You may have seen a New York Times article this week about a 4-year-old girl called Sweetie Sweetie who is staying at one of ChildFund’s Interim Care Centers in Sierra Leone. She lost her parents to Ebola, like thousands of children in West Africa. Sweetie Sweetie, whose given name we don’t know, has remained healthy and not shown signs of the disease. Here, you can read an update on her condition and learn how to help other children orphaned by Ebola.
Interview by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Davidson Jonah, ChildFund’s field operations support director, is engaged in the challenging work of supporting our Ebola response, including opening Liberia’s Interim Care Center for children affected by the disease. He took a few minutes to talk with us during a recent field visit to Guinea and gave us an update on what is happening now.
You have now been involved with the Ebola emergency for months now. What helps you keep going?
Ebola is a much different kind of emergency response than I have ever been involved in. The situation is very hectic; you see things happen, and you are motivated to help save lives. I also admire the courage of the national staff. Like I said, it is a different emergency, and therefore, you don’t have lot of people coming in [to participate in the response] out of fear. So, those who are living with it are the people on the ground, the national office staff. As a native of West Africa, I should be there to support them and help to bring in as many resources as possible.
What have you observed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in terms of community members’ acceptance of the fact that Ebola is a real disease?
The level of acceptance is not the same in all three countries. I see it going up in Guinea, though not up where it should be. [People must accept] not only that this is a disease and it kills, but also other information about how it spreads, such as contact with sick persons, handling corpses, etc., so that there would be a better environment through the outbreak and afterward. If you look at the issue of stigmatization, it is an issue of lack of acceptance and knowledge about the virus.
Do you think Ebola will be eradicated?
Yes, I am hopeful. For it to be effectively eradicated, we have to have a coordinated approach because of the way in which these countries border each other. So, even if Ebola gets eradicated in Guinea, if somebody from Sierra Leone who is infected comes over, because of the mode of transmission, there might be an issue here. Same with Sierra Leone and Liberia. One country cannot say yes, we have done it, if the other countries are still having the problem.
What messages have you gotten from children and communities?
Well, from the community, the message is that they want to do more, but they don’t have the resources and the means. They are aware of the situation, and they know that they need to get more people to understand — especially the community leaders, so we need more sensitization and awareness raising. For the children, they want to go to school.
What Ebola eradication strategies are the most significant in the three countries?
Sensitization and awareness raising are key. First, every household in all three countries has to be sensitized about this disease, and they have to get the same correct message. That is the only means. They can take care of those who are sick, and they can allow or co-operate on safe burial for those who are dead already, but the message needs to get down to the community.
For example, people from West Africa want to take care of and wash their dead, and that is a key way Ebola spreads. Our way of meeting and talking, greeting, showing friendship and love is through handshakes and hugging. That is another key way that Ebola can be transmitted.
So, until and unless people get the message, it is going to be difficult to eradicate Ebola. That is the key message, awareness about the mode of transmission, to break the chain, should be the strategy that all countries should adopt.
What is working well in the three countries, and what are some upcoming challenges and goals?
The issue of community sensitization and awareness is moving well. That is the great step that has been taken, but it needs to be strengthened and the correct messages circulated in all languages by community leaders. The next step is for that message to be transmitted down to every household. That’s where we should push. Because now that the community leaders are aware, we need to support them in taking the message to their people. They are the people who can do it best; they are the ones who can pass on the message because it is all about trust.
We heard in one or two meetings that people do not trust the health system; they don’t have confidence in this or that, so to build that confidence, you need to have their own people seen doing the actions, and then they learn by example. Yesterday, we went to the Ebola committee meeting, and when we washed our hands, a little girl also came and washed her hands. That is what needs to done.
What message do you have for the ChildFund staff in West Africa?
My message for them is to do what they are asking others to do. So, if we are asking community leaders to sensitize their people about Ebola, we should also take it upon ourselves to sensitize those around us. It seems small, but it will go a long way.
Just over a year after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines, Typhoon Hagupit, locally known as “Ruby,” roared slowly across that country, including some areas still recovering from Haiyan.
After Hagupit’s erratic pattern of development from tropical storm to Super Typhoon to “strong typhoon,” leaving millions shaken and fearful, Hagupit made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Saturday evening, tracking across Samar and just north of Tacloban City, the area hardest hit by Haiyan.
