ChildFund’s response to Ebola continues, as the number of diagnosed cases nears 9,000, with 4,493 deaths recorded. For the next five days (until Oct. 20), you can listen to a BBC interview (go to the 44-minute mark) with Billy Abimbilla, national director of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and Ebola survivor and volunteer Decontee Davis about the Interim Care Center started for Liberian children affected by the deadly virus. It’s a remarkable story, and Billy reports that Liberians are volunteering to foster and adopt children orphaned by Ebola. You can read more and help our efforts in West Africa through the Ebola Response Fund.
As the Ebola virus continues to claim thousands of lives in western Africa, many children have been orphaned. To help these children — many of whom are being watched for early signs of the virus — ChildFund has opened an Interim Care Center specifically for children in Monrovia, Liberia, with the cooperation of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
Currently, 20 children are getting settled in the facility, where they will stay for 21 days in quarantine while being monitored and receiving counseling from volunteers who have survived Ebola and are now immune. A nurse, social workers and mental health workers will be on hand to assist the children too.
“More than 2,000 children have been orphaned by Ebola in Liberia,” says Billy Abimbilla, ChildFund’s national director for Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“In addition to the tragedy of losing parents, these children are being traumatized by the stigma associated with the virus. They have nowhere else to go.”
As of now, more than 3,400 people have succumbed to the virus, with more than 7,400 cases being reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In addition to losing parents and caregivers, children affected by Ebola often are shunned by community members out of fear of contracting the deadly virus, so ChildFund’s center serves an important need. Aside from shelter and food, the children will be able to play and read, as well as receive psychosocial support to address their grief and trauma. If they turn feverish or show other early signs of Ebola, they will go to a treatment center immediately.
Also, staffers at the Interim Care Center will be looking for family members or foster caregivers who can take in the children once they safely finish their quarantine. Plans are also in the works now for ChildFund and the Health and Social Welfare Ministry to open more centers across Liberia.
“The Interim Care Center is a supportive, safe place where the children can grieve while the staff tries to connect them with surviving family members,” Abimbilla says.
Make a contribution to ChildFund’s Ebola Response Fund.
ChildFund’s emergency management unit provided a status report late last week on the spread of the Ebola virus in our program areas in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal, which has reported only one case so far. Read more here about Guinea, too. To help, you can make a gift to our Ebola Response Fund, which will help ChildFund support local efforts to control the virus’ spread and provide information and resources to communities.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Ebola has sickened an estimated 4,200 people in Africa, and as of Sept. 9, 2,288 people have died from the virus, according to the World Health Organization. The spread of Ebola remains most serious in Liberia, where there have been the most deaths. Also affected are Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Senegal reported its first Ebola case last week, and officials in The Gambia are keeping close watch for cases, although none had been reported as of Sept. 9.
In Guinea, the situation appears to be stabilizing. As part of its strategy to fight the deadly Ebola virus, ChildFund Guinea identified and engaged community leaders to convey information to the public in three of Guinea’s affected communities.
These 108 leaders include imams, priests, a pastor, traditional healers and hunters — all of whom are respected and have influence within their communities. In March, as the outbreak began, ChildFund Guinea’s office held training workshops on conducting outreach campaigns, as well as identifying and referring people with suspected cases of Ebola to health facilities.
As a result, community members have received important information about good hygiene and preventive measures from people they know and trust. The training has concluded, but information sharing continues through local groups and one-on-one discussions at Guineans’ homes and houses of worship.
To date, 35 traditional healers (10 in Kindia and 25 in Dabola) and 28 hunters involved in the project are actively continuing the efforts to contain the spread of Ebola in Guinea. These men are part of indigenous peoples, who trust them as caregivers of the land and of people. Because of their roles and influence, healers and hunters are critical to public awareness efforts.
This community-centered approach has created widespread trust and increased public support for the use of preventive measures.
The outreach campaign has yielded concrete results, as three people suspected of having the virus were referred to the Regional Hospital of Dabola. Unfortunately, these three patients died a few days later, but this intervention helped prevent further spread of the virus.
