Reporting by Emmanuel Ford of ChildFund Liberia, Karifa Kamara of ChildFund Sierra Leone and Arthur Tokpah of ChildFund Guinea
We are taking a look back at the height of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Read about a young man who survived Ebola in Guinea, and stay tuned for more stories.
Last year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa was a frightening time for everyone in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 11,000 people died from the virus. There are still some isolated cases in all three countries, but the numbers are much lower than last fall — thanks in part to young volunteers who helped spread the word around their communities about stopping the outbreak.
ChildFund’s offices in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone trained teens about Ebola prevention — including regular hand washing and avoidance of burial practices that lead to infection — and they took the message to village markets, homes, schools and other places where the public congregates. Although many of the activities started when the infection rate was higher, young volunteers still are spreading the word in their communities.
“We sometimes went over to villages where the degree of reluctance is high, to let them know that Ebola is real,” says Naby, president of a youth club in Guinea. “We showed people how to use hand-washing kits and told them to report any case of illness to the nearest health post, to avoid unsafe contacts and dangerous burial preparations.”
In another ChildFund-supported club, this one based in a Guinean school, about 30 students in grades 7 through 10 spent a few days last fall receiving training about how the disease is spread. They discussed ways to publicize the prevention techniques, and then set upon their task.
“No room for Ebola here” was the school’s slogan during the outbreak, according to the president of that club. “On the top of our priority list was raising awareness among students to wash their hands in a bleach solution and avoid all contact with sick people and dead bodies. We also targeted environmental hygiene. Though people may wash their hands regularly, if the environment is not clean, there is a high risk of being infected.”
In Liberia, ChildFund trained more than 100 youth volunteers in Lofa, where Liberia saw its first cases. Today, they still conduct door-to-door outreach to prevent another epidemic. They often attend local markets to reach people from many towns and villages, and they distribute posters and T-shirts with prevention messages, plus detergent and disinfectants.
As a result, community members are more aware of how to avoid the virus and are less afraid of reporting possible cases of Ebola, according to ChildFund staff members in Liberia.
In Sierra Leone, during the height of the epidemic last year, ChildFund’s local partner organizations saw the need for a door-to-door campaign to inform community members about Ebola. Teens involved in ChildFund’s activities attended training and then went out to their communities armed with signs and megaphones, an action that created much wider awareness of the disease.
In the northern part of the country, youths even assisted in monitoring the border Sierra Leone shares with Guinea, where some infected people were crossing and spreading the disease from one country to the other.
Because the young volunteers in all three countries are trusted members of their communities, their voices carried the ring of authority, ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard noted recently.
“Rumors were a serious problem, including the belief that the government was making up the disease and, early on, that thermometers were spreading the virus,” Goddard said. “Youth educators were effective in helping to dispel such rumors.”
Photos from ChildFund’s offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico and Timor-Leste
In the lobby of ChildFund’s international headquarters, we don’t have your typical office décor. Instead, we have a sparsely furnished Kenyan classroom, a world map mural with paper dolls holding hands, and homemade toys collected from around the world. A lot of the toys are made with what some people might call trash: used plastic bottles, twine and bits of rubber and metal. But the toys themselves are not junk and are often prized by the children who made and played with them.
In these pictures below, you’ll see the ingenuity and creativity of children who play with what they have — animals, traditional games and toys made from available materials.
By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Facinet Bangoura, a young man from Kindia, Guinea, survived Ebola and has taken the lead in raising awareness in his community. He is actively working alongside nongovernmental organizations — including ChildFund Guinea — to spread the word about avoiding Ebola, which is still present in Guinea. Recently, he spoke about his experience with the deadly virus.
I was in Conakry when I received a call that my mother was sick and had been taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, where she was hospitalized, none of the health workers knew that she was suffering from Ebola. I was told that she has been sick since the 28th of August and that she died on Sept. 4.
They wanted to carry the body to the mortuary. But we, the family members, refused and took the body to the village, and we buried her in respect to our tradition.
