February 4 2015

After Ebola: Orphaned children find home at SOS Children's Villages Sierra Leone

For the first time since June 2014 new cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone have fallen below 100 per week. As the outbreak slows, focus shifts to how to care for the thousands of children left orphaned by Ebola.

4 February 2015 - Charles* is just 18 months old. Already in life, he lost his father to Ebola. Then his mother. Then three brothers, one sister, an uncle and an aunt. All within weeks.

Two more sisters caught the virus, but survived. One of them, 23-year-old Mabinty, says: “I and my sister went through pain but survived. We were thinking of Charles.”

With his family dead or very sick, the Ebola Holding Centre became Charles's home for three months of observation. There, nurse Fatmata cared for him, loved him, made him smile.

But Holding Centres are not homes, so little Charles was moved to an Interim Childcare Centre (ICC). After a month there, he tested negative for Ebola and was discharged to make way for other children who had lost their parents to Ebola.

But where could Charles live next? The government asked SOS Children’s Villages to take him. But it was still too early, too dangerous. Too many children with negative results on the ICC’s initial tests later developed Ebola symptoms. “We couldn’t risk infecting the other children in the village” said Olatungie Woode, SOS Children's Villages Sierra Leone National Director.

Nowhere for Charles to go.

But there was still Fatmata. “It was then that I decided to take Charles to my sister’s home where we stayed until SOS was ready to take him in,” Fatmata said. “Sometimes I did not go to work just to take care of Charles. He has a bright future.”

The children and mothers of SOS Children's Village Makeni welcomed Charles*, Lamia*, Kadia* and Rania* to their new home with singing and smiles. Photo: SOS Archives
Finally, on Friday, 23 January 2015, it was time. Charles, along with three other children with similarly harrowing stories, became part of an SOS family.

His departure was bittersweet for Fatmata. “I am so emotionally attached to this boy,” she said. “I will always keep in touch with him. My family will miss him. I know SOS Children’s Villages is a loving and caring home for children.”

Charles and the three other children with a similar plight, Lamia*, Kadia*, and Rania*, arrived at the SOS Children’s Village Makeni mid-morning. A crowd of SOS mothers and children had gathered, singing welcome songs.

“I was excited to receive the children with an open heart,” said SOS mother Mabinty Mansaray. “I will give them the best care and protection they deserve. It’s a big challenge for me and I have to prove myself.”

Enormous challenges for Ebola survivors

During the week of 25 January the number of new confirmed cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone totalled 99. It was the first time since June 2014 that the weekly total of new cases fell below 100, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). In recent weeks there has been less than one Ebola death per day in Sierra Leone.

The country plans to reopen its schools on 2 March, after pre-conditions are met. Teachers from SOS Children's Villages schools are already back to work, preparing for their students to return and education to restart.

Still, young Ebola survivors face stark challenges in rebuilding their lives. In too many cases now without their parents and siblings, as SOS Children's Villages CEO Richard Pichler explains:

“As the Ebola epidemic appears to ebb, much of the world has turned its attention elsewhere. But enormous challenges remain. More than 10,000 children have lost one or both parents to the virus. They are often shunned by their communities because of the fear and stigma associated with the disease. SOS Children’s Villages Sierra Leone has already begun taking in such children, offering them a caring, loving home – to which they, like all children, have a right. This underscores SOS Children’s Villages’ long-term commitment, in line with its fundamental values, to the children affected by Ebola.”

*The child's name has been changed to protect privacy.

SOS Children’s Villages International receives essential funding for care programmes from individual sponsors and many multilateral and governmental entities. Relief efforts to provide loving homes and care for children orphaned by Ebola in Sierra Leone are supported in part by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Herman Gmeiner Fonds Deutschland, an SOS Children's Villages member association.