Since the end of March, no new cases have been reported in any of the communities where ChildFund works in Guinea. Nevertheless, community members continue to be vigilant and prepared to take action if they see anyone who has a suspected case of Ebola.
Read more about ChildFund’s efforts to prevent and contain Ebola in Guinea and other western African countries.
By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
In the weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines last Nov. 8, Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, reported on the children, youth and adults struggling in its aftermath. Six months after the storm, he reports on their recovery. This is his second dispatch; read his first here.
Taclobanons all knew fear on Nov. 8. That day, Christine, a teacher, survived being trapped in her two-story apartment. For several hours, she was caught with water below and water above. The storm surge flooded her home at street level, forcing her upstairs, where she endured harsh rain and strong winds after her apartment’s roof had been peeled away by the strongest winds she’d ever seen. Christine had to duck and cover in the stairwell, where she could also keep an eye on the churning tumult below.
Her fears would not end there, however. When the storm passed, all sorts of news — true and false — traveled fast among survivors. Some said the mayor was dead; others claimed rebels had descended on the city; still others said inmates were released so they wouldn’t drown in prison.
Power lines were down everywhere, so no one had any way of knowing what was true and what was not. Christine lived alone, and she feared for her safety. She first stayed with her aunt before evacuating to the neighboring island of Cebu, where the city’s urban comforts sharply contrasted with the desperation and scarcity in Tacloban.
Thirteen-year-old Kristine also feared for her life. As the floodwaters of Haiyan’s storm surge poured into her house, she and her mother, her 18-year-old brother and 14-year-old sister climbed over stacked furniture to keep from drowning. Her brother opened a panel in the ceiling, and he helped them all up. In the ceiling, they each lay prone over a wooden beam as roiling rapids filled Kristine’s living room.
After the storm, they surveyed the damage to their home. The walls still stood, but the garage had collapsed, crushing their car.
Kristine and her family, like Christine, heard rumors about violence and roving bands of looters. Her father is a police officer, but he was stationed three hours away, and she hadn’t heard anything from him since Leyte Island lost power. Fearing for their safety, the family crawled back into the ceiling so intruders would not find them.
In the pitch-black night, all sorts of unearthly sounds haunted them and fed their fears of danger, both real and imagined.
Loud thuds and creaking at her home’s perimeter gate pulled Kristine out of her thoughts. She held her breath as she listened again, hoping it was just her imagination. There it was again. It sounded like someone was trying to push their gate open. Kristine heard her mother calling to her brother to stay put, but it was too late — he had climbed down from the ceiling to investigate.
He soon reappeared, wearing a grin across his face. Their father was home.
Returning to school
After the storm, the Philippines’ Department of Education announced that schools would reopen Dec. 2. Christine returned from Cebu — only to find her apartment had been ransacked. Many things were stolen, and the rest were damaged by the flood. Christine also found that belongings she had stored at Sto. Nino Elementary School had been stolen, along with various other items of school property.
Christine was beside herself. She had become a public school teacher to help people be better and because she loved children, and now she’d been robbed of even belongings she’d never deemed valuable. People seemed to just take things because they could. She couldn’t believe her misfortune.
Nonetheless, she had to come to work. But how would she teach? Teachers and students had lost their books and notebooks, and many children no longer had uniforms and shoes. Everyone still bore the shock of Haiyan, and nobody was in the mood, let alone prepared, to resume school.
Kristine also returned to school Dec. 2, but her heart wasn’t in it. Few of her peers were in attendance. It seemed to be too soon for everyone, especially those coping with far worse circumstances than her family. Kristine’s classmates sat and stared, and they wept for friends they’d lost in the storm.
At the same time, hundreds of evacuees crowded into Sto. Nino School, and both Kristine and Christine found ChildFund staff members among all the new faces. They were organizing a Child-Centered Space there, a place for children to recover from all the intense emotions caused by the typhoon.
