Battling Ebola and boosting business in Sierra Leone

Feb 2, 2015

Freetown, Sierra Leone - Sariatu Kamara owns a beauty salon in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. The sole breadwinner for her family, her business has been hit hard as people stayed away through fear of Ebola.

“Before Ebola this place was fine, but during the Ebola time business was not good, it’s difficult” she said.

“People are afraid to come because of body contact, they are sensitized not to touch people.”

Businesses and livelihoods across the worst affected countries have been battered by Ebola, particularly those that involve human contact. 

A UNDP supported Ebola awareness training and small-grants programme has given business owners like Ms. Kamara the tools they need to bring back clients and teach them how to keep safe.

Keen to spread the messages, she took to the streets with a megaphone.

“We will take these precautions and we will kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone” she said.

Emmanuel T. Kamara, a barber in Freetown, won a grant based on his safe, smart actions to protect people from Ebola and build confidence in his business.

“Because of this Ebola we make so many changes, like the using a sponge, Dettol [disinfectant] and now the tap bucket” he said.

Small changes go a long way to renewing customer confidence. Gloves for hair stylists and beauty technicians, disinfectant for tools, and thermometers to check for fever all make a big difference.

“The young people we have worked with in Freetown are the champions and we will connect them with their peers” said Lionel Laurens, UNDP’s Ebola Immediate Response Coordinator.  

“They are an inspiration and an example to other young people to do the same.”

Business has changed in big ways since Ebola. Home deliveries have become huge as shops shut and movements were controlled. Mobile transactions increased through fear of handling cash.

With markets closed, taxis restricted and rising costs and inflation, merchants and customers are finding new ways to navigate through the changing markets.

“People will definitely adapt to these new teachings and lessons even after Ebola,” said Abubakarra Kamara, Coordinator of Sierra Leone’s Business Development Service (BDS), that partners with UNDP on the initiative.

Mr. Kamara said that since the project’s outset, the business owners have improved even more, with more barbershops and other businesses buying cleaning and disinfectant to protect customers.

“On the part of the proprietors there are lessons learned….So for us it gives us the courage that we are doing something great for these entrepreneurs” he said.

With five BDS centres nationwide, UNDP and its partners will support young buiness owners across the country to adapt and grow their businesses throughout 2015.

UNDP leads the UN’s response on Ebola recovery and has coordinated early recovery response actions in the three most affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

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