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I sold black soap to recover from Ebola

Morie, 80, lives in Sierra Leone. After the Ebola crisis, Morie joined a club for older people run by Age International - where she discovered that a small ball of soap could be the key to turning around her fortunes.

In March 2014, the Ebola virus was detected in Guinea. Soon after, cases were reported in Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. By the time Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free, the country’s death toll stood at nearly four thousand. 

Even after the deaths, indirect effects of the disease continued to affect the entire country. Lockdowns on movement stopped trade in its tracks and caused people to use what little savings they had to buy food. Shops shut. Businesses collapsed.

An older woman farms in Sierra Leone. Older people were hit hard by the crisis - roads closed, markets shut down and they were left isolated. 

Children across the country were taken out of school during the lockdown, and many were unable to return. Rates of teenage pregnancy increased, pushing families further into poverty. The health system was crushed under the weight of the crisis - which included the deaths of medical staff. People suffering from health problems became even more vulnerable.

'I'm really sick. I am suffering from a hernia,' Morie tells us when we visit her in Kawama village, Sierra Leone.

Morie, 80, lays out balls of black soap - which she makes herself from scratch and then sells

As an 80-year-old woman, Morie risked being left behind and forgotten in the aftermath of the Ebola crisis. Few emergency recovery programmes plan specifically for the inclusion of older people - who often live isolated in villages miles away from city centres, speaking in different dialects and local languages.

In fact, Age International, and our partners, are some of the only agencies to provide age-friendly aid during a crisis. When faced with Ebola, Age International partnered with the youth charity Restless Development. Young volunteers travelled the country to reach rural villages and launch clubs for older people. 

Morie chats to youth volunteer, John-Daniel, about the programme. 

'At first, I didn't want to be part of the group,' Morie explains. 'But I was convinced by John-Daniel. He really encouraged me.'

John-Daniel, a youth volunteer who helped us to launch the club in Kawama village, is warm and friendly when we meet him at the monthly club meeting. The meeting is being run by the club Chair, Mr Foday Smart - who jokes with us, saying he likes to be called 'Mr Very Smart'. John-Daniel sits next to him, diligently helping to complete the log book and count money.

Age International's clubs for older people are community-based, democratic, and run by older people themselves. Members vote in a Treasurer, Chair, and a Secretary. 

Mr 'Very Smart' and John-Daniel, busy collecting payments at the club meeting

With money donated to Age International's Ebola Appeal, Age International has not only been able to launch the clubs - but also invest in the club's loan scheme. Older people are often denied loans from banks because of ageism - investors believe that the loans won't be paid back, despite evidence that older people are actually more reliable borrowers.

In the aftermath of a crisis like Ebola, investments and loans have been essential to helping people get back on their feet - allowing them to buy the supplies needed to restart their businesses. Morie took out a loan of 140,000 Sierra Leonean leone, which is equivalent to £14.50. 

Morie shapes black soap with her 22-year-old granddaughter. Later, they will sell it at the market.

'I have known about soap making for quite a while,' she says. But before, Morie didn't have the resources needed to produce the soap - which she can then sell. Instead, she bought charcoal and sold it by the roadside. It was heavy and difficult work. 

'Since we started, the money I have been earning is what I have been using to help me prepare my soap,' Morie explains 'Then I pay my loan back, and whatever is left is what I have to feed myself and run my home.'

'My main future plan is to find money so I can have medication. My main concern is how to regain my full health again.'

Morie, wearing her Sunday best at the club meeting that we attend with her

Back at the club meeting, loan repayments and interest are being collected. The money is counted in front of the group and recorded in a log book. The total amount now in the box is declared to the group - news that is always met with applause.

The hope is that the money will grow and grow, as more interest is paid back. That way, the group can go on to help more people in the village. In Asia, older people's clubs have spent money on everything from rebuilding bridges that have fallen apart in their villages, to helping send children to school.  

Counting the investment, at the weekly club meeting 

For now, the club will continue to invest in people like Morie, and hope for a better, brighter future for Sierra Leone. 'This programme that you brought here is really nice,' says Morie. 'When you get back, tell them to remember me.' 

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Last year we supported over 7,000 clubs in 26 countries - with a total of more than 400,000 members.  

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