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.
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.”
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.
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.
Photos: ChildFund/Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.
Reporting by Vlad Sokhin, freelance photographer for ChildFund Australia
A Category 5 cyclone struck the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on March 13, leaving 75,000 people without shelter and affecting 166,000 people overall, according to latest estimates. ChildFund Australia is providing aid through its partner organization there, Live & Learn Vanuatu. You can help by making a donation to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund. Here are some notes from the field:
“I was in a community shelter with my parents,” says 10-year-old James from Efate Island. “When the strong wind came, it was very noisy. I was afraid. Then my sisters and I fell asleep. Next morning, we came to our house, and it was destroyed. My school was destroyed too. Now I sleep with my parents in the tent and can’t attend classes.”
James and his family are among the tens of thousands of people left homeless in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated the archipelago. The family of five is currently living in an improvised tent.
James’ mother, Margaret, says she is worried about feeding her children and generating an income since the family’s crops were wiped out by the cyclone.
“We’ve lost everything — all our crops,” she says. “All we can eat now is fallen bananas and coconuts. Some taro survived too, but it’s not enough for our family. I will not be able to sell fruits and vegetables in the market to make some money. We barely have enough food for ourselves.”
Some schools have reopened in Vanuatu, but with 50 percent of the country’s educational infrastructure destroyed or badly damaged, thousands of children remain unable to attend. At this stage, it is unclear when James will be able to start classes again.
Access to clean water is also an immediate concern for families like James’. Most water tanks have been damaged or destroyed by the cyclone, and wells are contaminated. Some people are forced to walk long distances to fetch or purchase fresh water, while others are so desperate that they are boiling seawater to drink.
James, his 14-year-old sister, Priscilla, and his 3-year-old sister, Ester, are at high risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which causes severe diarrhea and can lead to death. ChildFund Australia is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to restore access to clean water to help ensure the health of children and their families in cyclone-ravaged areas.
To help with the continued response effort, please donate today to ChildFund’s Vanuatu Emergency Response Fund.
Reporting by Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
In Liberia, the last known Ebola patient was discharged from a treatment center last week. We’re receiving updates on children who were at the ChildFund-supported Kelekula Interim Care Center, which served 55 children who lost caregivers in the outbreak, providing them a safe place to spend their 21-day quarantine period after exposure to the virus. Afterward, staff at the centers coordinated with government officials to help place children with relatives or in stable foster care situations.
Social workers now conduct regular visits to the homes of all children who stayed at the KICC to find out how they are coping with the loss of their loved ones and how they are getting along with their caregivers. ChildFund also distributes packages of clothes, mattresses, school materials, footwear, toiletries and food, such as rice and oil, to each child while reuniting them with their caregivers.
These four children have returned to their communities and are living with family members or other caregivers. All have lost family members to the deadly virus but are managing to move forward in their lives. Here are their stories:
Jesse, age 6
At the KICC, Jesse liked playing with friends. They rode the swing and the merry-go-round and played football in the compound. Jesse enjoyed the food they served each day. He has been reunited with family friends who live in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. “I am happy with the people I am living with now,” Jesse says.
His mother and grandparents all died from Ebola, and Jesse was visibly grieving when he was first reunited with his family friends, although he is doing better now. He looks forward to returning to school soon. “For now, we actually need some supports like clothes and school fees,” Jesse’s caregiver explains.
Lawrence, age 15
Lawrence (left, in photo above) has a disability that causes him to struggle with balance and to salivate uncontrollably, which caused hardships for him even before the Ebola outbreak, during which he lost his parents and siblings. After staying at the KICC for 21 days, he now lives with Pastor Amos Weah — a “prayer man” taking care of eight children — and hopes to become a preacher himself one day.
Happily living with the Pastor, he said he liked being at the KICC and would enjoy going back there, where he ate well and had fun with other children.
Zinnah, age 6
Ebola claimed Zinnah’s parents and four siblings, and he’s being cared for by a teacher, Mr. Brown.