Despite all of her trials and tribulations, Christine signed up as a volunteer. “I’m a teacher. I’ve been a teacher 27 years,” she declared. “I teach because I love children, and help is what they really need right now.” ChildFund staff members trained her and other volunteers to use curriculum developed specifically for emergencies. Instantly, Christine felt she’d made the right decision.
“I conducted CCS sessions at school through December, right until everyone took a break for the holidays. Then in January, we shifted to holding CCS on weekends, to make time for the school curriculum on weekdays,” Christine says. “It gave me so much joy seeing the children’s demeanor improve, hearing them laugh, play and sing again, witnessing children learn to be children again, despite all that’s happened.”
For her part, Kristine was happy that CCS activities filled the gap before regular classes resumed. “We couldn’t really hold class in the weeks after the typhoon,” she says. “But CCS helped us get over the intense memory of fear. When school really resumed in January, we were ready.”
ChildFund also helped Kristine and her classmates get ready to resume school by replacing lost school supplies. “It feels like such a small thing,” Kristine says, “but I was delighted to actually own something new after losing so many things to the storm.” It would be a while before simple things like pens and pencils could be purchased locally in Tacloban.
It’s now been half a year since Haiyan tore through Tacloban and other towns. Christine remains a ChildFund volunteer, and her local knowledge is invaluable to ChildFund’s staff members.
Sometimes she brings Kristine with her to ChildFund activities. During summer break, Kristine is learning outdoors skills through scouting.
“Haiyan’s hardship almost curled me into a closed fist,” Christine says, “but ChildFund reminded me to remain an open palm, sharing my blessings with others.”
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
In the weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines last Nov. 8, Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, reported on the children, youth and adults struggling in its aftermath. Six months after the storm, he reports on their recovery. Here is his first dispatch.
Tacloban looked really shiny from my airplane window. It was the glint of freshly installed corrugated metal sheet roofing — many homes and businesses whose walls still stood had recently repaired their roofs.
When ChildFund’s emergency response team first landed in Tacloban, the city was the dire place the world was hearing about in the news. After what I had seen then, progress – any kind of visible progress – was welcome news. I’d see more signs of it as I made my way through town.
Utilities have been restored throughout the city. I’ve heard there are occasional power outages, but supply is largely stable. This is a far cry from the city that was swallowed in darkness each night. Water supply and mobile phone coverage have also been restored.
The public transportation grid is working again. Passenger jeepneys (local, privately owned minibuses) and commuter tricycles are plying the road once more. Some are even back to reckless driving, which is another indicator of normalcy, for better or worse.
Public transportation also indicates fuel supply has also been restored. I spotted many gas stations newly repaired or nearly so. Right after Haiyan, gas stations lay partially or completely in ruins and were subsequently ransacked for their fuel supply.
Tacloban’s streets have been cleared of rubble and rubbish. In the first days after the super typhoon, cars were strewn about the roads like some toddler’s toys. Now, nearly all the wrecked vehicles are gone from the streets, and the remaining automobile husks are parked neatly in front of their owners’ lots.
Commerce in Tacloban is also struggling to recover. Many businesses have repaired and reopened. Markets, restaurants, boutiques, electronics and assorted services often sport large painted canvass streamers announcing their reopenings — no need to live off packed rations or relief goods anymore. I walked into a little corner fast-food eatery for lunch and enjoyed a good, cheap meal while watching a noontime vaudeville on TV, seated next to a few school-aged girls giggling over Facebook on their phones and tablets. It felt like Haiyan had never happened there.
The volume of lechon (roast pig) stalls open throughout the city also surprised me. Lechon isn’t cheap, and it’s usually served only at fiestas or large banquets.
School is out for the Philippines’ summer break, from late March to the first week of June. Teachers say ChildFund’s Child-Centered Space training was critical in the months of January to March, when school had to resume but children were not physically and emotionally prepared. These same teachers feel more confident that they’re in better shape to start school in June.
Still, in contrast to local businesses, school buildings have largely not been repaired, and teachers expect to run up to three shifts of students using each surviving classroom. Quonset hut-like structures built by responding agencies will help ease congestion in classrooms.
