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.”
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 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.
Sept. 21 is the United Nations-designated International Day of Peace, celebrated throughout the world.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I first moved to Senegal, I learned a local language. For official business we spoke French, but in the field we spoke Wolof, the language of teranga, kalante and jamm — hospitality, joking kinship and peace.
When greeting someone in Wolof, the answer is always “peace, only peace.” How are you, how’s your household, and your work, your farm, your herds, your day (or night), how’s the family (just double-checking) and, ending the ceremony, are you all in peace? Jamm’ rekk.
Life in Senegal was peaceful. Senegal’s first president, a famous poet and war hero, was Catholic and part of the Serère population in a predominantly Muslim, Wolof land. Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as president from 1960 to 1980, transformed his nation into an exceptionally tolerant and democratic society. A visionary in human and economic development, Senghor led Senegal to independence.
Years later, I lived in neighboring Guinea, where joking kinship also reigns. Studying Pular there, I immediately recognized the ritual response: jam tun, only peace. Guinea’s recent history has been much more turbulent than Senegal’s, and the U.N. designated the country in its Human Development Index as one of the world’s 10 least developed.
Lacking peace, a country struggles to educate its children. It can’t provide health care, employment opportunities for youth, infrastructure or public services, safety and security, or a stable economy. Since a country and its peoples have no future without peace, peace is a human right.
Each summer, the Fund for Peace publishes a Fragile States Index (FSI), scoring countries on 12 socioeconomic and political indicators. Overall scores fall into four categories: Sustainable, Stable, Warning and Alert. A county’s FSI level often tracks closely to its HDI tier: Very High, High, Medium or Low.
The HDI measures health, education and income (adjusted for inequality) at a moment in time, while the FSI predicts future conflict. Factors such as the number of refugees, uneven economic development, the flight of educated citizens to other countries, economic decline and poverty, human rights and external influences are all taken into account to determine a country’s status in the Fragile States Index.
Over the past decade, Belarus and Indonesia — countries where ChildFund works — experienced the most notable improvements in the world. Senegal, on the other hand, shows the worst long-term performance. In 2007, Senegal was on par with Brazil. Then the country tumbled 55 places and, in the 2014 report, is now at the Very High Warning level. Why? Refugees from the conflicts in Guinea and Mali, emigration of Senegal’s educated populace, political competition and demographic pressures, such as drought, flooding, food and water scarcity and chronic malnutrition. Guinea, trapped at High Alert, is unlikely to improve. Ebola has devastated the nation’s precarious health system and damaged its economy.
Please consider sharing your peace with a child in Guinea or Senegal.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Ebola has sickened an estimated 4,200 people in Africa, and as of Sept. 9, 2,288 people have died from the virus, according to the World Health Organization. The spread of Ebola remains most serious in Liberia, where there have been the most deaths. Also affected are Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Senegal reported its first Ebola case last week, and officials in The Gambia are keeping close watch for cases, although none had been reported as of Sept. 9.
In Guinea, the situation appears to be stabilizing. As part of its strategy to fight the deadly Ebola virus, ChildFund Guinea identified and engaged community leaders to convey information to the public in three of Guinea’s affected communities.
These 108 leaders include imams, priests, a pastor, traditional healers and hunters — all of whom are respected and have influence within their communities. In March, as the outbreak began, ChildFund Guinea’s office held training workshops on conducting outreach campaigns, as well as identifying and referring people with suspected cases of Ebola to health facilities.
As a result, community members have received important information about good hygiene and preventive measures from people they know and trust. The training has concluded, but information sharing continues through local groups and one-on-one discussions at Guineans’ homes and houses of worship.
To date, 35 traditional healers (10 in Kindia and 25 in Dabola) and 28 hunters involved in the project are actively continuing the efforts to contain the spread of Ebola in Guinea. These men are part of indigenous peoples, who trust them as caregivers of the land and of people. Because of their roles and influence, healers and hunters are critical to public awareness efforts.
This community-centered approach has created widespread trust and increased public support for the use of preventive measures.
The outreach campaign has yielded concrete results, as three people suspected of having the virus were referred to the Regional Hospital of Dabola. Unfortunately, these three patients died a few days later, but this intervention helped prevent further spread of the virus.
Since the end of March, no new cases have been reported in any of the communities where ChildFund works in Guinea. Nevertheless, community members continue to be vigilant and prepared to take action if they see anyone who has a suspected case of Ebola.
