By Jacqui Ooi, Social Communications and Media Manager, ChildFund Australia
Schools in Guinea reopened this month after being closed for much of last year, as the country fought to contain the Ebola outbreak. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, where infection rates are also now stabilizing, schools are set to reopen in February and March respectively.
It’s the first step back to normalcy for millions of children whose lives and educations have been disrupted by the worst Ebola crisis in history. An estimated 5 million children in the three countries have been out of school for up to eight months. This has put children at high risk of dropping out of school permanently or ending up in child labor.
“Schools have been closed for a long time, so there are concerns that children are beginning to forget they were schoolchildren, that the continuation of their studies will be difficult the longer schools take to reopen,” says Billy Abimbilla, ChildFund’s national director for Liberia and Sierra Leone. “It has also been realized that many of the older girls are becoming pregnant because they are at home and they are not occupied. So, in some ways, the sooner schools reopen, the better.”
However, while there is an obvious need to get children back in school, there are also concerns about their reopening too soon, risking exposure to the virus.
“There is a school of thought that thinks it is too early to reopen these schools, because even though infection rates are declining, Ebola has not been completely eradicated and so reopening schools could spike another round of infections,” Billy says. “Also the fact that opening them too early will put some parents in a difficult situation because many livelihoods have been eroded, and many parents do not have enough money to pay school fees. So they need a bit more time to be able to organize to pay the school fees.”
With the decision to reopen schools winning out, the government and NGOs in all countries will be working hard to ensure children are protected at school and also help families get back on their feet.
ChildFund will extend its support of children affected by Ebola to help ensure that school staff and students continue to be careful about prevention measures as schools reopen.
“We will provide them with hygiene kits so teachers and students can continue the practice of washing their hands, and avoid intimate touching with each other through things like spacing of seats in the classroom,” Billy explains. “We’ll also continue with education on how Ebola can be contracted or not, and form children’s Ebola clubs to raise awareness in schools.
“Provision of water and sanitation is also crucial in terms of reducing infection. So we’ll be looking at supporting the government to supply wells fitted with hand pumps for schoolchildren to wash their hands and ensure that whatever information children get at school, they can also be voices to get back to the community level and educate their parents.”
You may have seen a New York Times article this week about a 4-year-old girl called Sweetie Sweetie who is staying at one of ChildFund’s Interim Care Centers in Sierra Leone. She lost her parents to Ebola, like thousands of children in West Africa. Sweetie Sweetie, whose given name we don’t know, has remained healthy and not shown signs of the disease. Here, you can read an update on her condition and learn how to help other children orphaned by Ebola.
Interview by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Davidson Jonah, ChildFund’s field operations support director, is engaged in the challenging work of supporting our Ebola response, including opening Liberia’s Interim Care Center for children affected by the disease. He took a few minutes to talk with us during a recent field visit to Guinea and gave us an update on what is happening now.
You have now been involved with the Ebola emergency for months now. What helps you keep going?
Ebola is a much different kind of emergency response than I have ever been involved in. The situation is very hectic; you see things happen, and you are motivated to help save lives. I also admire the courage of the national staff. Like I said, it is a different emergency, and therefore, you don’t have lot of people coming in [to participate in the response] out of fear. So, those who are living with it are the people on the ground, the national office staff. As a native of West Africa, I should be there to support them and help to bring in as many resources as possible.
What have you observed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in terms of community members’ acceptance of the fact that Ebola is a real disease?
The level of acceptance is not the same in all three countries. I see it going up in Guinea, though not up where it should be. [People must accept] not only that this is a disease and it kills, but also other information about how it spreads, such as contact with sick persons, handling corpses, etc., so that there would be a better environment through the outbreak and afterward. If you look at the issue of stigmatization, it is an issue of lack of acceptance and knowledge about the virus.
Do you think Ebola will be eradicated?
Yes, I am hopeful. For it to be effectively eradicated, we have to have a coordinated approach because of the way in which these countries border each other. So, even if Ebola gets eradicated in Guinea, if somebody from Sierra Leone who is infected comes over, because of the mode of transmission, there might be an issue here. Same with Sierra Leone and Liberia. One country cannot say yes, we have done it, if the other countries are still having the problem.