Very often in Guinea, religion and tradition have great influence on burial ceremonies, including washing the body and taking it to a worship place for prayer before the final burial, during which the closest relatives are asked to place the body in a tomb. This is how Facinet got infected.
I believe I was infected during the burial ceremony, as I was involved in all the activities. After the burial, the family scheduled a religious sacrifice in one week’s time. I returned to Conakry to resume my job. One Thursday evening, I started to feel a headache and fever.
When it was getting serious, I called a doctor from Matam Community Health Center. At the health center, I was told to go to an Ebola treatment center for examination. There, I was informed that I was positive for Ebola. I was completely desperate and did not know what to do. Immediately, I was placed in treatment. However, I still felt that I would come out from there.
One moment that I will never forget in my life was the moment when Dr. Mary entered the room where I was lying. I was scared when she entered. My eyes were wide open and staring at her, but she spoke to me with a smile on her face.
“Bangoura, tomorrow you are leaving this place,” she said. “You are healed.” I could not believe my ears. Though I had lost six relatives from my family of 15, I was still overjoyed because I was healed.
But things fell apart for Facinet when he came out of the treatment center. Life was no longer the same for him.
All my friends refused to accept me. Even my boss refused to let me continue my job. I was obliged to return to my village, where even old friends and relatives stayed away from me.
I was alone in the house and was completely isolated from others.
The end of his isolation began when ChildFund staff arrived in his village, creating greater awareness of how Ebola is spread and that its survivors are no longer contagious.
The day ChildFund and the local government federation staff members came to my village was the beginning of new hope for me. They spent time giving me courage and also sensitizing my neighbors and the rest of the people to accept me, telling them that I was totally healed and that I could live among people without any risk of infection.
They continue to support me and the orphaned children in my community with clothing, food and cash transfers to enable us begin new lives. I am grateful for their support of me and the many orphaned children in my community.
Stay tuned for more blog posts looking back at the peak of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Photos from IREX and Momodou Bah
This week, Momodou Bah, a former sponsored child from The Gambia, took part in the Young African Leaders Initiative summit in Washington, D.C. He and 499 other Mandela Washington Fellows, chosen from a field of 50,000 applicants to represent Sub-Saharan African countries, met President Obama in a town hall meeting and discussed important issues faced by Africans, including the empowerment of women and girls, addressing HIV and AIDS, making educational opportunities available to more people and building their nations’ economies.
Read more about the fellowship program at Virginia Commonwealth University and what the president challenged the Fellows to do as they prepare to return home in coming weeks. Also, stay tuned for a second blog post soon about Momodou’s experiences at the summit and his meeting with his sponsor in Boston.
In August, we’ll be focusing on play — here on the blog and on ChildFund’s social media — and what it means to children’s physical, mental and social development. We asked our staff in Asia, Africa and the Americas to share pictures and quotes from children about their favorite sports, games and toys. One thing that’s striking is that some games are common to many children, regardless of age group, country and continent. As you’d expect, many of the children ChildFund works with are fans of soccer, but you’ll also see them playing with marbles or jumping rope. Many make their own toys out of materials found around their homes and communities. It takes a lot to keep children from playing, even when they don’t have toy stores around the corner.
Below is a slideshow of photos from Brazil, Ecuador and Ethiopia, all of girls jumping rope, a skill that requires good balance, stamina and high energy. Stay tuned throughout this month for more play!
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
It’s a rare and special treat to meet a former sponsored child in person. Many ChildFund alumni live in their home countries, often a long way from the United States.
Momodou Bah, a 30-year-old man who grew up in our programs in The Gambia, showed up one day this summer at our headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. Word quickly spread, and we were all excited to meet him — especially when we learned that he had won a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a prestigious honor the White House bestows on a few hundred African men and women each year.
Momodou is The Gambia’s youngest elected ward councilor, a position similar to a county supervisor, which he’s held since age 22, soon after he aged out of ChildFund’s sponsorship. On the council, Momodou represents eight villages, including the one where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor household.
