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.”
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.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Violence against children remains a terrible problem, according to children themselves. Today — on the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child — hundreds of children say their right to be protected from violence is not being upheld.
Gangs, political strife and child labor are issues in many developing countries, where only 30 percent of children polled say they are always or often protected from doing harmful work.
ChildFund Alliance released the fifth annual Small Voices, Big Dreams report today, a survey of 6,040 children ages 10 to 12 in 44 countries. Poor access to education also is a concern among children in developing countries.
This year, as the United Nations prepares to decide on its post-2015 global agenda, the Alliance, a network of 12 international development organizations (including ChildFund International), has launched a campaign called Free From Violence to motivate world leaders to prioritize the protection of children against violence and exploitation.
“A quarter century ago, leaders across the globe made a commitment to the world’s children, that we would help them reach their full potential by protecting, educating and nurturing them. While much progress has been made, it is abundantly clear that we still have a long way to go. Harming even one child is one child too many,” says Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund’s president and CEO.
Below, see a slideshow of children holding signs that spell out their rights according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Today is World Toilet Day. OK, get the giggles out of your system. We do indeed have a world day for just about everything! Despite the funny name, World Toilet Day draws attention to an important problem: the lack of proper sanitation in many communities around the world.
Consider these facts:
Last year, more than 1,000 children died each day from diarrheal diseases contracted through poor sanitation.
One billion people — 15 percent of the world’s population — practice open defecation, which spreads disease.
And 2.5 billion people do not have safe, private toilets.
This year, World Toilet Day (designated Nov. 19 by the United Nations General Assembly) is calling attention to the special challenges women and girls face when they don’t have safe toilets. School attendance decreases among girls, especially once they reach puberty. According to a 2012 study published by WaterAid, more than 50 percent of Ethiopian girls reported that they missed school one to four days a month due to their menstrual cycles, often out of embarrassment from a lack of privacy. Women also are more vulnerable to violent attack if they must leave their homes to use the toilet. One of the ChildFund Alliance’s primary goals is to promote child protection worldwide, through our Free From Violence initiative.
Nongovernmental organizations including WaterAid and the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council are advocating for the following goals to be included in the U.N.’s post-2015 agenda:
No one practices open defecation.
Everyone has safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home.
All schools and health facilities have safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
Water, sanitation and hygiene are sustainable, and inequalities in access have been progressively eliminated.
Below, see pictures of some of the latrines children in ChildFund-supported communities use, and consider sharing this information today on your social media networks (use #wecantwait on Twitter or Facebook). World Toilet Day may have a funny name, but it addresses a serious topic.
This gallery contains 5 photos.
As Harvest Month comes to a close, some ChildFund employees took part in an Ethiopian tradition: the coffee ceremony. Many Ethiopians roast coffee beans and brew coffee three times over a fire, then serve it in small cups with a snack of nuts or popcorn. Our ceremony was a little less labor-intensive, using a coffee pot instead of a fire, but it was still highly social. Here are some pictures from our coffee ceremony and three more photos taken by Jake Lyell in Ethiopia.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Much of the news coming from Liberia recently has been tragic, with the Ebola virus claiming thousands of lives. But there’s much, much more to Liberia than the virus. Let’s take a moment and learn about Liberian cuisine, which combines traditional West African and Southern Creole techniques.
Most meals are prepared in a single kettle over a three-stone fire. Liberians also have a long tradition of baking pastries. Their bakeries are noted for sweet potato, coconut and pumpkin pies; sweet potato cookies, peanut cookies, cassava cakes, pound cakes and spice cakes.
Jollof rice is a favorite meal, and it originated with the Wolof population of Senegal and The Gambia and has spread to other African countries. The recipe varies according to locally available ingredients.
