Emergency

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In Sierra Leone, a Battle Against Ebola’s Stigma

OICC staff/volunteers in Sierra Leone.

Interim Care Center volunteers from Sierra Leone share their stories from the Ebola outbreak, which claimed many lives.

This week, the World Health Organization declared that for the first time in a year, Sierra Leone had no confirmed, active cases of the Ebola virus. If none are reported between now and Oct. 5, 42 days after the last case, the country will be considered free of Ebola. 

By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone

At the peak of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, ChildFund started Interim Care Centers throughout Sierra Leone to help children who found themselves at risk, living in households where they had been exposed to the virus. Often, they had lost parents to the disease and did not have reliable care or protection. Ultimately, ChildFund set up seven centers nationwide and served 343 children.

We checked in recently with some of the children and volunteer workers at the centers to see how they were doing.

Mariatu, who was at an Interim Care Center in Sierra Leone, received food and other necessities after going home.

Mariatu, who was at an Interim Care Center, received food and other necessities after going home.

Of the 343 children served between July 2014 and this past July, 75 percent are orphaned, 15 percent have one parent, and 10 percent were reunited with both parents. In recent months, 330 children have been reunited with parents or other family members.

ChildFund’s assistance, supported by donors to the Ebola emergency response fund, didn’t end there. We provided clothes and bedding to children whose belongings had to be burned to avoid spreading the virus.

We’ve also provided Cash Grant Livelihood Support packages of $300 each to 120 families, who used the funds for school uniforms, books and writing materials, or for household expenses. Staff members at ChildFund Sierra Leone’s national office also continue to visit children who have been reunited with their parents or caregivers, giving them further financial and emotional support as they cope with the trauma of losing loved ones to Ebola. We expect to stay in contact with these families well into the future.

Children were not the only people who suffered in the outbreak.

About 90 percent of the volunteer staffers at interim care centers are Ebola survivors who initially suffered some form of stigmatization from relatives or the general public. Due to ignorance of the disease, people were scared to come near Ebola survivors, despite the fact that they were no longer contagious or even vulnerable to catching the disease a second time. Survivors lost their jobs and homes as a result, and many have shared their sad stories with ChildFund staff members.

ChildFund Regional Director Jumbe Sebunya signs a guest book at an Interim Care Center in Sierra Leone.

ChildFund Regional Director Jumbe Sebunya signs a guest book at an Interim Care Center in Sierra Leone.

Even children who survived Ebola or were merely under observation for symptoms were not welcome in relatives’ homes after leaving the interim care centers. It took many appeals and negotiations for some of these children to be accepted in their communities.

According to an Ebola survivor, Theresa, whose two sons also fell sick and recovered, “When I was discharged from the clinic, I used to feel very ashamed. My neighbors’ attitude made things worse for me. I could not even use the apartment building’s toilet without fearing that someone would attack or abuse me.” Ultimately, the family left their apartment and now live elsewhere.

But people in Sierra Leone are becoming more aware of the truth about Ebola through an anti-stigmatization publicity campaign led by the federal government and assisted by ChildFund. Also, community members in areas with interim care centers have seen with their own eyes how Ebola survivors have helped many children.

“When the ICCs were established, survivors were still being stigmatized,” says Ebola survivor and center volunteer Mohamed Swarray, who helped track down exposed children’s family members so they could be reunited. “Since the centers were dealing with children from quarantined homes, it was difficult for them to get nurses and caregivers. It was decided that it is us — the survivors — who can do the job well. So, that is how my status as a survivor actually gave me a job.”

Community members started to view survivors differently and appreciate their work. Many of the volunteers, who received stipends for their work, say they’re grateful for ChildFund’s support and are proud of working with children affected by Ebola. Today, they stand by, ready to work if they’re needed again.

Read more about the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak, including how youth spread awareness throughout West Africa and a Guinea man’s survival story.

In West Africa, Youth Take Charge in Raising Ebola Awareness

Youth in Sierra Leone raising awareness of Ebola and how to avoid it.

At the height of the outbreak, youth in Sierra Leone used megaphones to raise awareness of Ebola and how to avoid it.