Though signs of progress and recovery were apparent everywhere, so are Haiyan’s horrible scars. Though large structures-turned-evacuation centers, like the astrodome by the bay, were now empty or under repair, numerous tent cities can still be found in the city. Homes and businesses that suffered greater damage remain neglected. Many residents or shop owners just aren’t prepared to rebuild, or they’ve abandoned Tacloban for Cebu, Manila or elsewhere.
The large ships that Haiyan’s storm surge carried and deposited on dry land, right on top of a seaside community, remain in place – solemn steel monoliths to remind the city of Haiyan’s toll. The ships’ hulls are now covered in graffiti – some are messages of encouragement, but there are many expressions of grief and rage.
Tacloban is rebuilding, but it’s rebuilding over not only terrible physical and emotional scars but also pre-existing conditions. Businesses may be restarting, but lower-income households, whose earnings derive from agriculture such as copra production, have it harder. The threat of malnutrition, already observed in Leyte before Haiyan, has only further been compounded by the scarcity endured until only recently.
Having personally seen Tacloban on its knees, I’m thankful to see it struggle to its feet now. I’m thankful to be a part of this effort. I’m thankful to colleagues at ChildFund who’ve labored, wept and struggled alongside Taclobanons for six months now. Of course, I’m also thankful to donors who’ve helped us do what we do. ChildFund will continue to play a significant role in Tacloban’s recovery.
ChildFund is invested in an early recovery strategy that tackles livelihood restoration, nutrition and child protection challenges faced by post-Haiyan Tacloban and other affected areas in the central Philippines. Funding for ChildFund’s nutrition and child protection projects was made possible through grants from UNICEF.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Ebola, a deadly and extremely painful virus, has broken out in western Africa. We asked Meg, who worked in Uganda during a previous outbreak, to share her impressions of Ebola and how it’s spread.
In Guinea’s Forest Region, where the world’s latest Ebola outbreak began, a bat is considered a delicacy — unless it’s your totem animal. If your family name is Guemou, Gbilimou, Gamamou, Balamou or Kolamou, you won’t eat bats, dogs or snakes.
You’ll also be at slightly less risk of contracting Ebola. Researchers believe that one in three West African bats carries Ebola antibodies. Even animals with no sign of illness can infect humans through blood or body fluids.
Every Ebola outbreak begins with a single animal-to-human transmission, then spreads from human to human through direct contact with blood, saliva, perspiration, urine, feces, organs, even semen. After an incubation period of two to 21 days, those infected pass Ebola on — often to family members and health care workers.
In Guinea, doctors initially mistook Ebola for Lassa, another viral hemorrhagic fever that accounts for about one in seven hospital admissions across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hospitals there often lack laboratories equipped to distinguish one virus from another.
Rats excrete the Lassa virus in their urine. It disperses during the daily sweeping of dirt floors, and then humans inhale it. Lassa, like malaria, requires vector control. Ebola’s transmission, on the other hand, plays into religion and culture; greetings, hospitality, caring for the sick, personal hygiene and funeral preparations all can cause its transmission.
I lived in Uganda in 2007 when a new strain of Ebola surfaced on its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Guinea’s virus is also a new strain, very closely related to the type from the DRC. Back in 2007, an infected doctor seeking treatment in Uganda’s capital brought Ebola to Kampala. This March, an infected doctor brought Ebola to Guinea’s capital, Conakry.
In 2007, Uganda threatened to close Entebbe International Airport. Now, Senegal has closed its land border with Guinea, The Gambia cancelled flights into Conakry, and other passengers must undergo health screening at arrival and departure. Saudi Arabia has even suspended visas for the haj, meaning that Guineans and Liberians won’t be among the pilgrims to Mecca this October. Muslims save money for decades to make pilgrimages on behalf of their families. Upon return, they bless all who shake their hands.
