Austria has yet to record its first case of Ebola, but the feared virus has already had a severe impact on the lives of Africans living in Vienna.
One of them is Jusu M., a 27-year old Sierra Leone national, who started a two-year master’s course in Cultural and Social Anthropology in Vienna in September. Now, three months later, he’s bracing himself to return home, because funding dried up after he lost his sponsor to Ebola.
Jusu’s sponsor – and uncle – Joseph K, died of Ebola three weeks ago, leaving Jusu alone in another country without the means to pay his way and fund the university education for which he and his family had saved for years.
The spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone is still soaring, and the West-African country has little means to fend off the deadly virus. In just the past five days, 397 new cases have been announced in Sierra Leone. So far, a total of 6,888 people have died of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, while another 17,942 have been diagnosed with the deadly disease.
The impact on all sections of society is profound, and even thousands of miles away in Vienna, the results of the crisis are very real and devastating.
Jusu did his bachelor’s degree in Sierra Leone on conflict resolution before working for two to three years with a logistics company to raise funds to add a master’s degree from a European university. Without the generous financial support of his uncle, who was the former Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Labor in Sierra Leone, it wouldn’t have been possible. Then Ebola hit. Now, Jusu has no choice but to quit his studies and return home, he says.
Jusu’s uncle started feeling ill only weeks after Jusu arrived in Austria in June, 2014. At the time, however, it was unclear that it was Ebola Joseph K. had contracted. Without the understanding that it was the deadly and highly contagious disease, the family rallied together within the same house to provide support, which sadly only sped up the spread of the illness.
By the time Jusu’s aunt and cousin died from the virus, the African Ebola crisis had finally captured the attention of global news media. Although Jusu’s uncle was the first in the family to contract the virus, he was the last member of the household to die from it.
“The only one left from their household is the maid. The family was just trying to provide support for each other and they didn’t realise what a mistake that would be,” Jusu said.
Regardless of the family funding, it wouldn’t have been possible for Jusu to study in Austria had he not, as a citizen of Sierra Leone, been exempted from paying tuition fees. His expenses consist of accommodation, upkeep and health insurance, which, however, is still far too much when he receives no funding from home and can’t find a part-time job.
The main problem Jusu faces now is that he can’t speak German, although he does have fluent English. All his applications for a job have been turned down flat on the grounds that some basic knowledge of German is mandatory – and without a job he can’t pay for German classes and thereby make himself more attractive to Austrian employers.
While free German classes are available to asylum seekers, regular students such as Jusu are not entitled to this service.
“I am not here to just live the good life for free. I am keen to start working. My visa allows me to work here but I am really struggling to find employment,” says Jusu.
The Catholic Church supplied some financial support when Jusu was unable to cover his rent, but this is not sustainable. The master’s course is two years long and Jusu is consistently on the job hunt for something part time that can allow him to remain in the country to finish his studies.
Anyone who may be able to help Jusu by offering part time work or sponsorship can contact him via the email address of Vienna’s English speaking Catholic Community, addressed to Father Kevin