Reporting by Emmanuel Ford of ChildFund Liberia, Karifa Kamara of ChildFund Sierra Leone and Arthur Tokpah of ChildFund Guinea

We are taking a look back at the height of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Read about a young man who survived Ebola in Guinea, and stay tuned for more stories.

Last year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa was a frightening time for everyone in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 11,000 people died from the virus. There are still some isolated cases in all three countries, but the numbers are much lower than last fall — thanks in part to young volunteers who helped spread the word around their communities about stopping the outbreak.

ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard visited the Kipe Junior and Senior High School youth club in May. Club members helped spread the word about Ebola prevention.

ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard visited Guinea’s Kipe Junior and Senior High School youth club in May. Club members helped spread the word about Ebola prevention.

ChildFund’s offices in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone trained teens about Ebola prevention — including regular hand washing and avoidance of burial practices that lead to infection — and they took the message to village markets, homes, schools and other places where the public congregates. Although many of the activities started when the infection rate was higher, young volunteers still are spreading the word in their communities.

“We sometimes went over to villages where the degree of reluctance is high, to let them know that Ebola is real,” says Naby, president of a youth club in Guinea. “We showed people how to use hand-washing kits and told them to report any case of illness to the nearest health post, to avoid unsafe contacts and dangerous burial preparations.”

In another ChildFund-supported club, this one based in a Guinean school, about 30 students in grades 7 through 10 spent a few days last fall receiving training about how the disease is spread. They discussed ways to publicize the prevention techniques, and then set upon their task.

“No room for Ebola here” was the school’s slogan during the outbreak, according to the president of that club. “On the top of our priority list was raising awareness among students to wash their hands in a bleach solution and avoid all contact with sick people and dead bodies. We also targeted environmental hygiene. Though people may wash their hands regularly, if the environment is not clean, there is a high risk of being infected.”

In Liberia, ChildFund trained more than 100 youth volunteers in Lofa, where Liberia saw its first cases. Today, they still conduct door-to-door outreach to prevent another epidemic. They often attend local markets to reach people from many towns and villages, and they distribute posters and T-shirts with prevention messages, plus detergent and disinfectants.

As a result, community members are more aware of how to avoid the virus and are less afraid of reporting possible cases of Ebola, according to ChildFund staff members in Liberia.

In Sierra Leone, during the height of the epidemic last year, ChildFund’s local partner organizations saw the need for a door-to-door campaign to inform community members about Ebola. Teens involved in ChildFund’s activities attended training and then went out to their communities armed with signs and megaphones, an action that created much wider awareness of the disease.

In the northern part of the country, youths even assisted in monitoring the border Sierra Leone shares with Guinea, where some infected people were crossing and spreading the disease from one country to the other.

Because the young volunteers in all three countries are trusted members of their communities, their voices carried the ring of authority, ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard noted recently.

“Rumors were a serious problem, including the belief that the government was making up the disease and, early on, that thermometers were spreading the virus,” Goddard said. “Youth educators were effective in helping to dispel such rumors.”

In Guinea, an Ebola Survivor Speaks Out

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Facinet Bangoura, in the blue soccer shirt, survived Ebola and is now raising awareness in his community, Kindia, Guinea. 

By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea

Facinet Bangoura, a young man from Kindia, Guinea, survived Ebola and has taken the lead in raising awareness in his community. He is actively working alongside nongovernmental organizations — including ChildFund Guinea — to spread the word about avoiding Ebola, which is still present in Guinea. Recently, he spoke about his experience with the deadly virus.

I was in Conakry when I received a call that my mother was sick and had been taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, where she was hospitalized, none of the health workers knew that she was suffering from Ebola. I was told that she has been sick since the 28th of August and that she died on Sept. 4.

They wanted to carry the body to the mortuary. But we, the family members, refused and took the body to the village, and we buried her in respect to our tradition.

Very often in Guinea, religion and tradition have great influence on burial ceremonies, including washing the body and taking it to a worship place for prayer before the final burial, during which the closest relatives are asked to place the body in a tomb. This is how Facinet got infected.