Ebola twists, knots and adorns itself in filaments. It is one of the most lethal pathogens on earth, and the U.S. has classified it under bioterrorism. There’s no vaccine, cure or treatment. If your immune system can’t fight it off, the virus bores holes in your blood vessels. Ebola kills most of its human hosts. Since it’s rare for Guineans and Liberians to ever touch a microscope or see germs, many still attribute sudden death caused by Ebola to sorcery.
No child should have to watch her mother die alone, touched only by doctors encased in protective armor. No father should suffer the agony of having infected his child. And those who recover don’t deserve stigma. Please help us counter fear with education and hygiene interventions.
One hundred days have passed since Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, leaving 6,201 people dead and more than 1 million homes either damaged or destroyed. ChildFund has been on the ground since the immediate aftermath, assisting with food and water distribution, setting up Child-Centered Spaces and helping families rebuild homes and livelihoods. And yet, the people of Capiz, Leyte, Cebu and Bantayan islands still need your help as they try to get back on their feet. Consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund.
“It is a war against hunger and disease. It is a war against negative coping strategies families feel forced to adopt. It is a war against thirst, and it is a war against international news cycles and ambivalence,” says Isaac Evans, ChildFund’s director for global safety and security.
I’ve been in the Philippines nearly a month now, supporting our emergency response to Super Typhoon Haiyan. I’ve learned a lot on this trip, but one thing I will carry with me is being able to count to eight in Cebuano. I did not learn it because I read it in a book or used language-learning software. I learned it by placing eight bags of dried noodles into larger plastic bags – hundreds and hundreds of times: Ousa, duha, tolo, opat, lima, unum, pito, walo.
The eight bags of noodles, combined with other food items, were enough to feed a family of five for five days.
The other day, I went to Sacred Heart Church here in Cebu, where staff and volunteers have been packing food and non-food items nearly every day for the last month. I’ve stopped in before, but this time I wanted to thank them and help with packing, to experience what they were doing for us. Of course, I had no idea what I was in for. The labor – packing and moving combined food items weighing about 90 kilos (200 lb.) – is especially tough here, where the temperature and humidity are high. Sheets of sweat ran down my face within minutes.
My colleagues, Joel and Martin, were with me that day, and after an hour or so of heavy lifting, we settled into other work: packing rice, sardines or noodles into the bags. Eventually we found our niche, taking noodles from boxes (thousands of boxes!) and placing eight bags into a small plastic bag. Joel and I worked as a team – as a machine, really – while Martin packed canned sardines into other bags. We were moving quickly, so we counted aloud to make sure we were putting the right number in each bag.
Joel soon fell into his native Cebuano, and a game of sorts was afoot. Soon enough, I would learn to count in Cebuano, but only to eight. There were many laughs as I tried to first remember, then sound the words out and slowly develop mastery. After a couple of hours, Martin said it was time for me to go; the others had already worked well past quitting time but would not leave as long as I was there.
Sorry and a bit embarrassed, I got up slowly. The work was harder and more monotonous and dirtier than I had thought. But now I can count to eight in Cebuano, and the story of how I learned to do it is one more memory that helps restore me when the work of providing relief gets me down.
The past two months have been filled with challenges for families in parts of the Philippines as they cope with the devastation and loss caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, has spent this time reporting on the children, youth and adults affected by the typhoon, the worst in recent history in the Philippines. Today we feature a compilation of some of his recent reports. Please consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund to help these communities.
As of Dec. 15, Typhoon Haiyan has claimed more than 6,100 lives, with nearly 1,800 missing and almost 28,000 injured. More than 1 million homes were damaged, and 550,000 of these were destroyed. The estimated total cost of damage is $36.6 billion.
Here is a vignette from Martin, reflecting on the storm’s toll:
“Are you sure you don’t want anything?” I asked the young boy. I was suddenly concerned. When I was 10 years old, I wanted a lot of things for Christmas. Justin just looked back at me and said, “I’m alive, Mama and Papa are alive. All three of us are alive.”
