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Informing, Monitoring and Burying Corpses: The Untold Sacrifices of Gambia Red Cross

Fighting coronavirus requires maximum sacrifices from everyone, especially frontline workers. This is all the risks Red Cross volunteers are taking in Gambia to ensure people are educated about the virus particularly the doubters, borders are well monitored to ensure compliance and according dignified burials to those who have been confirmed to have died of the virus-related disease.

The volunteers of the Gambia Red Cross Society did not disappoint the core values of the global humanitarian organization. Their reaction to the pandemic in saving lives and proper handling of crises is accurately in line with the vision of founder Henry Donald 157 years ago, 1863.

Gambia Red Cross Volunteers buries person who died of COVID-19- Photo Credit: Facebook
     Gambia Red Cross Volunteers buries person who died of COVID-19- Photo Credit: Facebook

When The Chronicle visited the northern Gambian border settlement– Kerr Ali recently, volunteers were found sanitizing the locals while monitoring the border to ensure compliance of special government restriction measures to control the spread of the disease.

“The services we are doing here at Kerr Ali border post are entirely on a voluntary basis and part of our work is to make sure that all those entering the country through this end strictly adheres to the established guidelines and protocols of the Ministry of Health and WHO,” Abdul Wahab Barry told The Chronicle.

“We make sure that anybody entering the country thoroughly wash their hands as well as ensuring that all those entering are also checked before they enter the country,” he emphasized.

As of Thursday, Gambia recorded 1,556 confirmed cases, 43 deaths with 267 recoveries leaving 1,246 active cases of COVID-19.

Barry, a teacher by profession has been stationed at the border post, about 3 kilometers from Farafenni with his fellow volunteers for the past five months. He described their work as challenging and demanding as they are serving the communities that are still denying the reality of the virus.

“Our biggest challenge is how to change the mindset of the rural people as most of them still don’t believe that COVID-19 is real. They are seriously in need of sensitization to change their mindsets otherwise I see no way that we can get rid of this disease anytime soon,” Bah stressed.

According to him, Red Cross and Health officials are working under harsh conditions at the border where the scorching sun will press on them throughout with little motivation from the public they’re working for.

     Kerr Ali- Gambian border to Senegal

“To be honest we are doing a great deal of sacrifice here for our people but our situation needs to be considered. If the state can provide a tent for us outside, it will be good because working under the hot sun to make sure that everyone entering the country is safe is not an easy task,” Barry appeals.

He also stressed the lack of mobility, communication difficulties, shortage of human and financial resources is limiting their endeavour in sensitizing the communities in the North Bank Region.

“Our work extends beyond this border. Our services are needed everywhere within the region. We are also responsible for escorting patients for referrals and burials of corpses when the need arises and without mobility and resources, we cannot get these tasks done.”

One woman who provides testimony for the Red Cross work in the community is Amie Bittaye, a 31-year-old housewife. She’s taken upon herself to be providing food on a daily basis to the volunteers at the border post. She described her support as a return of humanitarian gesture to people who are sacrificing and putting their lives on the line for public safety.

    Amie Bittaye

“This is not the first time for me to do this. I have been doing this kind of support to humanity. In 2014, I did the same thing for the health workers and Red Cross volunteers who were fighting Ebola and I thought I can do the same to the Red Cross volunteers here again. At least, as my personal contribution to national cause,” Amie tells Chronicle.

The Communications officer of Gambia Red Cross Society, Modou Touray says offering a dignified burial to people who succumbed to COVID-19 related death is a key mandate of their operation. This, he said, is done to respect and accord a dignified burial in respect to the traditional, cultural and religious rites of all departed souls and it’s done in consultation with the family of the deceased.

“If a family member is to participate, we provide them with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their safety. The burial process is an engaged process where the family members take all the decisions and the Red Cross only facilitates their wish and grants the departed soul a safe and dignified burial,” he explained.

     Modou Touray

Touray revealed that some of their young volunteers who have not taken part in such activities before are normally traumatized and depressed.

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