“We used to ride seesaw,” he says of the KICC, and he learned about preventing Ebola, how to read and other basic life skills. Both Zinnah and his guardian are looking forward to the reopening of his school, and in the meantime, he plays with friends and often takes a leading role in their activities.
Jestina, age 6
Jestina lost her mother and grandparents to Ebola, but her father survived. He sells cabbage to make a living, and they live in one of Monrovia’s slums. Jestina (pictured while talking with her father) liked living at the KICC, where she had the opportunity to play with other children and also learn, during bedtime stories, about preventing the virus. She is hopeful that one day she will be a banker. “I want to be a money girl,” she says.
Jestina loves to write and read, and she wants to see that all children are happy and free from dangerous illnesses like Ebola. Her father says that she seems happier lately and plays with her friends frequently.
By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
After schools were closed for six months during the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, classes began again in Guinea on Jan. 19. Attendance was low the first day, but students seemed happy to see each other after the long quarantine.
After going through the process of hand washing at washing stations distributed by ChildFund and having their temperatures taken with non-contact thermometers, children greeted one another happily and expressed how much they had missed each other and their schools.
“This is my first day in school,” said Djenabou, age 14. “Ebola has done us wrong by keeping us out of school for six months. I was so scared when I used to come out to buy food. I thought everyone was going to die. But thank God that I am still alive and back to school again. I am very happy to meet my friends.”
While walking her 5-year-old daughter to school, Mrs. Diallo said, “Some parents are not ready to let their children come to school. Yesterday I was in the market, where I told some parents that schools have reopened. One of the ladies said that she was not yet ready to let her three children return to school unless people stop using non-contact thermometers at school. She mistakenly thinks this is a means of transmitting the virus to children.”
When you go around the areas where ChildFund works, you will notice practical measures have been put in place at schools and universities to protect teachers and students against Ebola and prevent its return. We have helped set up hand-washing stations and provided non-contact thermometers to 1,175 schools, reaching more than 500,000 students as of mid-February.
ChildFund Guinea is deeply engaged in the fight against Ebola and continues to provide training to local authorities, religious leaders, traditional healers and traditional birth attendants, all of whom are raising awareness about Ebola prevention measures in communities.
Below, take a look at a slideshow of images from Guinea’s schools.
By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Fatoumata, 25, is in job training with ChildFund Guinea after completing her degree at university. Currently, she is involved in branding hand-washing kits with ChildFund’s logo before distributing them to schools. The kits, which consist of a rubber bucket, a chlorine solution and hands-free thermometers, are very important now that schools are reopening since the Ebola outbreak in Guinea has been contained. Fatoumata recently expressed what it means to her to be part of the fighting force against the Ebola virus.
“If Ebola was something visible that one could attack face to face, I could fight it with all my might until the last bit of the virus gets out of the country. I am happy to contribute to efforts in fighting against the disease.
“Many children are stigmatized today because of this deadly virus. Last month, when I had the opportunity to go into the field with the ChildFund Guinea team, I saw orphan children often rejected by their friends, only because either both or one of their parents died from Ebola. This condition calls for an approach that will facilitate their social inclusion.
“Also, children have stopped enjoying their educational rights during the past six months because schools were closed due to Ebola. They need to go to school and learn to prepare for their future. They need to have peace of mind at home and when they are playing with their friends. So, every possible measure needs to be taken to wipe away the virus.”
By Jacqui Ooi, Social Communications and Media Manager, ChildFund Australia
Schools in Guinea reopened this month after being closed for much of last year, as the country fought to contain the Ebola outbreak. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, where infection rates are also now stabilizing, schools are set to reopen in February and March respectively.
It’s the first step back to normalcy for millions of children whose lives and educations have been disrupted by the worst Ebola crisis in history. An estimated 5 million children in the three countries have been out of school for up to eight months. This has put children at high risk of dropping out of school permanently or ending up in child labor.
