Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
11 December 2014: I live in a community in the Western Area Rural District of Sierra Leone, where the Ebola virus has claimed the lives of over 17 people, including parents and relatives of some of my friends and school mates.
I want to raise the awareness of everybody, including authorities and humanitarian organisations about the way victims of the Ebola virus, particularly orphans, are being treated in their communities.
People we used to play with, discuss issues about our schools with, and argue with about the football teams we support are now outcasts in their own communities after being exposed to Ebola.
People fear to go close to them, they don’t even encourage them to be part of their conversations, and they run away from them saying they are carriers of the Ebola virus.
Others make fun of them, according to one boy, Hassan. Because of stigmatisation some people are ashamed and so they hide it by saying their parents died from something else and not Ebola. In my community, some people think children affected with Ebola are witches.
I feel very sorry for these children, thinking that such things can happen to anybody, including myself. Life is really difficult for young people who are being stigmatised as a result of the Ebola virus.
Ibrahim, a very young and energetic boy aged 17 is a vivid example. He was in form 3, ready to take the Basic Education Certificate Education exams, when the Ebola outbreak came to Kailahun.
Ibrahim lost 3 members of his family including his mother, father and an elder brother aged 21. He and his 13-year-old sister were taken to the holding and treatment centre at a community about 6 miles from my community.
Ibrahim and his sister spent 22 days in the centre and were finally discharged and allowed to go back home. It was very tragic; when they returned home, the tenants in their compound immediately fled, saying the Ebola victims had come back. Ibrahim and his sister were left alone in the compound.
Shunned by relatives
People don’t go close to them, they find it difficult even to eat. Fortunately for Ibrahim and his sister they have an aunt who comes from another community bringing food and water for them every day. The aunty leaves immediately after she drops the food at their doorstep.
Before the Ebola outbreak, other family members who were capable would take responsibility for their relatives’ orphan but that is not the case with Ebola survivors. People are afraid of them. Nobody wants to live with them.
I am afraid of what will become of Ibrahim and his sister as they live all by themselves. Nobody wants to go close to them to tell them what is good from what is bad. Since they were discharged from the treatment centre, nobody, not even the District Health Management Team, has visited them to know how they are doing.
What will become of orphans?
There are a lot of orphans who have found themselves in similar situations. My question is what will become of orphans of the Ebola virus after the epidemic? We are only hopeful because in recent times we saw Plan Sierra Leone and other humanitarian organisations providing food and non-food items to Ebola survivors - but can this continue even after the epidemic? Will organisations continue to help? How about the continuation of education of school-age orphans, what will their future look like?
Please, as a young man, I am calling on the government and humanitarian organisations to act now to support orphans of the Ebola virus, protect them from community stigmatisation and assist by providing orphanages, guidance and counselling services as well as scholarships for orphans for their future development.
Otherwise the future is bleak for orphans as a result of the stigma against Ebola survivors in our communities.
Put #HandsOnHearts to show your support for children affected by Ebola.
4 December 2014: You might be asking what climate change has to do with children’s voices, and what this has to do with Plan.
As Plan Australia’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme Manager, I’m here in Lima representing Plan and children’s rights during the UN Climate Change conference, which runs until 12 December.
Governments from around the world are meeting in Peru to hash out some of the details of the next legally binding international agreement on climate change, the final version of which will be signed next year in Paris.
Raising the voices of children and young people at these events is imperative. In my role, I visit many of the communities Plan works with to help build the resilience of children, young people and their communities.
Just last week I was in the Philippines monitoring some of the projects Plan works on. In this visit, I got to talk with many elementary and high-school students about what climate change means to them, what they’ve learnt about climate change impacts (both through Plan’s programming and through their own life experiences), and what’s needed to address climate change.
Children and young people throughout the Philippines are already acting to prepare for and adapt to climate change – they are planting mangroves to reduce the impact of storm surges, planting trees to reduce the likelihood of landslides, working with their local government to compost organic waste, and helping to implement new farming techniques that burn less waste and improve the yields of crops in the changing climates they find themselves in.
Feeling the impacts
These children and young people are already feeling the impacts of climate change on their families, on their schools, on their communities, and on themselves. We talked about the impacts they are already feeling, as well as the ones they know are coming – the impacts they fear, both for themselves and for others.