What messages have you gotten from children and communities?
Well, from the community, the message is that they want to do more, but they don’t have the resources and the means. They are aware of the situation, and they know that they need to get more people to understand — especially the community leaders, so we need more sensitization and awareness raising. For the children, they want to go to school.
What Ebola eradication strategies are the most significant in the three countries?
Sensitization and awareness raising are key. First, every household in all three countries has to be sensitized about this disease, and they have to get the same correct message. That is the only means. They can take care of those who are sick, and they can allow or co-operate on safe burial for those who are dead already, but the message needs to get down to the community.
For example, people from West Africa want to take care of and wash their dead, and that is a key way Ebola spreads. Our way of meeting and talking, greeting, showing friendship and love is through handshakes and hugging. That is another key way that Ebola can be transmitted.
So, until and unless people get the message, it is going to be difficult to eradicate Ebola. That is the key message, awareness about the mode of transmission, to break the chain, should be the strategy that all countries should adopt.
What is working well in the three countries, and what are some upcoming challenges and goals?
The issue of community sensitization and awareness is moving well. That is the great step that has been taken, but it needs to be strengthened and the correct messages circulated in all languages by community leaders. The next step is for that message to be transmitted down to every household. That’s where we should push. Because now that the community leaders are aware, we need to support them in taking the message to their people. They are the people who can do it best; they are the ones who can pass on the message because it is all about trust.
We heard in one or two meetings that people do not trust the health system; they don’t have confidence in this or that, so to build that confidence, you need to have their own people seen doing the actions, and then they learn by example. Yesterday, we went to the Ebola committee meeting, and when we washed our hands, a little girl also came and washed her hands. That is what needs to done.
What message do you have for the ChildFund staff in West Africa?
My message for them is to do what they are asking others to do. So, if we are asking community leaders to sensitize their people about Ebola, we should also take it upon ourselves to sensitize those around us. It seems small, but it will go a long way.
By 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.
Today, Feb. 21, is International Mother Language Day, so we’re looking at some of Africa’s linguistic traditions. Did you know that a child you sponsor in Africa may speak as many as five languages?
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
In July 1975, I began a training program for Peace Corps volunteers in Dakar, Senegal. The volunteers were immersed in French and Wolof in the classroom and in field settings. We practiced our bargaining language while speeding along in cars rapides — large, open vehicles painted bright blue and crammed with women, children, chickens and goats — on our way to Dakar’s open-air markets.
Speaking a mixture of Wolof and French, we sometimes saw English phrases painted lopsidedly on cars and walls: “It is forbidden to spit,” for instance.
“Spit” is one of about two dozen words common to many cultures that have remained highly stable over time, so they’re useful for understanding language dispersion. In French, to spit is cracher, and spit itself is crachat; Wolof uses tufli and tuflit. Both languages make use of onomatopoeia — the words sound like what they mean — even though English and French are members of the Indo-European cluster, and Wolof belongs to the world’s largest language family, the Niger-Congo.
As an English speaker, it was easier for me to learn French than Wolof. The U.S. Foreign Service Institute agrees. French, Portuguese and Spanish are relatively straightforward for native English speakers to learn, with their many cognates, similar alphabets and common grammatical structures. It’s tougher for us to achieve proficiency in Hindi, Vietnamese or Thai; Arabic is among the most difficult of languages for Americans.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages.
Yet many of the children in ChildFund’s programs speak three or more languages fluently before the age of 15: First they learn their mother tongue, then a regional or national language — Wolof, in Senegal — and, in school, an international language like Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish.
In Senegal, I lived in a Pular-speaking district. Wolof and Pular are siblings: Tuttugol (to spit) is clearly related to tufli. My high-school students had already mastered Pular, Wolof, Arabic (the language of Islam) and French (Senegal’s official language). I taught them their fifth language: English.
