Three weeks after New Haven experienced a taste of the fear and uncertainty surrounding Ebola, Mayor Toni Harp announced a fundraising initiative to aid the fight against the virus in Sierra Leone.
The initiative, announced yesterday during a press conference at City Hall, is coordinated by the city in conjunction with a coalition of community organizations. The project seeks to send four vans and medical supplies to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone and a sister city of New Haven. Organizers have set a goal of raising $100,000 by the end of January, said Althea Norcott, the Chair of the Freetown Sister City Committee.
Along with the four vans, which will be fitted with thicker tires and re-purposed as ambulances, the supplies will include drugs, medical equipment and anti-infection garments.
An array of local and international dignitaries attended the Thursday press conference, where the president of Southern Connecticut State University stood alongside leaders from the city’s churches and community organizations, as well as Ibrahim Kato, a representative from the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Harp said that New Haven has a duty to help Sierra Leone — and not just because of New Haven’s relationship with Freetown as a sister city.
“We have an obligation to help upstream,” she said, adding that the best way to stop Ebola in the United States is by stopping Ebola in West Africa.
After Harp’s remarks, Kato detailed the history of Ebola in Sierra Leone and the response the government there has taken. He said that New Haven’s help could not come at a better time, and that with help from the international community, Sierra Leone can recover from the outbreak and realize its full potential as a nation.
The speakers at the press conference emphasized the strength of the community in New Haven. Mary Papazian, president of SCSU, and David Ives, the director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac, pledged the full support of both of their institutions to the fundraiser.
“This fits right into the heart of our mission,” said Papazian. “We will certainly be there during the crisis, and we will be there after the crisis.”
Alfred Marder, the director of Amistad Committee — one of the biggest non-profit organizations involved in the fundraiser — echoed that sentiment. After announcing the first donation to the initiative, $1,000 from the Amistad Committee, he praised the ability of the New Haven community to unite around a cause.
Marder added that New Haven’s initiative is the first of its kind in the United States. No other city has yet coordinated a fundraising effort between the municipal government and community organizations, he said.
“It is so good now to recognize what a warm-hearted community we have,” he said. “This community is conscious of our responsibilities to others.”
The American ambassador to Sierra Leone had requested the supplies, said Roslyn Hamilton YPH ’81, vice president of the Amistad Committee.
“We got a call from the Ambassador, and he said, ‘here’s a list of the things we’re going to need,’” Hamilton said.
She noted that the Amistad Committee already sent a shipment of supplies to Freetown in early September.
Yale is also playing its part in its own fundraising efforts to support West Africa. The Yale African Students’ Association, the Yale School of Art and the Yale School of Medicine held a dance and raffle last night to raise money to fight Ebola. Marder said that he is reaching out to Yale organizations to involve them in the city’s initiative.
The links between New Haven and Freetown run deep, emanating from the Amistad incident in 1839, in which interned Sierra Leoneans en route to the slave markets in Cuba mutinied against their captains. The Sierra Leoneans seized the ship and sailed it to New Haven, where they stayed until the Supreme Court granted them freedom in 1841.
New Haven and Freetown, in recognition of their shared history, became sister cities in 1997.
In 1992, the entire cabinet of the Sierra Leonean government came to New Haven to attend the dedication of a statue of Sengbe Pieh, the leader of the Amistad mutiny and an outspoken defendant in the Supreme Court case.