As a Mandela Washington Fellow chosen from a field of 50,000 applicants, Momodou is among 25 women and men between the ages of 25 and 35 who are taking immersive courses in political and civic leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The six weeks of classes (as well as meetings with Virginia’s governor and other government officials) culminate in a three-day summit in August in Washington, D.C., with the rest of the fellows, who are spread across the country at different universities. They’ll get to meet President Obama, too.
“We learn how things really operate in the government, in the courts, in the police departments — and how to build better institutions,” Momodou explains.
We plan to check back in with him after he meets the president, but we wanted to share his remarkable story — and the fact that he has reconnected with his sponsor.
“It was my life’s dream to get an education,” he says. “My parents are subsistence farmers of groundnuts, rice and millet for family consumption.” Momodou has two elder sisters, one of whom lives and attends college in Washington, and four younger brothers. He also has two sons, who are living in his family’s home while he attends the fellowship classes here.
When Momodou was in second grade, he was sponsored by Debbie Gautreau, who lives in Massachusetts.
As his sponsorship began bringing him letters and photos, as well as support to help his family pay school fees, he says, “I thought first, the world is full of good people.” He attended a primary school built by Catholic missionaries in 1949 and was one of the youngest students there — and considered one of the smartest, he says with a laugh. Momodou’s educational background has helped him in his current position as a ward councilor, representing people who speak four different dialects: Fula, Mandinka, Jola and Wolof.
“I went to school with children from these communities,” he says, explaining how he came to understand and speak all four dialects.
ChildFund still impacts his life in many ways. Momodou served for three years as board chairman for a group of local partner organizations that work with ChildFund in his community, and both ChildFund International and ChildFund Deutschland (our Alliance partner in Germany) have contributed assistance. In Momodou’s ward, there is a water and sanitation project that has delivered clean water to the population of 600. His boys, ages 5 and 6, have attended our Early Childhood Development programs too.
“They’ve learned to say the alphabet and name animals and objects,” he says proudly.
Debbie, who spoke with Momodou over the phone, said that she is thrilled to reconnect with him after 12 years. When they last were in touch, he was entering an information technology program post-high school, with plans for a career in the field.
“I feel like he’s my third son,” Debbie says. “Some of my friends and family remember when I sponsored him. He was very ambitious. School was very important. He seemed like he was going places.”
She was 28 when she first sponsored Momodou, near his current age, and Debbie says she has saved all of his letters and his first picture. They hope to meet while he’s in the U.S. this summer.
“He made me cry,” Debbie says, recalling their first phone conversation. “He’s just so kind and appreciative of my help.”
And true to form, Momodou continues to have great ambitions for himself and his country.
“I wish to continue on my political career to the highest level possible,” he says, perhaps as a national legislator or even The Gambia’s president. “My sons are expecting their father to come back a different person.”
Stay tuned for a second story in August, after Momodou takes part in the Mandela Washington Fellows’ summit and meets President Obama — and hopefully, and possibly even better, his former sponsor, Debbie.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Like many organizations, ChildFund is on a fiscal-year calendar. As part of our review of FY15, which ended June 30, I’ve compiled the top five most-viewed blog posts written since July 1, 2014. Here they are, in ascending order:
5. A Recipe for Liberian-Style Jollof Rice. This post was part of our October 2014 food and harvest theme. It was nice to post something positive about Liberia, which was in the thick of battling the Ebola outbreak at that time.
4. A Show of Hands for Nonviolence. The most recent entry on the list, this post shows how committed our staff members and enrolled children are to the ideal of child protection. Over the past year, ChildFund Alliance has been working to make sure that the United Nations’ post-2015 agenda (also known as the Sustainable Development Goals) will include a goal to help children grow up free from violence. Children in several countries showed their support by making green-handprint butterflies, the symbol of the campaign.