They told me about not being able to go to school because of the impacts of increased storms and typhoons, they talked about their families not having enough to eat because their families now only get 2 harvests of rice a year instead of 3, and they told me about increases in vector borne diseases like dengue.
Lead, inspire, listen
But children are not merely passive victims. These same boys and girls and young men and women also told me about both what they are already doing about climate change, and what they want us to do.
They talked about the actions they are taking, and what they want decision makers – their parents, teachers, local government leaders, national leaders, and the global community – to do.
They are looking for real leadership: leaders who will show them how to make complicated decisions, who will show them how to action and implement those decisions and who will listen; leaders who will inspire them the way that they inspire me.
So my job while I’m here in Lima is to try to give a voice to young people – we have several youth delegates talking at our side event at the conference, 'Children in a changing climate: who does the future belong to?', on 4 December – and to encourage the negotiators and leaders who are here to lead, to inspire, and to listen.
27 November 2014: Imagine you’re a young girl in school and you’ve just received the results of a tough exam. You’ve done really well and you can’t wait to tell your parents. But as soon as you find them, you know something is wrong. You can see it in their eyes. And then you find out: they’ve arranged for you to get married to a man twice your age because they just can’t afford to look after you anymore.
This is the story of Rubi from Bangladesh who saw her life turned upside down in an instant, pushed into marriage at just 15 years old. It was a horrifying situation, but rather than simply going along the path her parents had decided for her, Rubi did somethingcourageous and remarkable: she fought back.
Rubi knew the statistics. She knew that 64% of women in Bangladesh aged 20-24 got married before they were 18, which is illegal, although laws are often not followed. She also knew that getting married would mean the end of the schooling she so cherished. She’d have to drop out, leave her friends behind and focus on starting a family.
Rubi knew all of this because she had been part of a local child forum set up by Plan International and local partner organisation Shomaj Unnoyon Proshikkhan Kendro. There, she had learnt all about child marriage and her rights - never imagining that she herself would be part of the story.
Birth certificate key
With support from the leaders of the child forum and the chairman of her local council, Rubi was able to call on the ace up her sleeve: her birth certificate.
Rubi was able to prove that she was just 15 years old - giving her the leeway needed to convince her parents that this was not the right time to get married and that doing so would be illegal.
That simple piece of paper, giving Rubi the ability to prove her age, is a prime example of how birth registration can play a significant role in reducing child marriage.
Girls' education and freedom
Of course, birth registration alone isn’t going to stop child marriage, but it is the first step towards a legal identity and recognition of a girl’s relationship with the state. That recognition is what paves the way for girls and young women to access the education and freedom they need to be able to succeed in life and take control of their futures.
Having a legal identity means you can vote, get an education, sign contracts, get a job in the formal sector and protect against rights abuses like human trafficking and child marriage.
Registration of births, as well as other key life events, is also vital for governments to be able to monitor and respond to issues like maternal mortality, unsafe abortion and teen pregnancy.
Basic tasks suddenly become more difficult without a form of legal identity. For girls and women, this only compounds an array of already existing issues that are pushing girls and women into the periphery.
Some 135 million children in Asia-Pacific have not had their births registered. While this number is split fairly evenly between male and female, we have to take into account that young girls and women already have to break down significant barriers just to be treated equally. If they are not registered, the barriers to participation become even more prominent.
Civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) – the registration and analysis of all major life events, like births, deaths and marriages - is a cross-cutting issue that compounds challenges faced by girls and young women who are already marginalised and excluded from society.
Looking at CRVS through a gender lens is crucial. Empowered girls can change the world – literally. Just 1 extra year of schooling means a girl will earn up to 25% more income. Yet if we don’t treat CRVS as a tool for female empowerment, we do a disservice to all those girls and women who have dreams and aspirations.
Well-functioning and trustworthy CRVS systems are the building blocks of inclusive and just societies that uphold rights, good governance and the rule of law. The weak state of CRVS systems has been described as a “scandal of invisibility” that is further excluding already marginalised groups.
Asia and Pacific conference
The spotlight is now being placed on the invisible people of this world to give this issue the urgent attention it deserves. From 24-28 November in Bangkok, UNESCAP and partners are convening the first Ministerial Conference on CRVS in Asia and the Pacific*.