English is often hard for non-native speakers to learn. Our vocabulary borrows from two sources — Romance (tricky, difficult, arduous) and Anglo-Saxon (tough, hard, thorny). Decades later, I taught English to university students in neighboring Guinea. Guineans also speak Pular, along with Malinké, Soussou and Kissi.
Just as Romance languages (French, Portuguese and Spanish) all derive from a Latin root, Malinké, Soussou and the Sierra Leonean Mende dialect belong to the same cluster as Senegalese and Gambian languages such as Mandinke, Bambara, Soninke and Serahuli. Its influence is felt in Liberia and Sierra Leone too. Niger-Congo languages blanket the West African coast, from the Sahara Desert to the River Congo.
West Africans move effortlessly between four or five languages. Not surprisingly, linguistic research suggests language itself originated there. As our African ancestors explored and settled the rest of the globe between 50,000 and 75,000 years ago, these expert language learners took their abstract communications and distinct cultures with them.
Our original mother tongue was an African language. Why not celebrate International Mother Language Day by sponsoring a child in West Africa? Explore one of the 1,500 living languages spoken by nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
Interview by Sierra Winston, ChildFund Communications Intern
In our 75-post series in honor of ChildFund’s 75th anniversary, we’ll hear from several of our national directors who oversee operations in the countries we serve in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Here, Billy Abimbilla shares some stories from his work in Sierra Leone.
How long have you worked at ChildFund?
I have been with ChildFund for the past five years. I joined ChildFund on Dec. 1, 2008, as the program director for Liberia; then I moved on to Sierra Leone as the national director in May 2011. I also acted as the regional director for West Africa for a few months recently.
What is your favorite thing about working here?
My favorite thing about ChildFund is the space that the organization offers for innovation and creativity in our support of children and their families. This has been facilitated by an enabling and inspiring leadership that recognizes and rewards efforts of the organization’s staff. Also fascinating to me are the results that our work has achieved for children and their families in making life more meaningful for them in very trying and fragile environments.
What successes have you had in your national office?
Together as a team, the Sierra Leone national office has made strides for children in the last two years, greatly increasing our program offerings and services. Our profile within the country has also increased, especially within the government and within the donor community. At all levels of government, we are known for our commitment to quality outcomes for children and having a child-centered focus. We have also helped our local partners diversify their sources of funding, rather than solely rely on ChildFund. This also has improved outcomes for children and their families.
What motivates you in life?
What motivates me in life is to see the results of the contributions you make in improving the lives of others who are less fortunate in life by no fault of their own. It is always satisfying to return to a place where you have helped people and to receive a hug — especially from children — and be most welcome. It is also my belief that no one on this earth is worthless; they may be born into circumstances that they did not help to create and when supported in the right way, they can correct their own situation and make things better for themselves.
Where did you work before ChildFund?
I have worked for ActionAid in Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia; DFID in Ghana; Concern Worldwide in Liberia; Oxfam in Uganda and now for ChildFund in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to watch National Geographic, National Geographic Wild and Discovery channels on TV. I also explore a lot on the Internet.
What is a quote, saying or belief that you live by?
Tony Robbins: “Identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions.”
Reporting by ChildFund Sierra Leone
For 50 days, ChildFund is joining with numerous organizations to demonstrate support for government policies and programs that will allow women and girls to be healthy, empowered and safe — no matter where they live. Ending early and forced marriage is this week’s theme.
In 2005, at the age of 10, Kadiatu was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs serving the Daindemben Federation in her Sierra Leonean community. With support from her sponsor to pay for school fees and learning materials, Kadiatu eagerly embraced the educational opportunities available to her.
But when she reached junior secondary school, Kadiatu’s father decided to remove her from school and give her in marriage to a middle-aged man in the village. ChildFund and its local partner intervened on Kadiatu’s behalf, standing firm to ensure that her father’s decision was overturned. The marriage was cancelled, and Kadiatu continued her schooling. But her father withdrew all support. Her mother has died long ago and her stepmother showed no love to her.
Without ChildFund sponsorship and the support of Daindemben Federation, Kadiatu would have had nowhere to turn.
