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.