For the past 9 months, we have been working with the United Nations and governments to develop a Regional Action Framework that will pave the way for a decade of CRVS and help us ensure that by 2024, every birth, death, marriage and other life event is registered.
It’s time to get everyone in the picture, but we can’t ignore the challenges already faced by girls like Rubi and the millions of others who have to make hard choices early on in life.
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites.
21 November 2014: My name is Christiana. I am 17 years old. I live in a small village in the Moyamba District in southern Sierra Leone. I lost my father when I was a baby and my mother is a petty trader.
I have experienced issues affecting girls’ rights to education because I was forced into marriage. I want to be a voice to tackle forced marriage in Sierra Leone and the world.
I dropped out of school twice: when I was 7 years old in primary school and junior secondary school for 1 year. I came back to school about 1 year ago.
In my school, Plan Sierra Leone established a girls’ club under the Girl Power Project. I was selected by my peers to be their president because of my goal to be an advocate for girls’ education and against early marriage, teenage pregnancy and female genital mutilation.
Schools left empty
Before the Ebola outbreak, we were having meetings as a group, doing peer education and visiting homes to promote girls’ education and discourage early marriage which was prevalent in our community. I have often said: “If you plant a tree and allow it to grow, then expect a fresh fruit from it.”
Now it is impossible to meet as a group because schools are closed. In my village, things have changed completely since the government declared a health emergency and banned all public gatherings. Schools are left empty as an abandoned nest. Some schools in my area are bushy, dirty and also used as holding centres.
147 girls pregnant
I am so sad. Being at school can help to protect girls from pregnancy and marriage. Many of my friends are getting pregnant and I realised some have been forced into early marriage. We cannot advocate on their behalf, we can no longer go to their homes.
Last week a social worker was on the Moyamba District Children’s Awareness Radio station talking about the situation of girls and young people. According to her about 147 girls in the district are already pregnant because of the outbreak of Ebola.
I can give an example of a girl in my community. She is 16 years old. She was impregnated by a man and her parents had to send her away to stay with the man.
Covering shame through child marriage
In my area, people believe that it is disrespectful for a girl to get pregnant. In some families, a girl is given to a man to cover the shame by sending her into marriage. Some people also believe that at this time young girls can be given to men to help fend for their families.
Putting an end to child marriage in Sierra Leone needs support from local leaders. I have heard about local by-laws in communities to fight against Ebola. I think that local leaders should also pass by-laws against child marriage at this time when Ebola affects our girls.
In my district we started reporting Ebola cases on 19 August. I became worried and troubled. I had sleepless nights because of the worrying messages that Ebola could stop schooling, affect our economy and in the worst case, I might even lose my family and my life because of Ebola.
We lost some children and young people in my community, some local leaders, a religious leader and some family friends.
Under quarantine and isolated
The situation has become worse and my community is under quarantine and we have been isolated. I have learnt new words and scary ones: quarantine homes, holding centres, chlorine, hand washing facility, treatment centres and sanitiser and so on. Children’s playgrounds are abandoned.
There is no electricity so I walk every day to the next village to charge my phone to communicate with young people across Plan who are also living in quarantined towns. Thanks to God for Plan Sierra Leone providing top up credit and giving me the space to communicate through the youth engagement Ebola response activities.
Plan Sierra Leone and other agencies have been doing well but I think more needs to be done. There are loads of stories of young girls who have been forced into marriage in my community. We need help now.
Some girls have survived the virus and have lost their families. Every day we are getting orphans and children dying. What is the hope for us? I think going back to school will be challenging for some girls because they will be nursing babes whilst trying to study.
Put #HandsOnHearts to show your support for children affected by Ebola
As the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November, Plan’s UN representative in Geneva, Anne-Sophie Lois, looks back at the fight for child rights and the challenges ahead.
Today, the right of all children and young people to be heard is, in theory, taken for granted.
The international community has, in its near universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), agreed that this principle is a key aspect of children's and young people's ability to exercise the rest of their rights.
This was not, however, the case in 1989 when the CRC was drafted. "States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child," says the Convention.
But even as these words were being drafted, this did not reflect reality.
Making young people's voices heard
I experienced this first hand. In 1988, as members of the Swedish Red Cross Youth Section, my colleagues and I heard of this Convention and were appalled that we, the children and young people about whom this document was speaking and to whom it was guaranteeing rights, had never been consulted.
