Eight-month-old Sie* will never know her parents. They both died from Ebola.
For now, Sie is quarantined in a care center for children in Sierra Leone’s Kono district. When she cries, her caregiver, Kamara, a 25-year-old Ebola survivor and mother of five, picks her up and hushes her tenderly. Though Sie stops crying, she doesn’t look at ease.
When Sie’s parents came down with Ebola, they were sent to a treatment center three hours away by ambulance. Sie was left behind. She is one of 16 children at the Kono district Observational Interim Care Center, which can accommodate up to 20, and one of more than 11,000 children in West Africa who have lost one or both parents since the Ebola outbreak began.
Some of the children, including 15-year-old Finda, the oldest child in the center, can hope to return home after completing 21 days in quarantine.
“My father died,” Finda says. “I did not feel too good about coming here because my mother is sick and they took her away, too. But my younger brother and sister are here with me.” While she hasn’t been able to speak to her mother, “I have got a message that she is doing fine,” Finda says.
“I want my mother to care for me and to come back,” says Finda. “I’m missing her.”
Caring for the least
Like Kamara, the nine staff members at the children’s care center are Ebola survivors and all are believed to be immune to the disease. They battled the virus and won, then came back for another round. They not only provide hands-on care for boys and girls who could be infected, but they also do the cooking and cleaning and still find time to play with the children.
The bright, clean and well-run center, supported by World Vision, UNICEF, and other organizations, complies with Ebola infection prevention measures. There’s a temperature check and hand-washing station at the entrance. Floors and bathroom are disinfected several times a day.
World Vision provides food for children and staff, as well as bedding, clothes, and shoes. The organization supplied furniture, cooking equipment, and a power generator as well.
Ten-year-old Tamba says he and his two sisters are well cared for at the center. “I wake up, take a bath in the morning, dress, eat breakfast, and then play,” he says. “We play hide and seek; we play football.” At 10, the teacher comes for “lessons,” or informal education.
Still, Tamba counts the days until his quarantine is over. “My mother is sick,” he says. “I have not heard from her, and I am worried about her. I want to see her come back.”
Healing damaged lives
But for all the material and physical support that is provided, the children face even more daunting emotional challenges.
Over the next three months, World Vision will train care center staff in activities to provide psychosocial support for the children. In Pujehun district, recently declared Ebola-free, a care center is being established for Ebola orphans who need support and protection. World Vision will train staff there, too.
In Sierra Leone, World Vision works with the government and other organizations to care for children orphaned or quarantined because of Ebola. Ultimately, the aim is to reunite the children with surviving family members or find foster homes in their communities.
*Name changed to protect identity.
- Alison Schafer, Ph.D., is a World Vision specialist in mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian emergencies. This story is excerpted from an account of her recent visit to the children's care center.