“Schools have been closed for a long time, so there are concerns that children are beginning to forget they were schoolchildren, that the continuation of their studies will be difficult the longer schools take to reopen,” says Billy Abimbilla, ChildFund’s national director for Liberia and Sierra Leone. “It has also been realized that many of the older girls are becoming pregnant because they are at home and they are not occupied. So, in some ways, the sooner schools reopen, the better.”
However, while there is an obvious need to get children back in school, there are also concerns about their reopening too soon, risking exposure to the virus.
“There is a school of thought that thinks it is too early to reopen these schools, because even though infection rates are declining, Ebola has not been completely eradicated and so reopening schools could spike another round of infections,” Billy says. “Also the fact that opening them too early will put some parents in a difficult situation because many livelihoods have been eroded, and many parents do not have enough money to pay school fees. So they need a bit more time to be able to organize to pay the school fees.”
With the decision to reopen schools winning out, the government and NGOs in all countries will be working hard to ensure children are protected at school and also help families get back on their feet.
ChildFund will extend its support of children affected by Ebola to help ensure that school staff and students continue to be careful about prevention measures as schools reopen.
“We will provide them with hygiene kits so teachers and students can continue the practice of washing their hands, and avoid intimate touching with each other through things like spacing of seats in the classroom,” Billy explains. “We’ll also continue with education on how Ebola can be contracted or not, and form children’s Ebola clubs to raise awareness in schools.
“Provision of water and sanitation is also crucial in terms of reducing infection. So we’ll be looking at supporting the government to supply wells fitted with hand pumps for schoolchildren to wash their hands and ensure that whatever information children get at school, they can also be voices to get back to the community level and educate their parents.”
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Bursts of rain and wind punctuate an otherwise pleasant day in India’s Nagapattinum district. The streets are quiet in the village of Sampathottam, and it’s time for lunch. The scent of a dry fish curry wafts through the air. Govindaraj, though, is impatient and waiting for the rain to stop.
“I don’t like this rain, like the way I hate the sea,” he says, visibly irritated. “Since the morning, I am waiting for this rain to stop. I will get the flowers from the market. Every year, I offer these flowers to my parents on their anniversary.” This isn’t a happy anniversary, though. It’s the 10th anniversary of his parents’ death and the Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed 230,000 lives in South Asia.
Govindaraj lost his parents, his elder brother and 10 other members of his family in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 7,000 people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone. He dusts off the photographs of his lost relatives.
“She is my mother, he is my father, and the other one is my elder brother,” he says, pointing to the pictures. “They were among the 13 of my family members who became prey to that devastating tsunami and left me alone to die, every day remembering them. Anita is also an unfortunate child like me.”
Thirteen-year-old Anita is Govindaraj’s cousin, who also lost her parents in the tsunami and is now being taken care of by Govindaraj and his wife Malakodi.
“I am lucky to have survived nature’s fury,” Govindaraj says. “Actually, I was at my uncle’s place where my wife and Anita were, when that killer tsunami hit our village. It destroyed everything, killed my entire family and that of Anita’s,” he says, turning his face toward the door to hide his tears.
Comforting him in her arms, Malakodi says,“It’s God’s decision. What can we do?
“We were fortunate enough that our village, Perumalpettai, is located a bit higher than the other villages. The tsunami water did come to our village but did not sweep us along. We survived. Only those who were near the shore at that time were killed or have gone missing,” she says.
When asked what she remembers about that day, Anita says, “I cannot recall anything about what happened on that day and how the tsunami was. The only thing I know is that it killed my parents and deprived me from the fortune of having parents. “
“I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami,” she says, pointing at their pictures.
Elsewhere in the village, Mahesh and her husband Ashoghan and son Amrith survived the tsunami, but they were forever touched by the trauma of the day. A pregnant Mahesh was slammed into walls by the waves, and later she and her husband were confronted with scores of dead bodies while searching for their 3-year-old son in a shelter. They found him in a corner, alive but unable or unwilling to speak.