We therefore decided to take action. Given the mandate of the Red Cross, we focused on one specific article of the Convention regarding children in armed conflict. We did not feel that the text of this article represented the best interests of the child. So we drafted an appeal, stating that "We, the young people of all nations, do not accept this."
We sought the support of youth all around the world for stronger language protecting children in conflict situations.
Imagine: back then there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no SurveyMonkey, and certainly no online petition platforms. We had to look up the addresses in catalogues and send out information via letters and fax!
After sending our appeal to 2,000 organisations in 150 countries, the responses were overwhelmingly successful: 655 child and youth organisations in 120 countries representing over 100 million young people showed their support by signing the appeal.
To my knowledge, this was the only large scale and formalised initiative at the time to get the view of youth on the new Convention.
Taking our appeal to the top
So with a 4 metre-long appeal in hand, and much anticipation and enthusiasm, we travelled to Geneva in March 1989. We were confident that with the support of millions of young people across the world, our appeal could not be ignored.
Even though it had not yet been enshrined in international law, it was evident to us that an international document that would protect our rights should take into account what more than 100 million of us had to say.
Those drafting the Convention did not seem to see things the same way, and our appeal was, however, all but ignored. We had lost one specific battle, but not the war, as a few years later, an Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict addressed the very issues we had raised in 1989.
The Convention today
Today, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most ratified international treaty, with all but 2 (USA and Somalia) states ratifying the treaty. 194 states have, on paper, agreed that children and young people are rights holders, with not only the right to be heard but also many other rights.
But as I so clearly experienced in 1989, words on paper, while important, are not sufficient. If not followed by the political will to make those rights a reality, gaps in protection will remain.
We have come far, it's true. But 58 million primary school-aged children are still out of school. Globally, 35% of children under 5 have not had their births registered (a number that climbs to 60% in South Asia). 1 in 3 girls in the developing world will be married by their 18th birthday. And an uncountable number of children and young people remain unheard, their voices at best not taken seriously, and at worst, completely silenced.
No one left behind
For over 75 years, Plan International has been working to address these gaps, with children, young people, their families and their communities. Plan has partnered with them to ensure the implementation and full realisation of their human rights and dignity, and to make sure that their voices are heard.
As civil society, we need to continue to work together and with children to make sure that they can claim their rights.
The 25th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child on 20 November is an important opportunity for us not only to look back and consider where we started, but also to redouble our efforts to ensure that the words written in the Convention do not remain simply letters on paper, but rather become a reality.
The original vision of the Convention will only be realised if no one is left behind.
Learn about Plan's global child participation work
Read about the Convention on the Rights of the Child*
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
8 November 2014: One year ago a storm of epic proportions devastated the Philippines.
Typhoon Haiyan, thought to be strongest storm to ever make landfall, took the lives of more than 6,200 people and affected over 14 million people across 44 provinces. This included some 5 million children, out of which 1.7 million were displaced.
A matter of weeks after Haiyan had wreaked havoc across the country I went to visit the affected areas on behalf of Plan International. Driving out of Tacloban airport, the scenes left an indelible and vivid impression.
Lorries were loading up corpses that were still being discovered in shattered houses. In the small rural settlements of Eastern Samar, huge chunks of the coastal roads had been ripped away and houses had been flattened, leaving little protection when the roaring tsunami-like wave tore the towns apart.
With schools left inhabitable, coconut trees felled as far as the eye could see and the whole physical infrastructure shot to pieces, I vowed that Plan would commit to rebuilding these communities – ensuring we would still be there, working with communities, long after the TV cameras and pop-up non-governmental organisations had left.
Child protection priority
One year on, Plan is still embedded in the communities of East and West Samar, delivering aid and supporting Filipinos to recover and build back better, stronger and together.
Of course, the task of rebuilding this country will take far longer than a year, but I can safely say that progress has been made. It has to, as this archipelago constantly lives between disasters.
For me and Plan, our priority is protecting children and vulnerable communities. Why? Children are among those worst affected by a disaster - and among the most vulnerable afterwards.
To help, ‘child-friendly spaces’ were set up, providing a safe space for 21,000 children to play, learn and get much-needed emotional support, while nearly 10,000 parents, children and community members were trained on how to avoid violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Every child deserves the right to an education and, for Plan, it is one of our priorities, so to see so many schools washed away or left in a crumbled, shell-like state was heartbreaking.