Today, Kadiatu, 18, is in senior secondary school preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination. She credits ChildFund and Daindemben Federation for restoring her hope and believes she would have been the mother of two or three children by now had it not been for the intervention of the federation. “Daindemben has made me realize my importance and value in society,” she says.
Now she is determined to go all the way to university to study accounting. “I want Daindemben Federation and my sponsor to be proud of me. They have done so much to get me to where I am today. I don’t want to let them down,” she says. “Even my father is proud of me now,” she acknowledges. “He has regretted the action he had wanted to take then.
“I would like Daindemben Federation and my ChildFund sponsor to continue being my pillar, so that I will achieve my dream of becoming an accountant.”
Read more about ChildFund’s work to prevent early marriage.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communications Specialist
Tuberculosis is rare today in the United States and other developed countries, but in developing nations, it is a killer. Globally, TB has created 10 million orphans and is one of the top-three causes of death in women ages 15 to 44.
Today, March 24, we mark World TB Day by joining with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and other international organizations to raise awareness and mobilize political and social commitment toward progress in the care and control of tuberculosis.
Caused by an airborne bacteria, TB often attacks lungs and has developed strains that are resistant to multiple drug treatments. It also strikes people with weak immune systems, particularly those infected with HIV. In the 1800s, Western Europe saw the number of tuberculosis deaths peak at nearly 25 percent, but with better medical treatment and understanding, the TB mortality rate fell by 90 percent by the 1950s.
Now, as the virus mutates and resists standard drug therapies, developing nations are experiencing the same level of risk as Europe did a century ago. This year marks the second half of WHO’s two-year campaign Stop TB in My Lifetime, a program that is significant to countries ChildFund serves in Africa and Asia.
Globally, tuberculosis is second only to AIDS as the greatest killer from a single infectious agent. At least a third of HIV-infected patients worldwide are also diagnosed with TB, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, tuberculosis is often the infection that is directly responsible for death. In fact, testing positive for tuberculosis often masks HIV-positive status, which makes proper medical treatment far more difficult than for patients who have one disease or the other.
Despite the overall decline worldwide in incidences of TB and the development of rapid diagnostics, the combination of HIV and TB and its accompanying challenges have kept Africa from being on track to halve its tuberculosis deaths by 2015, a WHO goal.
WHO estimates that 500,000 children were newly infected in 2011, and 64,000 died. Tuberculosis is particularly difficult to diagnose in children; current TB tests are largely inaccurate for children.
Poor communities and vulnerable populations also suffer disproportionately from TB. At highest risk are young adults, infants, diabetics, smokers, those infected with HIV, people who are malnourished and anyone living in crowded or unclean conditions — such as refugees and others displaced by a natural disaster, political oppression or civil unrest.
Because TB threatens the well-being of children where we work, ChildFund supports local government initiatives and public messaging. Here are some facts about ChildFund-supported countries and their exposure to TB:
Sierra Leone has the world’s highest prevalence and mortality rates; tuberculosis incidence there is one and a half times as high as in the second-ranked country, and Sierra Leone’s mortality rate is almost twice as high.
Cambodia ranks fifth for prevalence and Timor-Leste eighth, but both countries tie for fifth-highest mortality rate because Cambodia has an edge in successful treatment.
Joining those three nations as very-high-incidence countries are The Gambia, Liberia, Mozambique, the Philippines and Zambia.
Areas of high prevalence include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam. Uganda, where TB and HIV infection forms a lethal combination, has a treatment success rate of only 71 percent. Ethiopia and Guinea also have lower-than-average success rates: 83 percent and 80 percent, respectively.
The story isn’t entirely bleak, though. Some countries have made impressive progress. Between 1995 and 2011, 85 percent of all new infections and 69 percent of relapsing cases were successfully treated. And between 1990 and 2011, the overall mortality rate fell by 41 percent.
However, every year funding falls $3 billion short of WHO’s goal to make quality care accessible regardless of gender, age, type of disease, social setting or ability to pay. International assistance is especially critical for the 35 countries designated as low-income — including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique and Uganda. Of these, The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are not currently among the top 50 recipients of Official Development Assistance.
