This week, the World Health Organization declared that for the first time in a year, Sierra Leone had no confirmed, active cases of the Ebola virus. If none are reported between now and Oct. 5, 42 days after the last case, the country will be considered free of Ebola.
By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone
At the peak of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, ChildFund started Interim Care Centers throughout Sierra Leone to help children who found themselves at risk, living in households where they had been exposed to the virus. Often, they had lost parents to the disease and did not have reliable care or protection. Ultimately, ChildFund set up seven centers nationwide and served 343 children.
We checked in recently with some of the children and volunteer workers at the centers to see how they were doing.
Of the 343 children served between July 2014 and this past July, 75 percent are orphaned, 15 percent have one parent, and 10 percent were reunited with both parents. In recent months, 330 children have been reunited with parents or other family members.
ChildFund’s assistance, supported by donors to the Ebola emergency response fund, didn’t end there. We provided clothes and bedding to children whose belongings had to be burned to avoid spreading the virus.
We’ve also provided Cash Grant Livelihood Support packages of $300 each to 120 families, who used the funds for school uniforms, books and writing materials, or for household expenses. Staff members at ChildFund Sierra Leone’s national office also continue to visit children who have been reunited with their parents or caregivers, giving them further financial and emotional support as they cope with the trauma of losing loved ones to Ebola. We expect to stay in contact with these families well into the future.
Children were not the only people who suffered in the outbreak.
About 90 percent of the volunteer staffers at interim care centers are Ebola survivors who initially suffered some form of stigmatization from relatives or the general public. Due to ignorance of the disease, people were scared to come near Ebola survivors, despite the fact that they were no longer contagious or even vulnerable to catching the disease a second time. Survivors lost their jobs and homes as a result, and many have shared their sad stories with ChildFund staff members.
Even children who survived Ebola or were merely under observation for symptoms were not welcome in relatives’ homes after leaving the interim care centers. It took many appeals and negotiations for some of these children to be accepted in their communities.
According to an Ebola survivor, Theresa, whose two sons also fell sick and recovered, “When I was discharged from the clinic, I used to feel very ashamed. My neighbors’ attitude made things worse for me. I could not even use the apartment building’s toilet without fearing that someone would attack or abuse me.” Ultimately, the family left their apartment and now live elsewhere.
But people in Sierra Leone are becoming more aware of the truth about Ebola through an anti-stigmatization publicity campaign led by the federal government and assisted by ChildFund. Also, community members in areas with interim care centers have seen with their own eyes how Ebola survivors have helped many children.
“When the ICCs were established, survivors were still being stigmatized,” says Ebola survivor and center volunteer Mohamed Swarray, who helped track down exposed children’s family members so they could be reunited. “Since the centers were dealing with children from quarantined homes, it was difficult for them to get nurses and caregivers. It was decided that it is us — the survivors — who can do the job well. So, that is how my status as a survivor actually gave me a job.”
Community members started to view survivors differently and appreciate their work. Many of the volunteers, who received stipends for their work, say they’re grateful for ChildFund’s support and are proud of working with children affected by Ebola. Today, they stand by, ready to work if they’re needed again.
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.”
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.
Reporting and photos from Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia, and Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
This week, ChildFund’s president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, visited Liberia, which was declared free of Ebola last Saturday, and Guinea. Guinea and Sierra Leone still have some active cases of Ebola, but the numbers are considerably lower than several months ago, at the height of the epidemic.
Since last spring, when the virus began spreading quickly through West Africa, ChildFund has worked with governments and other nongovernmental organizations to make communities aware of preventive hygiene practices and also help survivors and children affected by the virus.
The centerpiece of our work, starting in October 2014, was the opening of Interim Care Centers, where children who had lost caregivers to Ebola could receive care and attention while being watched for symptoms of Ebola. People working at the ICCs were often Ebola survivors, who are immune to the disease. They also worked to find homes for these children — many of whom are orphans — after their releases from quarantine.
Today, ICC staff members are still checking on the welfare of these children and their caretakers, some of whom have taken in several children and need assistance. As schools and public institutions reopen, life may look more normal in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the struggle for children who lost parents, siblings and other loved ones to Ebola remains quite painful.
Goddard spoke to Ebola survivors this week at Kelekula Interim Care Center in Monrovia, Liberia: “The memory will be part of your life forever, and don’t think of being a victim but a survivor.
“I know this is not the end,” she added. “I know that many lives have been affected that will not go back to normal, and we know that it will take a lot to bring people, children, families and communities back on the path toward the future.”
Read more about Anne Goddard’s West Africa visit at her Tumblr page.
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.”
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.”
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.