Over the past year, Plan has supported more than 44,000 children to return to school through its ‘back to school’ kits or by rebuilding classrooms, training teachers and supplying school equipment.
We have also ensured that teachers in typhoon-affected communities are better equipped to support children after an emergency and to help children develop and learn.
One of the ways in which we equipped teachers was by training them on how to create toys and learning materials from recyclable materials.
I remember meeting a teacher by the name of Bienvenito Globio, 48, from Balangkayan. His classroom was destroyed by the storm. “All of my educational materials were washed away by the typhoon. My daycare centre was too,” he said.
When I met him, Bienvenito was teaching in a tent, but he was committed to holding classes whatever the weather. “This experience was bad for everyone, people lost their houses, I lost my learning materials. It’s difficult to teach outside when it’s raining, but at least this restores a sense of normality.”
In the year passed, progress has been made in other ways, too.
Water, sanitation and hygiene kits were among the life-saving items Plan pre-positioned in communities in the typhoon’s path, which enabled us to distribute safe drinking water kits to support 20,000 people, eventually reaching a total of 225,000.
More than 32,800 people received critical medical care through ‘one-stop-shop’ mobile health clinics and the construction of new permanent, disaster-resilient health clinics.
Emergency food supplies were distributed to over 1.5 million typhoon-affected people in the immediate aftermath and as communities began to recover, Plan focused on ensuring that children and mothers at risk of malnutrition were screened and supported in a region where malnutrition levels were high even before the typhoon.
Plan also assisted 195,000 people whose homes were damaged or destroyed with temporary shelter or support to rebuild their homes, while another 87,000 received cooking equipment, blankets or sleeping mats to help with their recovery.
As part of Plan’s response, a ‘cash for work’ programme was introduced, providing paid work for more than 61,000 people as part of the recovery process. This income helped families meet their basic needs and stimulated the local economy, while the work rehabilitated and rebuilt communities.
Building back better
Although we’ve come a long way from scenes I and my colleagues were faced with a year ago, work still remains.
That’s why we are committed to helping the people of the Philippines build back better, stronger, safer and most of all together.
It is imperative to work with communities to ensure they are prepared to deal with a disaster and this means ensuring buildings are more resilient, stronger roofing is in place and schools are safer.
Our humanitarian team is committed to taking this seriously and Plan’s ‘Building Back Better’ project in Tacloban City (one of the areas worst affected by Typhoon Haiyan) is working with government partners and 6,000 community members to build a disaster-resilient community that can serve as a model for other reconstruction efforts.
‘Building Back Better’ means that community recovery efforts result in safer, more resilient buildings and infrastructure, access to safe drinking water and other services.
Most importantly, it means working with communities on their recovery journey, involving them as partners in the recovery process, providing emotional support and building knowledge, community spirit and resilience.
Please support the recovery - donate to the Haiyan appeal
4 November 2014: One year ago, I flew over northern Cebu with Margareta Wahlström, the UN’s head of disaster risk reduction, to assess the damage Typhoon Haiyan had wreaked across the Philippines.
I still remember her words vividly. Haiyan must serve as a “wake-up call” for countries.
We were travelling by helicopter – one of the only ways to get around – after Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as ‘Yolanda’) hit the Philippines; an unprecedented category 5 storm that affected two-thirds of the country.
From my seat, I had a bird’s eye view of the disaster area - and it was a chilling sight. Houses had been washed away, coconut trees were flattened and mountains upon mountains of rubble could be seen, burying everything from fridges to bodies.
Living between disasters
The typhoon killed more than 6,200 people and affected over 14 million across the 44 provinces. As Humanitarian Director at Plan International, it is unfair to say the Philippines was unprepared for the typhoon. After all, this is a country that literally lives between disasters. Yet, that’s not something the media was or is particularly interested in.
The Philippines was only just getting over one disaster - a magnitude 7.2 earthquake - before this one struck.
It was yet another test to the country’s disaster preparedness measures, which if in place can be 10 times more effective than the response itself.
Did the communities understand the importance of evacuation and the devastating impact a tsunami-like wave could have, rather than being forced to evacuate?
Were the evacuation centres – many of which were schools – built to withstand the strength of this typhoon?