I believe I was infected during the burial ceremony, as I was involved in all the activities. After the burial, the family scheduled a religious sacrifice in one week’s time. I returned to Conakry to resume my job. One Thursday evening, I started to feel a headache and fever.

Facinet.

Facinet.

When it was getting serious, I called a doctor from Matam Community Health Center. At the health center, I was told to go to an Ebola treatment center for examination. There, I was informed that I was positive for Ebola. I was completely desperate and did not know what to do. Immediately, I was placed in treatment. However, I still felt that I would come out from there.

One moment that I will never forget in my life was the moment when Dr. Mary entered the room where I was lying. I was scared when she entered. My eyes were wide open and staring at her, but she spoke to me with a smile on her face.

“Bangoura, tomorrow you are leaving this place,” she said. “You are healed.” I could not believe my ears. Though I had lost six relatives from my family of 15, I was still overjoyed because I was healed.

But things fell apart for Facinet when he came out of the treatment center. Life was no longer the same for him.

All my friends refused to accept me. Even my boss refused to let me continue my job. I was obliged to return to my village, where even old friends and relatives stayed away from me.

I was alone in the house and was completely isolated from others.

The end of his isolation began when ChildFund staff arrived in his village, creating greater awareness of how Ebola is spread and that its survivors are no longer contagious.

The day ChildFund and the local government federation staff members came to my village was the beginning of new hope for me. They spent time giving me courage and also sensitizing my neighbors and the rest of the people to accept me, telling them that I was totally healed and that I could live among people without any risk of infection.

They continue to support me and the orphaned children in my community with clothing, food and cash transfers to enable us begin new lives. I am grateful for their support of me and the many orphaned children in my community.

Stay tuned for more blog posts looking back at the peak of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

An Uphill Battle for Kindergartners in Vanuatu

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Celina Amos, the head teacher of a village kindergarten in Efate, Vanuatu, plays with Paloma, 5, (left) and Luisa, 3. The kindergarten was destroyed by Cyclone Pam on March 13. Photos by Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

By ChildFund Australia staff, with reporting from Live & Learn Vanuatu

Schools officially reopened in Vanuatu at the end of March, just weeks after the destructive Cyclone Pam wiped out homes and schools across the Pacific island nation on March 13. But for thousands of younger children, school is still out of session because Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education does not fund kindergartens. ChildFund Australia and its local partner Live & Learn Vanuatu are working to rebuild two of them.

Kindergartens are generally funded though school fees and small-scale fundraising by local communities. However, fundraising at a time when many families are rebuilding their homes, gardens and livelihoods is extremely difficult, and raising fees is likely to result in fewer children attending class, leaving younger children most vulnerable.

ChildFund Australia, our Alliance partner, is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to help rebuild two destroyed kindergartens on the outskirts of Port Vila. The schools are being constructed using cyclone-resistant architectural design and will include rainwater systems and toilets so children have access to safe water and sanitation. Both kindergartens will also be wheelchair accessible.

vanuatu kindergarten

Progress on a new kindergarten in Port Vila.

“The project goal is to rebuild both kindergartens to get the children back into a normal and stable learning environment within four months of Cyclone Pam, without placing further financial burden on the communities or parents,” says Anjali Nelson, team leader of Live & Learn Vanuatu.

Live & Learn has engaged a team of local professional builders to support the reconstruction effort, as well as volunteer workers from the two communities. On one of the sites, a group of volunteer builders from New Zealand also pitched in for 10 days.

The project is on track, but a shortage of construction materials and a severe lack of water have caused problems.

“The biggest issue so far has been the acute shortage of water in the area,” Nelson says. “Although we have had a period of heavy rain, we couldn’t collect sufficient quantities of water for the concrete mix, mainly due to the shortage of water tanks and drums, which were destroyed in the cyclone. Instead, we had to truck in water, which has slowed down the rebuilding process.”

Still, working together with the community, and with patience and a lot of improvising, the team has managed to keep the project on schedule, and at this stage the kindergartens are due for completion by mid-July.

Together with Live & Learn, ChildFund Australia plans to support families of the kindergartners by providing chickens, poultry management training and seedlings for home gardens.

