After a long monotonous nine months without attending school, children were finally able to go back when schools reopened in Sierra Leone on 14 March, 2015. Many children were happy to be back to school but there were some who did not go back. Some parents are saying they will not send their children to school any longer because Ebola is still in our environment. Many have no way to generate income to school their children again. There is also distrust of the authorities. Some in Sierra Leone are saying there were poor preparations for reopening of schools.
We have also lost so many trained, and most importantly, inspiring and experienced teachers in the outbreak. This has resulted in scarcity of teachers in schools and is discouraging some students from returning.
Worry about the future
Despite the promises by government that it will support education and also ensure safety in schools, there are still some schools demanding money from children to pay community teachers. I witnessed a scene where a child informed her parent about such payment. The parent replied: “I think this will be the end of your education if payment of this money will make you go to school because I don’t have a penny right now.”
Many other children have lost their parents and thus have no one to foot in the bills for their education or other necessities: no shelter, clothing or food.
Before the outbreak, I wanted to study accounting in any prominent university but this has been made more difficult by Ebola. It is very difficult to go back to education after the disruption of the outbreak. My uncle’s palm kernel business has been pushed to the wall during the outbreak so he can no longer afford to pay for my expensive university course.
I pity my colleagues who have dropped out of school without quality education
Are the children of Sierra Leone and Africa not qualified to receive the same treatment and opportunities as those in Europe? I pity my colleagues who have dropped out of school without quality education. There are now so many young people involved in commercial bike riding, sand and gold/diamond mining, breaking stones and farming, or even crime. This means an end to their education and a bleak future for them. Most importantly our innocent and precious girls have been worst hit by the Ebola menace with the rise of early pregnancies, early and forced marriages and street trading, in the midst of the outbreak.
Safety in schools
It is very important that schools are safe when children return to them after an emergency. In Sierra Leone, schools have been disinfected prior to their reopening. In the schools in my community, buckets with water and soap were placed by school gates, within the school compound and by doors of classrooms for hand washing prior entering. Also, there were trained teachers who do temperature checks with a thermometer.
However, like many others I fear for the risks involved as pupils and teachers will be coming from different locations including hot spots. Water, which is important for Ebola prevention is a very big problem in schools within my community. In one of the schools I visited I saw buckets placed outside without water in them. In the villages, children have to walk for some miles to fetch water in school; this is risky and even the water is impure. Moreover, the preventive measures are not effective in all schools. One girl told me: “My temperature has never been checked since the reopening of schools.” Even the classrooms are not big enough in all schools. A young person said to me: “We are over 80 in our classroom and it is not commodious; but the ‘Avoid Body Contact’ slogan is still upheld in my school.”
It is very difficult to avoid body contact when many children are in a small space.
What the government and the international community can do
I am calling on our government to increase school building, train more teachers in psychosocial support, Ebola prevention and control, provide school learning materials, and employ independent or special persons for monitoring the Ebola prevention in schools as well as immoral behavior of teachers in schools such as sexual harassment, money extortion, and corporal punishment. After an emergency, the government should pay special attention to the education and basic needs of orphans and survivors.
I am further asking INGOs and the international community to continue to help children access education after the emergency by providing scholarship schemes for children and young people in Ebola-affected areas; instituting school feeding programmes in both primary and secondary schools; continuing to provide food items and learning materials to orphans, survivors and the poor; and providing recreational facilities for Ebola survivors and orphans in schools to encourage them to forget about what has happened to them and instead pay attention to their learning.