3. Zambia Video Wins ChildFund Contest. We held a contest for the best video from a community last year. This video, the winner, is the unforgettable story of Tinashe and her river, which is polluted and the home to frightening crocodiles. Watch here:
2. Dominica Launches National Effort to Curb Sex Abuse. Gelina Fontaine of ChildFund’s Caribbean office wrote about the federal government of Dominica’s admirable effort to get more people talking about the problem of sexual abuse against children, which affects almost everyone on the island either directly or indirectly. ChildFund is taking a leadership role in these communities to support victims, encourage reporting of abuse and address the roots of abuse.
And drumroll, please…
1. ChildFund Opens Care Center for Children Orphaned by Ebola. In October, there was daily bad news from West Africa about the spread of Ebola. ChildFund works in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the center of the epidemic, and like many organizations, we were trying to help families and communities stop the spread of the deadly virus. Meanwhile, our staff members in Liberia and Sierra Leone saw the need for child-focused quarantine centers where children — many of whom had lost family members — could live in comfort, with access to caring adults, learning resources, games and toys while they were observed for symptoms of Ebola. The first Interim Care Center was opened in Monrovia, Liberia, in October, followed by more centers in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Today, as the countries are free from Ebola, we still are checking in on the children who stayed at the centers, many of whom are adjusting to new homes and families.
By Raphael Opira
Raphael, a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency in Uganda, wrote this article about his experience being sponsored as a child and later meeting his sponsor in Sydney, Australia. The story was first published on ChildFund Australia’s blog.
Life was simply so challenging before I was sponsored. I am one of 15 children. My father made just $50 a month to support us, so it was very hard for my family to pay school fees for us all. The difficulties were compounded by Uganda’s 23-year civil war. When I was introduced to ChildFund, it was a turning point in my life.
When I was a child, we lived in a refugee camp. Outside it was unsafe, but it was also not safe inside the camp, as the enemy forces would sometimes come in and raid us for food, or to kill or steal children.
I lived with my family in a makeshift home in the camp from the late 1990s until 2006. When we moved to the camp, the focus moved from education to security. During this time, many children couldn’t go to school. We also could not put on lights to study at night because the enemy would find you.
When I was 12 and attending school again, I was sponsored. The biggest benefit of being a sponsored child for me was that I didn’t have to worry about school fees anymore. Instead, I could concentrate on my studies.
Sponsorship pulled me from nowhere to being able to have a good life in Uganda. It was like a bridge; if that bridge had not been there, I would not have been able to get to the other side.
Even as a child, I knew that education was most important, because if I am educated, all the rest will come. Before my last year of primary school, a friend and I spoke to the ChildFund officer and said we wanted to be transferred to a better school. He assisted us with the application. Our parents didn’t come with us, and the school was afraid we wouldn’t be able to pay our fees. We told them, “It’s OK, we are with ChildFund,” and it was OK. I turned out to be one of their best students.
Raphael was accepted into one of the top high schools in his district. He then went on to complete an undergraduate degree, and he has recently finished postgraduate studies. He now works as a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency.
ChildFund was my launch pad. If I had not been sponsored, I think I would be a peasant farmer or doing odd jobs.
Sponsorship may not translate directly to a successful career, but it does provide the environment and the resources you need to succeed. After that, it is our responsibility to make the most of the opportunity. For me, it was the beginning of a very bright future. I’ve spent most of my time so far at school, and I am going up from here.
I am now married with three boys. My children will go to the best schools in the district, but I don’t want to have any more children because I want to be able to support other children and make an impact in their lives.
My goal for my life is to ensure that people succeed through me.
I am now part of the ChildFund Alumni Association. We are a group of 300 successful formerly sponsored children who are reaching out to the next generation of Ugandan children. We are teachers, university lecturers, social workers and lawyers. I am in procurement and transport.
After reconnecting with Michael Coorey, a former teacher in Australia whose students sponsored Raphael through ChildFund Australia, Raphael made the long journey from Uganda to Sydney to meet him in person this year.
When the time came to meet Michael, it was something that cannot be described. It could just be felt. It was a moment in life that nobody can imagine to be true. It is a very good feeling for someone who has been sponsored through ChildFund for this to happen.