Read more about ChildFund’s efforts to prevent and contain Ebola in Guinea and other western African countries.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
ChildFund Guinea’s staff met with Mamadou Aly Diallo, coordinator of the Denkadi Federation of Dabola, a local partner organization that has provided support with distribution of goats, sheep and other items to 135 families living in need in Guinea. The goats were purchased by ChildFund supporters in the Real Gifts catalog. Here is an interview with Diallo (pictured at left):
Please tell us about this project.
Diallo: We participated in a project that allowed us to support 700 children with school supplies and 135 families with goats and sheep for breeding; fertilizers, seeds and insecticides for gardening, and we also provide household latrines.
What benefit will the goats and sheep give these families?
Diallo: Families that receive goats have the potential to improve their lives. We thought it was beneficial to focus on this potential by providing them with the necessary skills, knowledge and animals that will permit them to take charge of their future.
In our communities, the populations are basically local farmers. Those who have the means purchase cattle that they use to cultivate land on a large scale, yield more products and generate more income. But poorer families cannot afford to rent or buy cattle.
However, there is a barter system that exists in these communities, giving people the opportunity to exchange goats or sheep for cattle; at least four sheep or goats equal one cow. Nevertheless, the idea behind providing goats and sheep to families is not limited to obtaining cattle. In a short time period, they can cultivate a herd of goats or sheep, which are easier to sell in local markets for quick income, allowing them to gain confidence and recognition in their villages. That’s why we thought that goats and sheep could be a solution for the short or long term.
How did the project work?
In 2013, we identified 135 extremely poor families who use traditional tools and bare hands to do their farming work, have only two small meals a day and whose children are not enrolled in school but rather work on their farms. Initially we provided a total of 200 animals (140 sheep and 60 goats) to 100 families (one pair per family). Later in September, the remaining 35 families received 140 sheep for breeding (two pairs per family).
Before delivering the animals to the families, the Federation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Animal Husbandry. They immunized these animals and administered de-wormers.
What is the current state of the first 200 animals given to families?
Diallo: According to the Department of Animal Husbandry, 75 percent of the animals have reproduced. We are told that the children of these families play happily with the young animals, cherish them and also learn to care for them. We are hopeful that in a few years’ time, these families will be financially independent enough to plow their land, pay school tuition for their children and meet their basic needs.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Ebola, a deadly and extremely painful virus, has broken out in western Africa. We asked Meg, who worked in Uganda during a previous outbreak, to share her impressions of Ebola and how it’s spread.
In Guinea’s Forest Region, where the world’s latest Ebola outbreak began, a bat is considered a delicacy — unless it’s your totem animal. If your family name is Guemou, Gbilimou, Gamamou, Balamou or Kolamou, you won’t eat bats, dogs or snakes.
You’ll also be at slightly less risk of contracting Ebola. Researchers believe that one in three West African bats carries Ebola antibodies. Even animals with no sign of illness can infect humans through blood or body fluids.
Every Ebola outbreak begins with a single animal-to-human transmission, then spreads from human to human through direct contact with blood, saliva, perspiration, urine, feces, organs, even semen. After an incubation period of two to 21 days, those infected pass Ebola on — often to family members and health care workers.
In Guinea, doctors initially mistook Ebola for Lassa, another viral hemorrhagic fever that accounts for about one in seven hospital admissions across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hospitals there often lack laboratories equipped to distinguish one virus from another.
Rats excrete the Lassa virus in their urine. It disperses during the daily sweeping of dirt floors, and then humans inhale it. Lassa, like malaria, requires vector control. Ebola’s transmission, on the other hand, plays into religion and culture; greetings, hospitality, caring for the sick, personal hygiene and funeral preparations all can cause its transmission.
I lived in Uganda in 2007 when a new strain of Ebola surfaced on its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Guinea’s virus is also a new strain, very closely related to the type from the DRC. Back in 2007, an infected doctor seeking treatment in Uganda’s capital brought Ebola to Kampala. This March, an infected doctor brought Ebola to Guinea’s capital, Conakry.
In 2007, Uganda threatened to close Entebbe International Airport. Now, Senegal has closed its land border with Guinea, The Gambia cancelled flights into Conakry, and other passengers must undergo health screening at arrival and departure. Saudi Arabia has even suspended visas for the haj, meaning that Guineans and Liberians won’t be among the pilgrims to Mecca this October. Muslims save money for decades to make pilgrimages on behalf of their families. Upon return, they bless all who shake their hands.
