26 January 2015: I am a member of the National Children and Youth Advisory Board of Liberia, a group sponsored by Plan Liberia and Defence for Children International-Liberia. We are providing psychosocial support to 100 Ebola-affected families in Monrovia.
Psychosocial support is an approach that helps victims of Ebola to cope with stress and fosters resilience in communities and individuals affected. We offer emotional and social support to children and families so they can live with hope and dignity, and recover from the impacts of the disease.
A team of 7 members (3 children and 4 youth) from our group has been selected to carry out the psychosocial support activities. We have been given training on providing psychosocial support to children in crisis and now we give counselling and distribute food and other items to families in need. This is being seen as a vital task for the young people.
Orphaned children in need of help
One day while in a community in Brewerville, we got to the home of 5 children – Amin, Cecelia, Martha, Sarah and Joel – who had lost both parents to the Ebola virus. Their eldest brother contracted the virus while taking care of their parents and also died. They were being looked after by Amin, who is just 16 years old.
The news of the death of the children’s parents was hidden from them, even members of their community were afraid to break the news. All they kept telling the children was that their parents were responding to treatment and would come home soon.
We visited their home to get to know them and had some interesting conversations about their lives. The smallest child was so happy that he didn’t even want us to leave. In fact, they told us that since their 21 day quarantine, we were the first people to visit them and share fun with them.
Breaking bad news
After the first visit, we built a very strong relationship with the children and they began to trust and confide in us. They told us not a single person from their family had called to check on them. They also told us that they fed themselves from the proceeds generated from the cold water they sold, while they hoped for the return of their parents.
It was not an easy thing breaking the news of their parents’ death to them. We gradually did it by drilling the children by asking some rhetorical questions like: what will you do if this happened? And in the end, we told them the truth. They cried a little but also took courage from their own answers to our previous questions. That helped them recover.
Afterwards, we documented their case and brought them supplies. They were highly grateful for our intervention, saying it was timely and needed. We also forwarded their names to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare for additional support.
Currently, the children are in a government childcare centre. All efforts are being made to trace family members of the children for possible family reunification.
Youth are proud to be part of the fight
Ebola has caused untold suffering for Liberian children, damaging the already weak child welfare systems. Most Ebola victims began to lose hope due to stigmatisation and rejection by family members and communities. We see psychosocial support services to child survivors as one of the best interventions for restoration and recovery.
Each member of our team shows real passion, commitment and enthusiasm for what we are doing and it makes us feel a part of the fight against Ebola.
Sometimes it gets tough, risky and challenging. At times some of us get tempted to shake hands or touch the people we are supporting out of sympathy or empathy but again we get reminded by another team member of the preventive measures. That has been one of our greatest strengths.
Keeping safe from Ebola
We have also been very careful in carrying out our work. We were all given hand sanitisers and disinfectants to help protect us from contracting the virus, and moreover, we have ensured a proper covering of our bodies before going into the community, which is another safety measure we put in place to avoid contracting the virus.
If this killer virus is to be stopped, there is a need for more people to engage in the work we are doing. To defeat Ebola, we must start by accepting its survivors as our heroes and heroines. We must support and protect them.
Our government and her partners should see reasons to support such initiatives. There’s a need for more funding to be directed to psychosocial support and the establishment of a special task force to respond to the psychosocial needs of Ebola victims and survivors.