“It was a horrible situation out there,” Ashoghan recalls. “We decided to move to another place, as the atmosphere was affecting both our body and soul, especially my son, who had not spoken a word since we found him. We crossed a backwater river stretch and moved out of the village and walked throughout the night to reach a nearby town.”
Amrith, now 13, is sponsored through ChildFund and attends school. After the tsunami, he was able to spend time in a Child-Centered Space to help recover from the trauma. But the family still suffers hardship. Amrith’s younger sister, Joyse, who was born a couple of months after the tsunami, has a nerve disorder that has prevented her from forming words or walking. She receives treatment for her condition, which is paid for by the government, her father says.
Near Govindaraj’s home, K. Rathnavel, a leader of this community, is busy preparing for a commemoration event for the victims of the tsunami.
In between phone calls to other community members, he says, “I want to build a memorial dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the tsunami. I have yet to raise the required funds for it.
“But I am sure we will soon be able to erect a memorial in our village,” he adds confidently.
When asked to tell his tsunami story, Rathnavel’s confidence disappears.
“Whenever I see the ocean, I get reminded of how it took away hundreds of our fellow villagers – men, women and children alike,” he says. Most who survived have become so scared of the sea that they have given up fishing, the ages-old occupation of the village, Rathnavel says.
“Most of us live in these houses allotted to us by the government as part of their rehabilitation plan for tsunami-affected people,” he adds. “Our old place has now turned into a ghost village.
“We are simple human beings, not gods. You might escape from the place of nature’s fury, but you cannot control it. Now, we don’t take a chance. If there is any alert from the authorities, we simple abide and stay away from the sea.”
According to K. Krishna Kumar of the AVVAI Village Welfare Society, ChildFund India’s local partner in Nagapattinam district, “The 2004 tsunami taught us that resilience is the key to recover from difficulties and to bounce back. People in this region have seen unprecedented devastation and lost numerable lives but are now moving on. That’s life, and we tell the affected communities to be strong and look forward.”
“Today, a decade later, the important question before us is how prepared we are for another such disaster,” he asks. “The disaster forced the development sector to focus on resilience in their programming efforts. As the largest NGO in this region, we played a coordinating role in the post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction process in partnership with various funding agencies and governments,” he continues.
Part of ChildFund’s response to the disaster, carried out through local partners like AVVAI Village, was to build Child-Centered Spaces to help children recover from trauma in safe places. In this district, we and our partners also started a program to help people find other sources of income after losing their livelihoods.
“The tsunami should be remembered as a history of setbacks and tears,” Kumar says. “But the motivation to go forward must be harnessed.”
By Teuku Maimunsyah, ChildFund Indonesia
Teuku Maimunsyah, or Popon, as he’s often called, shared his experience of the tsunami, when he lived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, one of the hardest-hit regions. Today, he’s ChildFund Indonesia’s monitoring and evaluation specialist. These are his words. You can read more memories of the devastating 2004 tsunami on the blog and ChildFund’s website.
It was early Sunday morning when the earthquake woke us up. The earth was swinging hard, right to left, up and down. Everyone ran out of the house. Soon enough, we heard thunderous noise and saw four-story-high campus buildings collapsing. Our house was in the campus housing area of IAIN Ar-Raniry, Banda Aceh.
We had experienced earthquakes before, but we had never seen buildings collapsing. My mom was crying. My friend, Mardan, who had stayed over with us that night, was saying, “This is the end of the world!” Everyone was panicked and hysterical. Then, the tremors stopped.
I was curious about the earthquake damage around the neighborhood. I took my car out but felt like I was hearing a voice saying, “Don’t take the car, take the motorbike.” I left the car parked in front of our house with the key inside. I drove down to town on the motorbike and heard the voice again, telling me to stop. I stopped and went to a small coffee shop in Ule Kareng.