Did communities feel safe and supported? Were they assured that their homes would not be looted while they were away? Were the emotional needs of children accounted for?
The answer, for some communities, was yes. But for many, it was no. Haiyan wiped out many towns across Eastern Samar.
Zero dead, zero missing
Yet, in a few of the communities Plan International had been working with local authorities to drill people in evacuations.
In Balankayan, Eastern Samar, the chart declared “zero dead, zero missing, zero injured” of its 10,226 population. Yet neighbouring towns saw scores killed when the wrong buildings were chosen as evacuation centres or people stayed put.
Although Llorente was spared the most violent clutches of the typhoon, one third of the population still evacuated and followed the tsunami evacuation routes set up by Plan, escaping up a set of stairs to a safety shelter. Once Haiyan had passed, they were able to help their neighbouring communities.
It proves that preparedness works and it’s imperative that these measures are put in place across the country as the Philippines embarks on its journey to build back better and safer.
For me, I care about the number of casualties from the many typhoons that will and do hit this archipelago. They are not statistics; they are people, families, children and lives to be saved – if appropriate measures, such as stronger roofing, protection against landslides or safer schools, are put in place.
Investing in disaster preparedness can and will save many lives – and for Filipinos, this starts from a young age.
This disaster-prone nation has publically committed to be a role model for safe schools and deliver a strong message to the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015* on the importance of protecting school children and students in their education environment, while Plan actively trains young people on preparing for disasters.
Building a culture of safety
For me and Plan, we have continued to build a culture of safety and to help communities, some we hadn’t previously worked in, to build back stronger and together over the past year. We have also encouraged young people and others to educate communities on the importance of disaster risk reduction and resilient communities.
Working together has been central to Plan’s response, through its ‘Building Back Better’ project in Tacloban City (one of the areas worst affected by Typhoon Haiyan). We have been working with government partners and 6,000 community members to build a disaster-resilient community that can serve as a model for other reconstruction efforts.
’Building Back Better’ means that community recovery efforts result in safer, more resilient buildings and infrastructure.
Yes, people can access safe drinking water and other services but, most importantly, it means working with communities on their recovery journey, involving them as partners in the recovery process, providing emotional support and building knowledge, community spirit and resilience. Things that aren’t seen immediately but can withstand any future challenge.
Other measures have also been put in place. 350 elementary and secondary school teachers have been trained on what to do in a disaster and how to prepare them, while 300 community members have been trained on mapping disasters, reducing the risk of disasters as well as climate change adaptation.
It’s only been one year since the world witnessed the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan, yet it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way.
However, this journey is by no means over. I care about these communities too much and I want to see them survive if and when another disaster strikes.
Support Plan's vital recovery work - donate to the Haiyan appeal
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
29 October 2014: As a Malian, and coming from one of the hottest places in the world, I am the last person one would ask about ‘icebergs’. But that was before I watched Titanic, the epic 1997 disaster film.
Titanic reminded me how tragic and destructive an event can be if we are not expecting it and above all, if we are ill-prepared to manage it. An ill-prepared crew could not prevent the Titanic from sinking. An iceberg was the origin of the Titanic tragedy. Today, Ebola is to the world what the iceberg was to the Titanic in 1912. The world is ill-prepared for an Ebola disaster.
Like an iceberg, only a tiny portion of Ebola is visible. What we see, hear and talk about is only a tiny and visible portion of Ebola. We hear that more than 10,000 people have been infected with Ebola. We hear that half of those people have died of the virus. We hear that the number of cases might double every 1 to 2 weeks to reach as many as 20,000 cases in West Africa by December.
But we don’t see, hear and talk about the invisible part of Ebola, the part causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
1.4 million infected by January
According to the Word Bank, the economic impact of the Ebola epidemic could reach US$32.6 billion by the end of next year if the disease spreads to neighbouring countries.
Millions of people will have no access to basic socio-economic services including health and education. Millions of boys and girls will not attend schools and will die from preventable diseases. Thousands of children will be orphans making them more vulnerable and exposed to violence.
Like an iceberg, Ebola can drift and cause more disasters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if nothing is done to curve the spread of the virus, Ebola could infect up to 1.4 million people by mid-January in Sierra Leone and Liberia alone, and potentially spread far beyond the 3 worst affected countries.
The social and economic impact could lead to unrest and political crises in a region where most countries are fragile states. Ultimately, the impact of Ebola will be global.
