Lucy Sumner, of East Northport, left her native village of Bompehtoke in Sierra Leone right after high school to attend college in the United States.
Now 69, Sumner gives back to her hometown through her nonprofit, The Magic Penny, created in 2003 to help provide educational opportunities for Bompehtoke and surrounding communities.
So when the Ebola virus outbreak hit Sierra Leone in May, Sumner jumped in to help stop the deadly disease from spreading to Bompehtoke.
“We wanted to be proactive and intervene before the disease really took hold in the area,” Sumner said. “Prevention can be better than treatment.”
Last week, the nonprofit delivered more than $5,000 in food and medical and cleaning supplies to Bompehtoke and nearby communities for Ebola prevention and awareness during the nation’s largest Ebola outbreak in history.
The effort was a combined venture from Sumner and her sister, Annie Bangura, who works at the charity’s location in Sierra Leone. Sumner spearheaded an email fundraising campaign in the United States and sent the proceeds to Bangura, who used the money to purchase supplies and ship them via ferry from the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown to the countryside.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak affects the West African nations of Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There have been 1,026 reported cases of Ebola and 422 Ebola-related deaths in Sierra Leone as of Aug. 26, according to the CDC. As of Friday, more than 2,000 have died from the outbreak in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
Ebola is a deadly virus with symptoms similar to the flu, and is transmitted through contact with saliva, blood or other bodily fluids. The virus has a 90 percent fatality rate among humans and does not have an official cure, although various cures are being tested.
According to Sumner, getting supplies to more rural areas is challenging, due to strict travel rules imposed by the government, because areas are quarantined to prevent Ebola exposure.
“Because of the quarantine, you have to get special government permission to travel, and prices are skyrocketing because of inflation from limited resources,” Sumner said. “Most of the supplies are sent to bigger cities — we wanted to give the smaller villages a voice.”
The Magic Penny is also leading Ebola education programs in Sierra Leone, which are geared toward teaching villagers proper preventive measures.
Sumner said education and prevention are some of the most powerful tools in fighting the disease. “Sometimes, you don’t know if you’re carrying it, or if your relative is carrying it right away,” Sumner said. “Ebola is a silent enemy, and fear is our enemy, too.”