When I first started to think about a way of conveying my heartfelt thanks to my sponsors, the first thing that came into my thoughts was to name my last born in tribute to him. That is why my 4-year-old son is called Emmanuel Coorey. To actually meet Michael in person was unexpected but definitely a dream come true!
Coming to Sydney was such a special time for me.
I went to the school that sponsored me to meet their students. Speaking to them was a very big achievement for me. Interestingly, other teachers who were involved in my sponsorship were still there, and they were wonderful to meet. It was great that they, too, could see the impact they have had on me.
Read Michael Coorey’s observations about sponsoring Raphael and watch Raphael’s message on video, below.
In several of Mozambique’s communities where ChildFund works, our local partners hosted birthday parties for children who may never have celebrated their birthdays before. This was possible thanks to a recent campaign by ChildFund International that asked sponsors and other supporters to send birthday cards to children who don’t have sponsors, and more than 1,000 of you responded! By having cake, games and other treats, the unsponsored children didn’t feel left out of the fun. Enjoy the pictures from these celebrations in Zavala, Zandamela and Maputo, where hundreds of children have received birthday cards. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child in Mozambique, here’s more information.
Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Regional Communication and Administration Manager, and Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Today is the International Day of the African Child, a day to honor children’s rights. The continent-wide event looks back to a terrible day in 1976, June 16, when thousands of schoolchildren marched in Soweto, then a township in South Africa, to call for higher-quality education and the right to learn in their own languages.
Hundreds of children were shot. The official number of deaths was 23, but estimates put the number much higher. One of the first casualties, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, would become the icon of a movement promoting children’s rights. Since 1991, the Day of the African Child has marked the tragedy and served as an occasion to advocate for children’s rights across the continent — and, in particular, for children themselves to raise their voices.
This year, children from seven African countries marched through Soweto from the Mandela House to the Hector Pieterson Monument and Memorial Museum, joined by representatives of the South African government, the United Nations, international nongovernmental organizations and other official bodies.
During the march, children and others chanted slogans against early and forced marriage, this year’s theme for the Day of the African Child: “Don’t talk about us without us!” “Stop early marriage now!” “Girls are not a commodity — do not trade them for money, but send them to school!” Later, children performed dramatic monologues, poems and other speech advocating for children’s rights.
This year, the Day of the African Child is joined with a parallel celebration of this month’s 25th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The African Union crafted the Charter based on the United Nations’ global Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which marked its 25th anniversary in November. The Charter echoes the CRC but is geared more specifically toward Africa’s needs, particularly with regard to protecting children from harmful traditional practices.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child explicitly calls for all African countries to push the minimum age of marriage to 18, but child marriage — as well as accompanying issues such as early pregnancies and lack of education and job opportunities for young women — remains a challenge throughout Africa, home to 15 of the world’s 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.
“We young girls want to be in a school,” said one girl participating in the march. “That is where we belong — not to marriage.”
Soweto is not the only site where the Day of the African Child is celebrated, and June 16 is not the only day; in Guinea, which is recovering from the Ebola outbreak, thousands of children, joined by government and NGO officials, gathered on June 6 in Siguiri, a prefecture on the Niger River, to launch a Month of the African Child.
Near the site of Guinea’s celebration is a gold mine, and many young children work there, missing school and placing themselves in danger. That was the issue on Mamadou’s mind, and the 14-year-old ninth-grader was excited to exercise his right to speak out: “This moment is an occasion for me to pass messages to parents and even friends,” he said. “In my district, most of the children of my age and even younger are in the gold mine. Some are there through because of pressure from their parents. These children are not attending school. Instead, they spend every day from morning to evening digging hard, rocky ground in search of gold.
“Parents, please help your children to go to school,” he said. “School builds children’s minds and prepares them for tomorrow so that they can be helpful to you.”
He worries about his friends’ thinking that money is the answer to problems. “I am telling them that I agree with them that money is good, but you need to have the education and training to be able to manage money and know how to multiply it,” he said. “I tell my friends who have gone to the mine to go back to school for the education and training that will let them manage money, because school builds the mind.”