Justin and his family were sheltered at the evacuation center at the Special Education Center at Tacloban. Their home had been destroyed in the winds and catastrophic storm surge caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
As ChildFund Philippines’ communications officer, I’ve been on assignment with ChildFund’s Emergency Response Team since Nov. 7, before the typhoon made first landfall. I’ve been with the team through rapid assessments in Leyte communities at Ormoc City, Palo, Tolosa, Tanauan and Tacloban. Other ChildFund teams were in Bantayan in northern Cebu and Capiz, Iloilo and Toboso in the western Visayas.
Everywhere I trained my camera lens, it found a unique form of misery: homes flattened for miles around, as if the entire landscape had been carpet-bombed, vehicles strewn about like toy cars and trucks flung about by a now unseen force. Every kilometer or so, I’d find distress messages painted on pavement or concrete. Regrettably, cadavers by the roadside were an even more frequent sight.
I remember shooting dozens of photos in all directions the first time I walked through the Leyte corridor. When I thought I’d captured everything, we’d push on into the next community to find more of the same. It took a while before it sank in that I could fill memory cards and still fail to capture the full extent of the destruction, hunger and misery.
I turned to see the row of young faces lined up next to Justin. Two 9-year-old boys sat with him at a little table. Next to them, there were three more wooden tables lined up, and when the children caught my glance as I scanned the room, they all smiled back at me. The boys were in the middle of an exercise from ChildFund’s psychosocial support modules for emergencies. They were writing and drawing their wishes and thanksgiving for this Christmas.
Soon other children were volunteering the entries they had written. Each time I’d lift my camera to my face, these smiles grew wider, and boys automatically touched their chins with their thumb and forefinger, vying for attention in my viewfinder. After a long day in the field, wading through my countrymen’s anguish, scenes like this at CCS sites have become the respites I look forward to.
I could feel my legs starting to go numb from squatting to talk to the kids. Standing up to stretch, I bumped my head into something hanging from the ceiling. It was a parol, a handmade Filipino Christmas lantern fashioned like the star of Bethlehem. I wasn’t sure who had hung the parol there, but I could see a few more of them dotting the corridor. Despite the circumstances, Christmas had found its way to this small space in Tacloban.
During the relief phase immediately after the typhoon, ChildFund and our local partner organizations assisted in distributing food and non-food necessities, establishing Child-Centered Spaces (CCS) to provide safe places for children to gather and address the trauma they had experienced, providing nourishment for children and mothers and educating children while schools were closed.
During the recovery phase, which is ongoing, ChildFund and its partners help to restore community members’ livelihoods, strengthen child protection mechanisms and build emergency response capacity for future disasters.
In Roxas City, two Child-Centered Spaces continue to operate at a reduced schedule, now that schools there have reopened. In Ormoc City, three CCSs continue to operate, and teachers at an elementary school have received training in psychosocial support to help their students heal from the devastation. The teachers note that this process has been helpful for them, as they too have suffered great losses. Schools have closed for the holidays in many areas.
In Tacloban, Tolosa, Tanauan and Palo on the island of Leyte, seven CCSs continue to operate, and two more spaces, including one funded by Barnfonden (ChildFund Sweden), are in the planning stages. Both are expected to open by the start of 2014. Funding from UNICEF for a nutrition project in Tolosa, Tanauan and Palo was approved Dec. 18, and this project’s staff will coordinate with UNICEF representatives in Tacloban. Food and non-food essentials are still being distributed in this region.
On Bantayan Island (Northern Cebu), day-care workers and other local representatives attended psychosocial training for their work with children who are still feeling the emotional effects of the storm’s devastation. Most participants still show signs of stress (like crying while telling their experiences).
The facilitators provided non-intrusive, practical care and support; assessed needs and concerns; listened to participants without pressuring them to speak or share; comforted them and provided activities to calm them. ChildFund staff members also helped participants connect to appropriate sources of information, services and other social support.
Also in Bantayan, electrical power has been restored, but many children age 5 and under are moderately to severely malnourished. The World Food Program is addressing this problem, as providing the proper nutrition requires special attention.
Please consider making a donation to help children in the Philippines; we are still collecting funds, and they will make a big difference in the lives of thousands. Thank you.