You can help us be prepared for emergencies like this by donating to our Emergency Action Fund

On the Ground in Nepal

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Photo by Jake Lyell. Sindhupalchowk, Nepal. 

Photojournalist Jake Lyell arrived in Nepal three days after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck April 25 and accompanied ChildFund’s emergency relief team as they delivered supplies to devastated communities. Here is his personal experience of this humanitarian crisis. You can see more of his photos here

Parts of Nepal are devastated. I say parts because I expected my plane to land in a rubble-piled wasteland; it didn’t. There was a runway, an immigration officer and a functioning baggage carousel.

Kathmandu’s ancient temples, however, are in ruins. Many multi-storied buildings have toppled down. But the capital city, still in shock, manages to keep pace at least somewhat. I still have the bandwidth to create this blog post, after all.

Upon exiting the Kathmandu valley, things become steadily worse. To the northeast, in Sindhupalchowk District, despite being further away from the epicenter of the earthquake, homes have been flattened. People sit in uncertainty by the side of the highway, while others comb through the wreckage of their former dwellings, searching for food or possessions.

I begin to experience something that I never have felt before — an eerie sixth sense that comes from gaping at grand mountains and pristine rivers juxtaposed with piles of debris and the stench of bodies. Death seems nearer than ever before.

After a long journey, I arrive with ChildFund staff at one of their food distribution points. As the car comes to a stop, Aileen Santiago, the ChildFund Japan emergency worker who has been sitting next to me since we left Kathmandu, bolts out of the vehicle to meet a woman she recognizes. It’s clear that they haven’t seen one another since before the quake hit. Without a word, they embrace as grief paints their faces and the tears come, expressing what I’d been meaning all along but couldn’t quite put into words.

Assistance is arriving to Nepal’s hardest-hit communities. Despite what you may have read, not all food and other resources are held up at roadblocks or customs. ChildFund and other organizations are contributing to the relief effort, and I can attest firsthand to the blessings a contribution toward that work brings.

Good news will come; but for now, we take a moment to grieve.

Progress as Ebola Recedes in West Africa

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ChildFund President & CEO Anne Lynam Goddard with children in Liberia.

Reporting and photos from Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia, and Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea

This week, ChildFund’s president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, visited Liberia, which was declared free of Ebola last Saturday, and Guinea. Guinea and Sierra Leone still have some active cases of Ebola, but the numbers are considerably lower than several months ago, at the height of the epidemic.

Yaye Aye Barry, ChildFund Guinea's business development coordinator, at left with Anne Goddard during a reception at Kipe Junior High School.

Yaye Aye Barry, ChildFund Guinea’s business development coordinator, at left with Anne Goddard during a reception at Kipe Junior High School.

Since last spring, when the virus began spreading quickly through West Africa, ChildFund has worked with governments and other nongovernmental organizations to make communities aware of preventive hygiene practices and also help survivors and children affected by the virus.

The centerpiece of our work, starting in October 2014, was the opening of Interim Care Centers, where children who had lost caregivers to Ebola could receive care and attention while being watched for symptoms of Ebola. People working at the ICCs were often Ebola survivors, who are immune to the disease. They also worked to find homes for these children — many of whom are orphans — after their releases from quarantine.

Today, ICC staff members are still checking on the welfare of these children and their caretakers, some of whom have taken in several children and need assistance. As schools and public institutions reopen, life may look more normal in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the struggle for children who lost parents, siblings and other loved ones to Ebola remains quite painful.

Goddard spoke to Ebola survivors this week at Kelekula Interim Care Center in Monrovia, Liberia: “The memory will be part of your life forever, and don’t think of being a victim but a survivor.

“I know this is not the end,” she added. “I know that many lives have been affected that will not go back to normal, and we know that it will take a lot to bring people, children, families and communities back on the path toward the future.”

Read more about Anne Goddard’s West Africa visit at her Tumblr page.

A Child’s View of Destruction in Nepal

Headlines fly by fast, even when tragedy happens, like the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Nepal on April 25. Right now, families like Ayush’s are struggling to get back on their feet after losing their homes, jobs and even loved ones. This video, filmed by Jake Lyell, shows the personal toll the disaster has taken on Ayush’s family, and this was before Sunday’s 7.3-magnitude aftershock, which has taken more lives and destroyed more homes. Please watch this video, share it and give what you can to help ChildFund’s relief efforts in Nepal. Thanks.

