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.
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.
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.
It isn’t every day that you get to meet a United States president, but our president and CEO, Anne Lynam Goddard, attended the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting last week in New York City, convened by former President Bill Clinton.
On her Tumblr blog, she expresses hope and optimism about the future, despite such daunting problems as the spread of Ebola. The event, which draws business and nonprofit leaders from around the world, “reinforces my belief that if you get the right people working on a problem, anything is possible,” she writes. Read more of Anne’s reflections on the conference.