Like an iceberg, Ebola can ‘melt’ and disappear. The world does not have to wait for Ebola to ‘drift’ to other places. The world must scale up its effort to stop Ebola spread. We are in a war against Ebola.
How to win the war
To win this war, affected people and countries need:
- MORE people: As WHO director general Margaret Chan said it, we need “the right people, the right specialists, and specialists who are appropriately trained and know how to keep themselves safe”. Unfortunately there are not enough people on the ground, in particular medical doctors and health care workers.
- MORE funding: The UN is seeking about US$1 billion to provide training, equipment and care for people suffering from the Ebola virus diseases. On 24 October, 49% of the total funding was received. Plan is also seeking US$11.2 million in cash within the next 3 months to support our response in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The current total funding gap for Plan is US$3 million.
- MORE empathy: “We are Liberian, not a virus,”* said Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA). Like Mrs Yates, people coming from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are often seen as “positive carriers” of the Ebola virus and are facing stigma. Former Ebola patients and Ebola orphans are stigmatised by their families and communities. Stigmatising is the wrong thing to do.
The right thing to do is when President Obama gave a big hug to Dallas nurse* and former Ebola patient Nina Pham in the Oval Office on 24 October.
The right thing to do is to put #HandsOnHearts against Ebola and to post your image to show solidarity and support for children and communities affected by Ebola: plan-international.org/HandsOnHearts.
The right thing to do is to communicate positively, accurately and timely about Ebola as did Rosemary McCarney, the President and CEO of Plan Canada in an article published on the Toronto Star*: “We must,” she said, “step up our efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, a humanitarian crisis that affects us all.”
Learn about Plan's Ebola response and support the emergency appeal
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Young people are taking action across West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak. Saatah, aged 16, from Lofa County, Liberia, is among the young Plan volunteers helping affected communities to control the spread of the disease.
27 October 2014: I live in a community in Liberia not too far from the border where Ebola started. People die on a daily basis. We need help to fight Ebola but the young people can help too. I have joined a group and radio station to do awareness raising.
We have been going from village to village, teaching people how to protect themselves from the virus. We have been going to speak to village leaders, and to the imams and pastors to help sensitise their people during worship services.
We are given chlorine to use when doing this work. We are also advised to wear long protective clothing and long sleeve jackets. One time when we went to do awareness, there was a little girl who vomited, and before we could tell her elder sister not to touch her, she went ahead. When doing the awareness raising I am scared, but I am happy to be able to fight Ebola in my communities.
Plan Liberia is among other international non-governmental organisations supporting community-based organisations in 3 districts (Voinjama, Quandu Gboni, Kolahun) and 6 community radio stations in Lofa to conduct Ebola awareness. The radio awareness work about Ebola is reaching the length and breadth of the county and is helping to reduce the risk of infection.
To make sure that I and other children in Lofa are safe, we receive regular calls from Plan’s child protection focal person here in Lofa, cautioning us to follow all the preventive measures to remain safe.
Things aren’t always what they seem
While sensitising folks in a village called Worsonga in Foya District, Lofa County, I heard some people crying and when I asked what was wrong, a lady told me her uncle had just died. Upon hearing this, I advised them not to touch or go near the dead body and they listened. I took my phone and called the ambulance.
In a few minutes time, the ambulance came and took the dead man’s body. By evening, the medical team brought the result of the cause of the man’s death, which indicated that he died from chronic malaria and not Ebola.
Bereaved family visit
After 2 weeks, I decided to follow up on the bereaved family. While at their home, I asked the wife of the dead man why she didn’t take her husband to the hospital during his sick period.
The lady said to me: “My husband was showing many signs and symptoms similar to Ebola, although he usually showed these same signs whenever he was sick with malaria. We both were scared that the nurses could just observe the signs and diagnose him as an Ebola patient, so we decided that he stay home and receive the same treatment we usually administer him.” As she was saying this, tears rolled down her cheek.
It was painful to see their 4 children shed tears along with their mother while she spoke. The family cried so bitterly that I had to ask a neighbour why they were crying this way. It was how I got to know that the lady’s late husband was the breadwinner of their family and that his death would mean a great deal of challenges for her in bringing up the children.
This was so pitiful to see I had to turn my face the other way just to release a few tears.