Ebola twists, knots and adorns itself in filaments. It is one of the most lethal pathogens on earth, and the U.S. has classified it under bioterrorism. There’s no vaccine, cure or treatment. If your immune system can’t fight it off, the virus bores holes in your blood vessels. Ebola kills most of its human hosts. Since it’s rare for Guineans and Liberians to ever touch a microscope or see germs, many still attribute sudden death caused by Ebola to sorcery.
No child should have to watch her mother die alone, touched only by doctors encased in protective armor. No father should suffer the agony of having infected his child. And those who recover don’t deserve stigma. Please help us counter fear with education and hygiene interventions.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Why? Because every minute, malaria takes the life of an African child. That’s an important fact to remember as we mark World Malaria Day.
How Malaria Spreads
A parasitic illness spread by female Anopheles mosquitos, malaria is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 in Africa. Every year, malaria kills 10,000 women and 200,000 infants worldwide. It’s especially dangerous during a woman’s first and second pregnancies. Infants become vulnerable again at 3 months, when the natural immunity they shared with their mother begins to wane.
Mosquitos bite mainly between dusk and dawn, and they carry four different parasites. The most lethal — and most common — malarial parasite is Plasmodium falciparum. Anopheles mosquitos in Africa have long lifespans and prefer to bite humans rather than animals. As a result, 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, although India also has a significant problem. The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, all countries served by ChildFund, have the highest occurrence rates in the world.
Rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity affect mosquitos, so malaria infections peak during and immediately after rainy seasons. Epidemics occur when climate conditions change or when seasonal workers, immigrants or refugees lacking immunity move into malarial areas.
Approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of catching malaria. In endemic areas, adults develop partial immunity through many years of exposure and illness, so most deaths occur in young children. In regions with lower infection rates, a sudden epidemic can decimate the population.
Links to HIV and Poverty
Mozambique and Zambia have high rates of cerebral malaria — which virtually guarantees death — as well as co-infection with HIV. More than 90 percent of their populations are at ongoing risk for malaria, and more than 10 percent have AIDS.
Existing HIV infection increases the risk of malaria and also the severity and complexity of the illness; HIV infection also interferes with the medications used to treat malaria, making death more likely. Malaria also increases the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Malaria is closely linked to poverty: The lower a country’s gross national income, the higher its malaria mortality rate. For children under 5, parasite prevalence is worst in poverty-stricken, rural communities, where lack of access to health facilities, effective diagnostics and treatment options is commonplace. Poor-quality housing offers little protection against mosquitoes, and the cost of insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying with insecticides is challenging for those living on less than $1.25 a day.
To avoid malaria, families need to sleep under insecticide-treated nets nightly, and houses must be sprayed every three to six months. ChildFund is working to combat the spread of malaria in Guinea, India, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, Uganda and Zambia, and you can help by purchasing bed nets for children and families.
On World Malaria Day, let’s strike back against this threat to children.
View a video to hear a mother in Guinea describe how her children’s health has improved with treated bed nets.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah Mamy, ChildFund Guinea
Fatoumata is 13 years old and lives in Guinea. A student in Sougueta Primary School, which is supported by ChildFund, Fatoumata holds the position of minister of discrimination in her student government.
We asked her why she accepted this post.
“In my village, families do not easily accept each other. Those from the Mandingo ethnic group do not collaborate with ones from the Foula ethnic group,” she says. “Unfortunately, our parents’ bad behavior has extended even to the schools and is affecting relationships between students on campus.”
She notes that students often fight each other and that each group of students discriminates against the other.
“I want to talk about peace with my fellow students and, if possible, with our parents,” Fatoumata says.
Asked what advice she would give, Fatoumata doesn’t hesitate: “To my friends, I would say, ‘Make peace with each other because if we follow our parents’ bad ways, we will not grow to become good people.’
To the parents, I would say, ‘Help us grow and become good people in the future.’ ”
By Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
For the past few years, the ChildFund Alliance (a 12-member organization that includes ChildFund International) has been asking children to tell us what they would do if they were president or the leader of their country. As you can imagine, 11- to 12-year-olds have some definite ideas.
As U.S. voters go to the polls today to elect the next president of the United States, we wanted to share with you some very good ideas for changing the world offered up by children who have a lot of important things to say when asked.
If I Were President…
To help these children and others like them achieve their dreams, and maybe one day grow up to be president, consider sponsoring a child.