EBOLA TAKING ITS TOLL … two young orphans share a bowl of food in Kenema

Sierra Leone’s Ebola crisis viewed from the mind of a child



“One thing is for one’s country not to have, another is for that country to be nonchalant about the wellbeing of her kids so long as the privileged kids are in good health and safe hands” – John Masefield. It was mind-boggling, breathtaking and heart rendering when I read a post from one of Sierra Leone’s finest youth and advocates for the Girl’s Child Right, Chernor Bah: “They all survived ‪‎Ebola. They are trying to smile. But they have lost their parents, a daughter and many loved ones. Left on their own, now the breadwinners for the younger surviving siblings. They are just young girls. 15, 17 and 18 years old. Humbled to try to bring a little smile to their faces (and some food and other items on their tables) today when as they told me, they are now being abandoned and forgotten. We can’t let that happen. Thanks all for your support making this happen.”

In this circumstance, these kids, like many other kids in the country, have lost their primary caregivers. They will have to provide for themselves. They will be under no parental care – an irremediable tragedy. The knowledge that they lost their parents to the Ebola virus will make them victims of stigmatization now and in the nearest future.

As Sierra Leone continues to grapple with how to curb the continual spread of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease – the most devastating viral disease in humanity – which made an incursion into the country in May through a tribal healer who contracted the deadly virus while administering traditional medicine to an Ebola infected patient, the worst hit Sierra Leoneans have been the children. Although unconfirmed reports have it that more women have been killed since the outbreak of the Ebola Virus, but for the purpose of this piece, I will like to dwell on the impact of the outbreak of the Ebola Virus on the Sierra Leonean child.

It will not be out of place to propound that the toughest country to be a child is Sierra Leone, save for a few war-torn countries. Prior to the outbreak of the Ebola Virus, child mortality was at alarming high rate. Infants’ death has continued to ball, while corruption tears up scales in measurements in the Health and Sanitation Ministry.

To date, over 300 children across Sierra Leone have been orphaned by the Ebola virus, and this number is likely to rise considerably as the virus continues to spread unabated. A vast majority of these kids are being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection. Whilst these children urgently need special attention and support, they get rejection, stigmatization and despair in return – they feel unwanted and even abandoned in many cases. Little wonder Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Ebola ‘Letter to the World’ said:  “Across West Africa, a generation of young people risk being lost to an economic catastrophe as harvests are missed, market are shut and borders are closed.”

Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life have been screeching about the consequences of the Ebola virus. If you live in an Ebola virus infested community you are left with no food for survival for today, no hope of survival for tomorrow. No sense of belonging. No identity. No sign of care from your loved ones regardless of your age – you live one day at a time. You are at the mercy of the ‘hebetudinous government’. This is obvious reason why the Ebola virus has continued to kill and breed more orphans and potential street kids in Sierra Leone. Amidst this, children continue to bear the brunt of our failing society. In the same vein, I see state officials moving on as though all is well and good. They may have never heard that it is better to be driven from among men than to be disliked by children.

This is heart-wrenching. It does appear no one genuinely cares about the Sierra Leonean child. Now, if an obviously privileged child by Sierra Leonean standards could feel this bad about how things are, imagine what would be going through the minds of children whose daily existence involves constant battle for survival and the shades of death arising from the Ebola virus disease? One can only but continue to imagine what runs through the mind of kids who have lost their parents to the dreaded Ebola virus.

It does appear that the greatest catastrophe occasioned by the outbreak of the Ebola virus lays ahead of us as a people. Understanding the impact of this on children has become mandatory. Although there were rumoured plans by government to set up the ‘Ebola Victims Support Fund’, not much has been heard about it. It is not all bad though, as the government still has the opportunity to reactivate the support fund. Of course, we will continue to be vigilant to see how well it goes.

Is anyone out there listening to the cries of the Sierra Leonean child for a better country? Does everyone truly believe that our children’s lives are currently being threatened? Sierra Leone can do a lot better; but we are not even close enough to doing a lot more good. It takes accepting the fact that, this is far from being where we want to be as a country.

On a more serious but closing note, the response from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs has not been commendable enough. It needs to double her effort and hit the ground running. There should be rapidity in implementation of the action plan – capturing the bio data of all kids in the country who have lost their parents to the Ebola virus and coordination of logistics provided by government, development partners and donor agencies.

Should we defeat the Ebola virus, soonest rather than later, it will go a long way to show that if this country ever decides to wake up from its slumber, mediocrity, placidity, and all that is shameful, it would indeed be a country to be proud of, in truth and in deeds.

OCTOBER 27, 2014 By Gabriel Benjamin-Concord Times

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