How Ebola affected schoolchildren in Sierra Leone
It's been a week since I arrived back in the UK from the visit to a community in Sierra Leone with World Vision UK and I've been letting the experience sink in, absorbing everything. There was so much positivity on the trip and naturally there were emotional moments and upsetting stories. In this post I'm going to share the stories of the three girls that you see above, Mamie, Jebbeh and Messie, and I feel it's important to pre-warn you that there are issues mentioned in this post that you may find upsetting.
When Ebola struck in Sierra Leone it not only affected many directly, with 14,124 cases and 3956 deaths in the area, but also many more indirectly. As I discovered when I met these three strong young girls at a school near Bo Town and they shared their experiences of how life changed for them during the Ebola crisis.
Mamie, age 14
When Ebola came the schools closed and children were not able to mix with anyone socially. Mamie felt sad that she couldn't talk to or play with her friends, she missed school. With people unable to trade and earn money, it was hard for families to feed and clothe themselves. The Savings Group was key in helping her family at this time, providing her mother with much needed money.
The community was essentially in a state of lockdown to try to restrict the chances of anyone coming into contact with the virus, this included the police presence. With so many vulnerable children out of school and few people moving about the community, cases of sexual abuse and rape grew significantly. Perpetrators were unlikely to be challenged and there was no way for victims to seek help or even confide to a friend.
One of Mamie's schoolfriend's became pregnant during this time, resulting in a still birth. Still births are a common occurrence in the area and it's naturally very hard on the children who go through the experience as there's no support for them afterwards. When Mamies finished her schooling she wishes to become a doctor to help save mothers from health complications.
Jebbeh, age 11
Jebbeh's father was in the Kailahun district when Ebola first broke out, quickly he became infected and died. Her mother's whereabouts is unknown. Sadly, when relationships break down in Sierra Leone and people find new partners they often leave their old life behind children included, to start again, so this isn't an unusual situation.
Jebbeh stays with her Aunt, who has a small farm and Uncle, who's an assistant school-master in the village and her 4 cousins. Currently their dilapidated home is being repaired and they are all living in one room of a friends house. Jebbeh desperately misses her parents, her eyes welling with tears when she told us about them.
As an aside, I found out soon after talking to Jebbeh that she will be the child that I'll be sponsoring through World Vision. Overwhelming emotion at having met her in person and seen her emotion with my own eyes.
Messie, age 13
Messie also knew a school friend who became pregnant during the Ebola outbreak. When her friend went into labour they traveled to the nearest health center but there were no staff there, nurses there were so afraid of catching the deadly virus that they kept away. This child in labour visited 3 different health center's that day, trying to find someone to help deliver her baby. Tragically, as is so often the case, the baby was delivered still born and the mother also died later that day.
Schools have now reopened and these three girls, as you can see from these photos, are all back in full time education. They were all affected in different ways by the Ebola outbreak, but all are positive about their futures. Mamie wishes to become a doctor to help women in childbirth, Jebbeh wants to become the Minister for Education, build more schools and educate more children and Messie wants to become a nurse, to help others.
Ebola is behind them, but it lingers in bad memories and family and friends lost. These girls have such positive outlook and desire continue their education so they can help others that one cannot help but be inspired by them.