Many people in that village fear that the moment they report their sick relatives to the nurses they will be diagnosed Ebola positive just by observing the symptoms.
This led me to take a different trend in my Ebola sensitisation – encouraging health practitioners to promptly test suspected Ebola patients before diagnosing them Ebola positive; instead of just observing the signs and symptoms, as this could scare more people from reporting their sick relatives.
We are getting support from the communities. They are happy about the awareness raising we are doing and little by little people are accepting the fact that the disease is real. It is working - the death rate is reducing.
With schools closed in the Ebola outbreak and a lack of educational opportunities, how can we achieve our dreams? asks Plan Global Youth Advisory Panel member Kamanda from Sierra Leone.
21 October 2014: Just 12 years ago my country started revitalising its education system after the civil war had destroyed almost everything. Today, the deadly Ebola virus is destroying our education systems once again.
Schools have closed down indefinitely and lessons or classes are banned. Our tutors are paid but they give no lessons, some of them no longer study or research their own subjects.
Candidates of external exams have been unable to take their exams and will have to sit for another academic year because the time of their exams has passed. So, ironically, the education system is moving backwards to pre-war times.
Learning through the radio
The Ministry of Health and Education has announced a campaign of ‘teaching and learning on the radio’. This has started but with some problems. In rural areas buying a cup of rice for a day is hard let alone buying a radio as well as batteries.
Even among those in big towns and cities who have radios many will not benefit as most of the subjects cannot be understood without seeing symbols and formulae. I listened to the first programme and the subject was maths. Honestly speaking, I could only hear the tutor calling symbols, formulae, etc but I didn’t know how they were written. So I got confused and baffled. This will be even more difficult for young children to understand.
The idea is good, however it would have been better if radio sets with batteries had been supplied or even to put video footage of teaching on CDs distributed to every house. For those with access to the internet the videos could be shared online. Today almost every village has a DVD, laptop or a television to watch movies etc.
Young people are becoming frustrated
Children and young people are frustrated at the lack of educational opportunities and the potential impact that could have on them and our country. They are also desperate.
Many are deciding to find work or take any short-term options. There will be thousands more school dropouts, street children and children, especially girls and orphans, who will be exposed to violations and dangers - including rape and sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy and early marriages.
I talked with some of my female school friends and they told me that they are feeling discouraged and fearful that their educational journey has come to an end. Some are being pushed into marriages, prostitution and sexual violence.
One of my female friends who has just completed her external exams told me:
“I’m traumatised. I have struggled to complete my secondary education for many years, and it is now being lost; we are discouraged from reading our books and pursuing our education.”
However, she made one good reflection: “The presence of Ebola at this point in time seems to have silenced harmful traditional practices such as FGM [female genital mutilation].”
As a young man myself, I have sat my West African Senior School Certificate examination and I was hoping to study accounting, ideally abroad. However, our district has been quarantined and I am left feeling isolated and confused. I fear that I and my friends will not achieve our dreams.
After all our years of hard work and dedication and the commitment of our government to support our education, it feels like Ebola is destroying everything, within the shortest possible time.
Even buildings are suffering
The empty schools are becoming overgrown, flooded with rats, some school furniture and buildings are collapsing and others will soon do the same because there are no longer people occupying them.
Where will children sit and have a conducive learning environment when schools do finally reopen? Please help us take steps to revitalise education in this country. Otherwise the future of the children and of the nation is bleak.
What I am asking for
I have the strong feeling that as a young person I can play a pivotal role and I should be supported to achieve my passion of ensuring children and young people acquire their rights to create a peaceful future.
Education in particular is our right. We must harness the energy and talents of young people who are frustrated by this crisis by supporting them to embark on advocacy and motivational campaigns on the radio - sensitising people on the facts about Ebola, and encouraging parents to support their children to learn in whatever way they can.
We could ask tutors to prepare questions; at the end of every week or month we could hold a quiz and give attractive prizes and awards that will even include scholarships to the winners. These quizzes could contain questions on Ebola to help continue to raise awareness.
As well as the governmental and international aid efforts, we must also find innovative ways to engage children and young people through this terrible time of uncertainty.
We have to stop this Ebola disease from eating into the very fabric of our society and the future of children in our small, beloved country.
Plan International is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Learn more about Kamanda and his role on Plan’s Global Youth Advisory panel