Fortunately, Hagupit has turned out to be not nearly as powerful as last year’s deadly Haiyan. Still, the slow-moving storm brought torrential rains, and flashfloods and landslides are concerns. The storm is curving northwest, toward Manila, and will pass south of the capital on Monday night.
Meanwhile, ChildFund is participating in coordinated response and needs-assessment planning with the government and other NGOs. We also are coordinating closely with our local partner organizations in potentially affected areas; before the storm, all reported that they were ready, with Child-Centered Space kits pre-positioned to provide children with psychosocial and other support. Emergency response teams have pre-positioned supplies, including emergency kits and tents.
As of right now, our easternmost local partner is gathering information about the community it serves and will conduct rapid assessments this week. We are still waiting to hear from our other four local partners in Hagupit’s path, but the weakening of the storm as it passes over land is reason for hope. We’ll provide more updates as we receive them.
Martin Nañawa of ChildFund Philippines has been traveling through the Visayas, the region most severely affected a year ago by Super Typhoon Haiyan, recording its current status. Despite dramatic loss of life and property last November, communities are rebounding, with businesses and homes having been rebuilt over the past several months. Here, you can see how your gifts, along with the elbow grease of residents and ChildFund’s local partners, have made a difference in Tacloban. Martin notes: “You may have noticed the signage says ‘Tindog Negosyo.’ Tindog is the verb for standing up, or getting to your feet, and Negosyo stands for business.”
Read more about the binagol makers here.
Martin Nañawa of ChildFund Philippines took these pictures in Tacloban, one of the worst-hit localities during Super Typhoon Haiyan, a year after the storm struck the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013. Community members lit candles to commemorate the people lost in the disaster.
By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
Before the typhoon, women in Miriam’s village would gather in a common space at the edge of their row of houses and take turns making batches of binagol, a staple dessert in Leyte, an island in the central Philippines.
Although there’s not a perfect comparison in Western cuisine, binagol is a little like tapioca pudding and also tastes similar to sticky rice cakes found throughout Southeast Asia. It is made with talyan roots, similar to taro, instead of rice.
There’s a smaller version of this sweet served in the northern Philippines, called “kulangot” (boogers). There’s also a variant made from rice, which is called “moron.” We have such glamorous names for local delicacies.
The women chop the talyan roots and cook them with coconut milk, condensed milk, eggs and sugar inside coconut husks with banana leaves layered on top. Everything is then wrapped in banana leaves and knotted with straw into a bun. This packaging makes binagol easily portable, and in Leyte, you’ll find it at markets, corner stores, canteens and even transit terminals. Miriam and the women of her village made enough binagol to drop off at nearby markets and make a small profit for themselves.
But when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the region Nov. 8, 2013, everything changed for millions of Filipinos. The storm, one of the worst in the area’s history, claimed 6,300 lives and destroyed half a million homes in the central Philippines.
Scarcity of food was a primary challenge, and many villagers also had to repair or rebuild their homes. Selling binagol was not an option for Miriam and her neighbors, at least for the foreseeable future. This was especially difficult for her, as her husband’s earnings as a farmhand were never enough even before the typhoon.
But after immediate needs like food, shelter and clean water were filled, ChildFund and our local partner organizations started helping people reclaim their livelihoods — including the binagol-makers, who received assistance in July. This is all part of ChildFund’s response after disasters.
Miriam felt hope for the first time since the typhoon. She was not sure what to expect from ChildFund staff when they first came, but the workshop held right at her village helped her understand that we were there to help. Still, she and the other mothers would have to work hard to restore their livelihood, but improve it as well.
Miriam received a complete set of utensils for binagol production, allowing her and her neighbors to make as much of the dessert as they could. And ChildFund provided the ingredients for their first run. Most importantly, we’ve invested capital in the business, which has helped Miriam and her neighbors escape debt.
Before the typhoon, the binagol-makers took loans to buy the ingredients, repaying loans from their profits as they’re made. With ChildFund’s investment, though, the women don’t start off in debt and are now putting 10 percent of their profits into savings so their startup capital will grow.
Now Miriam and her neighbors individually produce binagol, and they no longer labor merely to pay debt. They’re able to increase their village’s total production many times. With their increased production capacity, they’ve been able to broker an agreement with a wholesaler.
“I’m pleased and surprised how much better business is now,” Miriam says. “Life was so difficult after Haiyan, I was desperate to find a new way to feed my three children. I’m glad I can return to what I’m skilled at and provide better for my family.”
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.