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Sierra Leone: To the Rescue of Ebola Orphans in Kailahun

Like the infamous decade-long rebel war the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak is leaving in its trail hundreds of orphans who lost their parents to the dreadful disease.

As fear of the disease makes relatives reject their own children orphaned from Ebola, the welfare and well-being of these vulnerable group remain a big challenge for communities ravaged by the EVD, and even government.

In Kailahun District, Eastern Sierra Leone, most of these Ebola-orphaned children (and Ebola survivors), live in remote villages in the various chiefdoms, and their burden falls on the impoverished shoulders of community people who have their own problems to take care of.

Working with the Kailahun Women in Governance Network (KWIGN), a locally based organization called SEND Foundation Sierra Leone is attempting to reach out to these orphans and survivors with psycho-social and livelihood supports.

The Network, itself founded by SEND Foundation in 2010 and comprising of a cluster of up to 100 groups of about 5,400 women across the 14 chiefdoms of Kailahun District, was able to identify 95 orphans 'who needed help the most'.

With main funds from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), and complementary funding from Weitblick Germany, two ladies- Jamila White (Jamaica) and Susanne Kirkegard (Denmark) and Christian Aid, SEND Foundation has linked these 95 orphans to foster families in their communities and is providing them with basic livelihood support.

Last week, from 16th -20th February, 2015, SEND Foundation embarked on supplying the foster families with bags of rice, gallons of cooking oil, cooking utensils, mattresses and shoes in Buedu, Koindu, Kpondu, Pendembu and Garama villages covering Kissi Teng, Kissi Tongi, Kissi Karma, Upper Bambara, Mandu and Dea chiefdoms.

According to the Country Director of SEND Foundation, Joseph Ayamga, a monthly allowance of Le200, 000 is given to each family. The heads of the families, he explained, are also expected to save some of these monies in the community credit union bank established by the organization to accrue capital that would help them engage in commercial activities to sustain their livelihoods.

"The orphans are being taken care of by parents who also have their own children to take care of," said Ayamga, adding that even to accept the orphans is a big step.

"We care that they should be loved and they too should accept their new parents," he continued.

In Buedu village, Kumba Sahr Lamin contracted the EVD through tending to her sick aunty. Eventually she lost her brother Daddy Lamin, her elder brother Sahr Jusu's wife- Hawa Lamin and her step mother Jeneba Lamin from the EVD. Kumba was lucky to be the first patient to be admitted at the MSF Ebola Treatment Center in Foya at the Liberia border with Kailahun. After 21 days she was discharged. Now she's a foster parent of four child orphans left behind by her family.

There's also Momoh Lahun in the same village. Her daughter contracted the disease in her matrimonial home and died leaving behind two children. Locals said the children were rejected by the community in fear of spreading the disease, and they went to live in a farm house on their own surviving on pond water for two weeks before their grandfather came to fetch them.

"When I brought them home here, my wife also ran away," explained Momoh.

In total, Momoh said he lost 13 family members to the EVD.

However, his wife is back in the house and they are now foster parents to three Ebola child orphans of ages 4, 6 and 9 plus their own four children.

Momoh is a farmer and wants to continue in that direction to make more money to take care of the family and send the children to school to get education.

In Koindu village, Sarah Tamba similarly lost a total of nine relatives including her mother and her sister and her husband to the EVD. She's now a foster parent of 7 Ebola child orphans, one of them her 3 year-old girl. The youngest is 2 year-old Satta Jimmy and the eldest is 16 year-old Sahr Jimmy, both children of her late sister- Sia Jimmy.

Equally, 18 year-old Iye Ansu in Pedembu village lost both parents and her uncle to the disease and is now taking care of her two brothers and a sister plus her own child. Iye and the children now live with neighbours as they fear to continue living in their father's house.

In Garama village in Upper Bambara Chiefdom, the villagers withdrew into their homes as they saw our white vehicles drove into their community. The trauma of ambulances driving in to take away their sick loved ones who never returned still haunts them. Here a total of 25 people reportedly died from the EVD.

Paramount Chief Musa Lamin Lee summed up their pain when he said helplessly: "Ebola left me empty! I lost my children, brothers and sisters..!"

There are many Ebola child orphans in Garama, but only two families benefitted from the SEND Foundation package for foster families.

"There are hundreds of children orphaned by Ebola across the district but with the resources we have we can only target these few," lamented Ayamga, whose organization is also providing airtime on local radios for the KWIGN to sensitize their people about Ebola.

Without support from organizations such as SEND Foundation these families wallow in extreme poverty and the future of these orphaned children remain bleak.

All of the 95 Ebola child orphans and their foster families live in mud houses and many sleep on polythene sheets on the bare floor and virtually without any economic means of livelihood.

Note: For reference contact SEND Foundation Sierra Leone at 71 Buedu Road, Kailahun. Contact Joseph Ayamga at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and +23278206853.

Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).

Story by Ahmed Sahid Nasralla

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SEND-SIERRA LEONE
Buedu Road, Kissi Town, Kailahun,
Post Office Box 54
Kenema, Sierra Leone
+232 78 20 68 53