Suddenly, many people were running toward the airport while screaming, “Banda Aceh is drowning!” I thought about home and tried to hurry back but could not pass on the road as there were so many people out. People were shouting, “Turn back, turn back!” From afar, we saw dark water. We couldn’t even see the sky anymore.
Some nights, when we got so tired, we slept among the dead.
I took another road and got into my housing area. I saw nothing but water. It was about one meter deep. I walked through it to find my house. Debris and dead bodies were all around. I didn’t see my family, my house or the car. Everything was gone. My mind went crazy: “Where are my parents, my brothers and sisters?”
I felt just blank, couldn’t believe what had just happened.
I decided to go back downtown to the city mosque, where the land is higher. The road was filled with people, and I saw more dead bodies everywhere. Then I saw my car at the mosque. I felt angry, thinking someone must have stolen my car, and because of that, my family didn’t make it. If I found that person, I will kill him, I thought. But then I saw my younger brother, Ponbit, by the car. I was so relieved to see him and all of my family. My family had thought I was dead. Ponbit told me that the car had saved them because it was parked outside with the key in it. When they heard people screaming, “Water, water!” they just got in the car and drove fast. It was just a matter of minutes that saved them from the water.
Dad asked if I had seen our house. I told him everything was gone. He was really calm and even smiled. My father told me, “Why are you feeling stressed out? If God’s willing, God will take what we have. Everything we have now is from God. Even when you die, you don’t bring anything with you.”
Still feeling stunned, I nodded but then asked, “Where do we sleep tonight?” He said, “Why did you ask such a question? Allah creates this earth for our shelter, so wherever we could close our eyes and feel comfortable there, that is our house. This earth is our home, even though on top of dirt. So, don’t stress out. You better help people out there rather than just sit here feeling stressed.”
When the water had receded, I went back to see our house, which was left in ruins. Earthquake tremors still came every now and then, and people still shouted, “Water, water!” Even though there wasn’t water anymore, we ran.
Mardan also went back to his dorm. Nobody had survived. He had lost all of his friends. “If I hadn’t slept at your house that night, I might have been gone as well,” he said.
The river in the city, Krueng Aceh, was full of debris and dead bodies. The air felt sticky with the odors, everywhere. It was a devastating scene that you would never forget in your life.
The army soon came with big trucks to evacuate people. People from other cities like Aceh Besar and Takengon also came, bringing vegetables and fruits. I helped to remove dead bodies. I had never experienced something as heart-wrenching as this. At first, I was shaking when I found the dead bodies, but then, bodies after bodies after bodies, I slowly overcame the feeling. I learned some lessons, too. I saw one body with many clothes on, and that his pockets were full of money and gold. Perhaps he thought to save his belongings first, but sadly, he couldn’t make it. We collected all of the money and gold we found and gave it to the mosque.
In a day, we would remove about 100 dead bodies. Some nights, when we got so tired, we slept among the dead.
Volunteers also started to come in, and some were students from Medan. Many of them went back home again on the first day as they could not handle the situation. Some cried and threw up.
One night, we heard a woman wailing hysterically. A young man came over and checked on her. She said she had lost her husband and her children. The young man asked if she had other relatives, and she said yes. That man said she was lucky to still have some of her relatives, as he didn’t have anyone left. That man had lost all of his relatives, from his grandparents to his own family and others. It turned out they lived in one of the hardest-hit areas, Ulee Lhue. The whole village had been taken by the wave.
You would hear many heartbreaking stories. Many were so unimaginable. And we saw many children alone, without anyone with them. Some could say one or two things about their family, and some just couldn’t remember anything. At that time, reporters and media organizations had come to the city. I joined them, and we developed a system to register children. We took their pictures and put out their information in the media and at evacuation shelters. It helped people to find their children.
During such a massive loss, when you see people reunited, it warms your heart and lifts your spirit to think less about yourself and help people more.