¾ cup palm oil or peanut oil
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ pound chicken, cooked
½ pound smoked pork, cut into 1-inch chunks
½ sweet onion, finely chopped
½ cup bell peppers (green, red, yellow and purple), finely chopped
1 or 2 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, seeded and finely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
12 ounces tomato paste
1 quart water
1 tablespoon sea salt
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups short-grain white rice, prepared as directed on package
Pour ¼ cup of oil into a large saucepan. Sauté shrimp, chicken and smoked pork on medium-high heat until slightly brown. Remove from the pan.
In the same saucepan, add the rest of the oil and sauté onions, hot peppers, bell peppers and ginger on medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and reduce to medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes; then stir in tomato paste, water, salt and thyme. Add the meat and shrimp to the mixture. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes on low.
Lift the meat, shrimp and tomatoes from the sauce with a slotted spoon, and stir prepared rice into the sauce. Serve on a platter with the meat and shrimp in the center. Serves 6-8.
This month, ChildFund’s blog is celebrating the harvest and traditional foods of the countries where we work. On Fridays in October, we’ll share recipes. If you try one, take a picture of your dish and share it with us on our Facebook page!
Nkazimulo, 25, is a Zambian farmer who was orphaned as a child and had to quit school to support her younger siblings. With help from ChildFund Zambia, she was able to train for a career in agriculture. In Zambia and other African countries, young people have increasingly abandoned the traditional job of farming, which presents a problem because these nations’ economies depend on agriculture. But men and women like Nkazimulo are helping turn this trend around. Read more of her story.
In October, ChildFund’s blog is celebrating the harvest and traditional foods of the countries where we work, as well as the importance of nutrition and agriculture.
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.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Home from an afternoon at the beach, my brothers, sisters, cousins and I would sit crowded on the front porch, still in our swimsuits with our feet crusted in sand, eating ice cream made with heavy cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and fresh peaches. My first summer living in Senegal, I found a cast-off barrel freezer, bought mangoes from the market and a block of ice and sea salt from the local fishery, then invited my friends to an ice cream party, which brought back those memories from the beach.
Food is far more than just nutrition; it’s also a universal symbol of hospitality. Sharing a meal creates community. Food comforts us when its scent or flavor triggers emotion and memory.
Comfort food is generational as well as geographical. Senegalese children take comfort in a knobby green fruit called corossol, with flesh the color, flavor and texture of custard. Ugandan children scoping out street food choose kabalagala, a deep-fried doughnut made of sweet fingerling bananas and cassava flour. And children in Guinea suck on small bags of frozen bissap, gingembre or pain de singe – hibiscus, ginger or baobab fruit juices.
Food shortages throw families and communities into crisis, and it’s mainly a distribution problem because we have enough food to feed everyone. Food shortages result from climate change, waste or spoilage, poor infrastructure, unstable markets, conflicts, politics and disease.
We rarely consider disease as a factor in hunger, but epidemics dramatically affect food availability. HIV and AIDS, by primarily killing adults between ages 25 and 45, leave the back-breaking labor of farming to the children and elderly. Annual bouts of malaria reduce a farmer’s capacity to plant and harvest. And the Ebola outbreak in western Africa threatens food security through human response.
Ebola spread as people moved freely around the Western Guinean Lowland Forest that spans southern Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This shared ecosystem is home to ethnic groups whose family members extend across all three countries. Borders in the rainforest are unofficial and permeable. Initially, Ebola cases clustered in the triangle where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. But in time, as the infected sought treatment elsewhere, Ebola was transmitted to every district in Sierra Leone and to all but two of Liberia’s southernmost districts.
An early approach to limiting Ebola involved closing land borders. This tactic threatened thousands with starvation because more than three-quarters of Liberia’s produce comes from Guinea. Sierra Leone cannot cultivate enough crops to feed its population, either, and relies on trade with Guinea.
Also, Liberia quarantined towns and Sierra Leone locked down the country for a time. Because many western Africans lack a reliable source of electricity, they have no refrigeration and must purchase food daily. Otherwise, it perishes.
In October, the blog is focusing on the harvest and traditional foods. Stay tuned this month for recipes from some of the countries where we work.