Monrovia — The government of Liberia has instituted several measures, including prohibiting the gathering of people in the wake of the Ebola outbreak in the country, but it has been disclosed that in some counties cultural practices such as Sande bush where girls are gathered in one location, doing everything in common is still being practiced.
With Liberia now leading the number of cases and deaths ahead of both Guinea and Sierra Leone, rural dwellers are still running and operating Sande bushes that are considered traditional Bush Schools, in some countries, including the hometown of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Bomi County, Minister of Gender and Development has told FrontPageAfrica.
Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell told FrontPageAfrica that the practice is dangerous especially with the ongoing Ebola crisis. "We have received reports that currently in Bomi County, there are Sande bushes being run. Bringing a group of girls together, put them at risk, because they do everything in common," said Minister Cassel.
Minister Cassel described such practice as dangerous and indicated that people are using the closure of schools as a means to gather the girls for such practice that exposes them to contracting the Ebola virus. Minister Cassell: "It is dangerous to run Sande bushes, and bring a group of people together. But I think people are taking advantage of the Ebola situation because schools are closed."
Minister Cassel noted that upon getting the news, she immediately informed the Minister of Internal Affairs Mr. Morris Dukuly, who informed his Assistant minister for culture to go and ensure that those Sande bushes are closed.
The Gender Minister observed that at this time parents should spend quality time with their children and get to know them instead of leaving them to be in such environment as Sande Bushes. "Parents should do things in their communities to keep the children busy. We are also asking that parents should engage their children and tell them stories of where they came from and who were their grandparents?
Use the opportunity while you are staying home so that your children can be protected. We are working with UNICEF to come up with some programs for the children to keep themselves busy and stimulate the minds while they are out of school", the Gender Minister told FPA.
Meima Sirleaf Karneh, Assistant Minister for Research and Technical Services at the Ministry of Gender, said during the first Ebola outbreak, the Ministry met with the female traditional Zoes educating them about the danger in clustering the children because the virus spreads through contact, and told them that by having the girls together in the bush, it is very dangerous at this time.
"After we did the awareness, we received information that there were Sande bushes ongoing in Bomi. And we reported the situation to the Internal Affairs through Mamatouma, who is the Chief Zoe, and she promised to have it investigated, because they were already told not to run the bush and put people at risk", Assistant Minister Karneh said
Mrs. Karneh said during their visitation in several communities, there were no Sande activities going; this she observed was due to the fact that normal schools were in section and traditional educational schools could not interrupt the formal schools.
Undermining Ebola fight
The Assistant Gender Minister described such practice as undermining the fight against the deadly virus. "I do not think people should take advantage of the Ebola situation and exploit it. Because running a Sande bush at this time, is undermining the process of fighting the Ebola virus. I think it is wrong and dangerous to do that, because when one person in the family gets it, everybody will get it because it is a silent killer", she warned.
Speaking about the importance of girls staying in school, Assistant Minister Karneh said in as much as they know traditional education is good, but in the modern world, one cannot easily succeed with it.
"When you take the child from the formal education and put her in the bush school, the school year is not waiting for them while their friends are going ahead and she is growing and left behind. At the end of the time, after she leaves the Sande, one old man would come and pay her bride price or dowry and she starts having children, and that is a violation of the girl's right," she said.
Sande activities ongoing in several counties
According to Minister Cassel, the practice is also being carried out in Lofa County where she disclosed that during a visit to the County by Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, he frowned on the practice after noticing they are taking place in one of two counties worse affected by the virus. Also in Grand Cape Mount County the practice is said to be taking place at the moment.
Bomi and Grand Cape Mount where the Sande practice is said to be taking place are amongst two of the counties quarantined by the Government to prevent further spread of the Ebola virus.
The Government of Liberia in 2012 suspended the practice of Sande from time indefinite and warned traditional leaders to adhere to the mandate. There has been widespread western and national condemnation of the aged old traditional practice which has existed in Liberia and other African countries for centuries.