After a four-month fundraising effort, Mayor Toni Harp announced that the Elm City raised $114,000 to fund the fight against Ebola in Freetown, Sierra Leone — New Haven’s sister city.
That figure exceeds the $100,000 target Harp set in November. Additionally, New Haven will send four ambulances and $16,000 in medical supplies to Freetown. Contributions to the effort came from a wide array of city institutions — New Haven Public Schools, the Amistad Committee, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the city’s religious community. Along with representatives from those organizations, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States, Bockari Stevens, attended the press conference.
“We are lost for words — we cannot say how much we appreciate it,” Stevens said. “All we will say is ‘thank you.’”
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who represents New Haven, also attended the event. She praised Harp’s leadership throughout the fundraising drive, adding that she has never been more proud of her home city.
Ebola has ravaged Sierra Leone over the last few months, Stevens said, and New Haven’s contribution will go a long way towards fighting its spread. Before Ebola arrived in the country, Sierra Leone had only five ambulances, he said, and with many of its best doctors and nurses killed while treating the virus, Sierra Leone needs assistance.
The fundraising drive was a citywide, communal effort, speakers at the conference said. NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said the public schools raised money in a multitude of ways — from “Pennies for Ebola” campaigns to contributions from individual teachers.
Just over one-fifth of the $114,000 raised — $25,000 — came from Yale-New Haven Hospital, according to Alan Friedman, the president of the YNHH medical staff. Althea Norcott, chair of the Freetown Sister City Committee, said Yale’s contribution came at an opportune moment: just before Christmas, when the committee had only raised a few thousand dollars.
Alfred Marder, president of the Amistad Committee, a social advocacy group that helped initiate the sister-city relationship, said New Haven’s aid to Sierra Leone can serve as a means of atoning for the United States’ history of slavery.
“It is my feeling that until my country and my people recognize what we owe to Sierra Leone, we still have a great deal left to go,” he said.
After his remarks, during which he delivered a short history of the Amistad — the slave ship whose Sierra Leonean captives mutinied, sailed to New Haven and were eventually granted freedom in 1839 — Marder presented to Stevens a miniature version of the Amistad statue, which stands outside City Hall.
Stevens said the Ebola outbreak has transformed Sierra Leone, bringing one of the world’s fastest-growing economies in the mid-2000s almost to a standstill. The outbreak has greatly diminished since its apogee late last year, Stevens added, but the possibility of its resurgence remains. But, now that Sierra Leone has attracted substantial foreign assistance — and now that doctors have a better ability to treat Ebola — he is hopeful that any future outbreak will be more easily contained than the last one.
New Haven’s contribution will be greatly appreciated in Freetown, but Stevens said that the two countries should not come together only in times of need.
“We should not wait for things like this to happen to bring us together,” he said. “We should come together in times of happiness.”
In that spirit, Stevens promised that Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma will pay a visit to the Elm City whenever he next lands in the United States.