By Jeremy Lovell
LONDON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - From Monday, people all over the world can become virtual neighbours to the residents of a Sierra Leone slum, plagued by infant mortality and rampant disease, through an Internet campaign by the charity Save the Children.
For the past two months the charity has had two people living in the Kroo Bay slum, which straddles what is in effect an open sewer in the capital Freetown, compiling footage and stories of the resident’s daily struggle to survive.
From this they have created a virtual reproduction of the community so that from Monday, by clicking through the charity’s Web site at www.savethechildren.org.uk, people will be able to enter it interactively on the Internet.
"You really are in Kroo Bay. You really are immersed in these people and their community. It is about the hardest place in the world to bring up a child," said a spokeswoman for the charity.
The goal is to raise money for Kroo Bay to help cut the huge incidence of infant mortality and disease, and at the same time allow donors to watch how their money is being distributed and chart the community’s progress.
"People don’t react well to guilt. But with this you can actually see individuals and families benefitting," the spokeswoman said.
Sierra Leone, a former British colony in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries on the planet and is still struggling to recover from a brutal civil war that ended in 2002.
According to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for every 1,000 births, 270 children die before they reach the age of 5, the highest mortality rate in the world. Life expectancy is 41 and the adult literacy rate is 35 percent.
Some 6,000 people live in Kroo Bay, more than half of children, said Save the Children.
More than one in 10 of the families have suffered a death in the past month and in an average month, 3,841 people will have malaria and 3,844 will have diarrhoea, the charity said.
The Kroo Bay campaign is part of the charity’s wider drive to stop 10 million infant deaths a year. It has chosen this method because of the direct relationship it creates between donors and recipients.
People can text one of seven short words — NUT, NET, WATER, BLANKET, JAB, THERM, SALTS — to 81819 and a preset sum of money ranging from 1 pound to 5 pounds sterling will be sent to the project.
"NET is 5 pounds and buys a mosquito net, NUT is 1 pound 50 and buys a day’s supply of micronutrient peanut butter while SALTS is 1 pound and buys oral rehydration salts," the spokeswoman said.
The other terms refer to water filters, blankets, vaccinations and thermometers.
"Through the Web site we will be able to actually show people receiving the goods that the money has bought and over the next three years they will be able to see the community benefit generally," the Save the Children spokeswoman said.
Virtual visitors to the Freetown slum will be able to pose questions either generally or to individuals. The charity will have someone available to record an answer and play it back. (Editing by David Clarke and Mary Gabriel)