Please join us in taking action to end the burden of tuberculosis in the lifetimes of the children we serve. When you sponsor a child or make a donation to Children’s Greatest Needs, you’ll be helping to ensure that children in our programs live healthier lives.
Reporting by ChildFund staff in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda
As we celebrate the Day of the Girl, ChildFund recognizes three young women who were empowered through programs that emphasized the importance of girls. In their youth, they were given opportunities to learn, grow and prosper. Today, we celebrate their accomplishments.
Wotay, 25, grew up in northern Sierra Leone. Despite the poor conditions of her community, she managed to finish both primary and secondary school. Wotay is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Njala University.
In her youth, Wotay was always one of few girls to speak out on the problem of teenage pregnancy (often due to rape and incest) and other child abuse issues in her region.
Now, during her visits home, she continues to advocate and help children in her community, offering them advice and assisting them with writing letters to their sponsors. She also volunteers with ChildFund community partners and is an active public speaker. Although she has an interest in finance, Wotay is currently devoting much of her attention to youth development.
In Caroline’s family, school is viewed as being only for boys. As a result, it was difficult for her to access education as a young girl. It was also a common practice for girls to be circumcised. But a local school administrator was instrumental in preventing Caroline’s circumcision and also guided her to ChildFund’s Psychological Support and Care (PSS) trainings where Caroline gained key insights into the rights of women and children. That knowledge has given her drive and courage to pursue her academic goals.
Although now 20, Caroline is a thriving high school student in Kimalel Day Secondary School in Kenya’s Marigat District. She shares her experiences with other youth who are struggling to get an education. She has been instrumental in encouraging other girls to go to school and helping them understand their rights. Recently, her ideas around inclusion of girls were used to help ChildFund and its local partners map strategy for future community programs. Caroline’s efforts have also contributed to a noticeable reduction in regressive cultural practices in her community where education for girls is not highly valued.
When she finishes her education, she hopes to be a teacher and a community facilitator.
The Police Detective
Growing up in poverty, Christine, 24, was a shy and unhappy little girl who didn’t believe she was good enough to succeed. She often kept quiet and listened to other children speak – she thought they knew better and therefore had more right to be heard. That was before she was sponsored through ChildFund Uganda.
Fast forward a few years, and Christine is a confident, assertive, determined and independent police detective in the crime intelligence division. Christine describes ChildFund as the “miracle that changed her life.” She recalls the letters, greeting cards and gifts from her sponsor Hansen that helped motivate and encourage her to do her best.
When she became of age, Christine assumed responsibility for helping other children like her. She assisted with letter writing and contributed to programs for children in her impoverished community. Those experiences helped shape the leadership skills she uses in her current job.
Christine attributes her communications skills and the ability to love and give to her time with ChildFund Uganda. ”I am able to stand all challenges at work because of the trainings I was involved in,” she says. “I stand for what I believe in. I am not afraid; I am assertive and I know my rights!”
Christine hopes to continue giving back to her community by empowering children and wants to sponsor a child in the future.
By Abu Bakarr Conteh, ChildFund Sierra Leone
As part of ongoing efforts to tackle unemployment in Sierra Leone, some 3,000 youth have started an intensive 12-month training program supported by ChildFund.
Years of civil war in Sierra Leone have robbed thousands of children and youth of a complete education. With few opportunities for employment, this generation of youth has been languishing in their villages with very little to offer and dim prospects for the future.
ChildFund, with funding from the World Bank, is rolling out the Youth Employment and Support Project (YESP) in five districts including the capital city of Freetown. And young people are eagerly enrolling in carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics and welding, among other vocational programs.
After completing the YESP training, the youth expect to improve their prospects of getting jobs.
“My dream is to become one of the best female auto mechanics in the country, so I can work for the big companies,” says 18-year-old Mamadi, who has been on the street and suffered exploitation.
Musa, who was struck with polio, is seeking to add value to his life. “I will become self-employed and be able to provide for my family once I complete the training,” he says.
In a country where unemployment remains a huge challenge across the population, these youth are highly spirited and determined to carve their own destinies.