Ebola Survivors Livelihood Skills development program expected to train over 70 Ebola survivors, at Rokel, a few miles from Freetown city. The program was made possible thanks to a grant from the Sierra Leone US Embassy office.

Project 1808 is a Madison-based 501(c)3 nonprofit established in 2011 by Dr. Alhaji N’jai, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Project 1808 promotes sustainable community development and works to empower youths and adults in N’jai’s hometown community of Kabala, Koinadugu District, Sierra Leone.

The most recent of Project 1808’s capacity development programs in Sierra Leone, this training platform will offer courses in computer training, catering, driving and tailoring. Dr. Linda Vakunta is the project’s lead and the executive director of Project 1808. She explains what prompted her to develop such a program that provides Ebola survivors with livelihood skills.

“After engaging in conversations with survivors and executives of the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola survivors, it was evident that the critical concern was long-term solutions to their everyday challenges,” Vakunta said. “Just like war survivors, they know that soon attention will drift away from them [Ebola survivors] and the aid money will decrease, yet most of their daily life issues will continue. I knew that providing livelihood skills that leads to employment was critical for this group. And we are grateful that the United States Embassy shared our vision and awarded us grant money to launch this program.”

Program launch Country Coordinator. Ishmail Barrie; Project Coordinator Abdurrahman Bangura and the first cohort of Ebola Survivors.
Program launch Country Coordinator. Ishmail Barrie; Project Coordinator Abdurrahman Bangura and the first cohort of Ebola Survivors.

The program launched with 30 survivors spread across the four training areas. Project 1808 plans to train at least 70 Ebola survivors by the end of the one-year grant. In attendance at the launch was the Sierra Leone’s Association of Ebola Survivors’ public relations officer, Daddy Hassan Kamara. Thanking Project 1808 and it’s country coordinator Ishmail Barrie, Hassan Kamara noted his awe at Project 1808’s boldness and forward thinking to implement such a program for survivors, the first of it’s kind.

Along with their extensive work with Project 1808, N’jai and Vakunta are also hosts of the Pan Africa Radio Show on Saturdays at WORT-FM here in Madison. When they started Project 1808 back in 2011, they had 56 students. Today, they have helped over 400 students in Kabala, Sierra Leone. Vakunta is already thinking of sustainability and looking to the future.

“We would love to continue to offer these training courses free of charge to Ebola survivors but to do that we need more funding,” she says. “So I am actively seeking funding sources and partners who share our vision to empower Ebola survivors with skills to support themselves.”