The hot meals provided by Tzu Chi and its partners have been a beacon of hope for the fire survivors. | Photos courtesy of Tzu Chi Foundation | Sierra Leone

On May 2, 2024, a massive fire ravaged the Susan's Bay community, one of Freetown’s largest and poorest informal settlements, in Sierra Leone, leaving countless families homeless and destitute. A total of 61 houses were burned down, with 320 others partially damaged, leaving an estimated 7,093 people from 1,597 households in great distress.

Among the chaos and devastation, hope emerged through the collaborative efforts of the Healey International Relief Foundation, Caritas Freetown, Lanyi Foundation, and Tzu Chi Foundation. Together, these organizations have provided much-needed support to the survivors, offering both immediate relief and a vision for a safer future.

Tzu Chi provided 1,415 bags of rice stored in Sierra Leone, each weighing 10 kilograms. Cooked by personnel from the Lanyi Foundation and Caritas, the hot meals initiative, spanning 21 days from May 13, served as a lifeline for many, including Adama Kamara, a mother who lost everything in the fire along with her three children. Her eldest missed the national primary school exam after the fire destroyed her uniform and ID. Despite the heartache, Adama expressed profound gratitude for the hot meals, which were crucial for her family during this challenging time.

Adama shared how the fire destroyed her livelihood and left her feeling depressed and helpless. Her husband’s drug use also added to her struggles, making her solely responsible for her children's well-being. The hot meals provided by Tzu Chi and its partners have been a beacon of hope, but Adama also emphasized the need for other essential support, such as proper shelter, hygiene facilities, and opportunities to rebuild her livelihood.

The hot meals brought much relief to the parents who were worried about their children going hungry. |Photo courtesy of Tzu Chi Foundation | Sierra Leone

Another suvivor, Emma Conteh, a widow with three children, shared how the fire consumed all her savings and cooking utensils, leaving her with nothing to support her family. Furthermore, her five-year-old daughter, Fatmata, went missing during a heavy rainstorm on May 19. Emma reported the incident to the police, but so far, there has been no news. Despite her despair, Emma appreciates the hot meals, which were vital in feeding her remaining children. However, her heart remains heavy with worry for her missing daughter.

Volunteers offer sincere blessings and comforting hot meals, bringing peace to the mind and body. |Photo courtesy of Tzu Chi Foundation | Sierra Leone

Zainab Sankoh, a resilient woman in her late twenties, also saw her life shattered by the fire. As a single mother, she had always worked hard to provide for her two-year-old son, Alie. On the day of the fire, Zainab had just picked up Alie from school when the alarm was raised. They fled their home, watching helplessly as the flames consumed everything they owned. In the aftermath, Zainab struggled to access basic necessities, and the overcrowded conditions in the emergency shelter made life even harder. Determined to provide a stable environment for Alie, she continued to seek help from various organizations, including Tzu Chi, Caritas, and government officials.

Besides providing hot meals, volunteers also care about the children's education. |Photo courtesy of Tzu Chi Foundation | Sierra Leone

Aminata Mansaray, a 13-year-old pupil of Marbella Primary School, also had her life upended by the fire. Living with her aunt, Isatu Mansaray, and five other children, Aminata was forced to stop attending school after the fire destroyed her uniform, books, and other essentials. The family’s freezer, which they relied on to sell cold water for income, was also destroyed in the blaze. Begging for food became their reality until the hot meals provided by Tzu Chi began. Aminata is grateful for the meals, which have saved them from the indignity of begging and have provided much-needed relief.

Community members like Mr. Koroma and Mrs. Sesay echo similar sentiments. Mr. Koroma is thankful for the food that has helped his family survive in the aftermath of the disaster. Mrs. Sesay praised Tzu Chi for their support, explaining that the provision of food allowed her to save money and focus on other pressing needs for her household.

Through the collaborative efforts of Tzu Chi Foundation and its partners, the Susan's Bay community is finding hope and resilience amidst the devastation. By providing immediate relief and empowering residents with fire prevention education, these organizations are helping to rebuild lives and create a future filled with hope and love. Together, we are making a difference, one meal and one family at a time.