Liberia Declared Free From Ebola: President Sirleaf Visits Care Centers

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Children who came through the Kelekula Interim Care Center in Monrovia, Liberia, welcome President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who came to celebrate the end of the Ebola outbreak throughout the country. 

By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia

Liberia is the first of the three hardest-hit West African countries to be declared free of Ebola, 42 days after the last confirmed case. The announcement by the World Health Organization came May 9 in Monrovia, prompting celebrations throughout the country.

Decontee, a survivor of Ebola and KICC caretaker, speaks as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (in red) looks on.

Decontee, a survivor of Ebola and a KICC caretaker, speaks as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (in red) looks on.

Since March 2014, the Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 4,700 lives in Liberia and caused more than 11,000 deaths in West Africa overall. Neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone continue to see infections, although at a much lower rate than before. In Liberia, the last confirmed Ebola death was March 27, and there have been no new cases since April 23.

On the morning of May 9, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited the ChildFund-supported Kelekula Interim Care Center for children affected by Ebola. She and her entourage toured the center and lauded ChildFund and its partners for our efforts in running the centers in Monrovia, Kakata and Ganta.

Welcoming the president were children who had spent time at the center, along with the center’s caregivers, many of whom had survived the virus and are now immune.

Speaking on behalf of the caregivers, Decontee, an Ebola survivor, spoke about some of the challenges of working there. “We went through sleepless nights taking care of 2- to 4-month-old babies at the center,” she said.

The Kelekula Interim Care Center was started in October 2014. Since then, the center has seen 55 children, three of whom died at Ebola clinics, and one who died of other causes after leaving the center. Many more have gone home — in some cases, new homes because they’ve lost their parents to Ebola. At this time, the interim care center staff members check in with children and caretakers every other week, and community members continue to wash their hands regularly to prevent the future spread of Ebola. Sick people are being screened for symptoms of the virus when they enter clinics or hospitals.

To date, ChildFund continues to distribute Hasbro Toys and TOMS Shoes, as well as school materials, to children throughout the country under its gifts-in-kind program.

“I am thankful to all of you who made this end a happy ending,” President Johnson Sirleaf said. “Thank God we are free, but we need to be more vigilant.”

You Can Make a Difference in Quake-Stricken Nepal

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A boy walks amid rubble in Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk District, where ChildFund Japan is bringing disaster relief. 

Conditions in Nepal are dire after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake April 25. As of today, the death toll is  more than 7,500 and climbing as assessments continue. The country’s National Emergency Operations Center, operating under its Ministry of Home Affairs, reports that more than 160,000 houses were destroyed, and nearly 144,000 more have been damaged.

ChildFund Japan, our Alliance partner, has worked in Nepal for 20 years and is helping distribute food in four villages in Sindhupalchowk, among the hardest-hit districts. On May 1, ChildFund Japan representatives brought 10 tons of rice, 1.5 tons of dhal (lentils) and salt to more than 10,000 children and family members. Longtime ChildFund freelance photographer and videographer Jake Lyell is documenting damage and relief efforts in Sindhupalchowk and elsewhere.

Jake has been to disaster zones before and says, “On my third day in the field, I can say that the area around where ChildFund works is the worst I’ve seen. It’s more remote, and the damage was very severe. It made our hearts sink.”

Jake’s not mincing words, but we are able to get help to some of the Nepalese families who need it most. Take a look at his pictures (as well as videos), and then donate what you can to help Nepal’s children through ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund. You can follow our emergency updates, too.

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Scenes from Vanuatu

The Category 5 Cyclone Pam struck the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving many people homeless and destroying crops. ChildFund International and ChildFund Australia are raising funds to help families recover from the disaster, working with a local NGO, Live & Learn Vanuatu. Right now, the most urgent problem is a lack of clean water, but your donations are helping make a difference. Below, take a look at photos taken by Vlad Sokhin in Vanuatu last week, along with quotes from people affected by the cyclone.

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Photos: ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

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