Many children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone lost one or both parents to Ebola. The 2014 outbreak, which has continued to flare up, infected over 28,600 people and killed more than 11,300. It shattered the countries’ fragile health systems, closed schools, shut businesses and sent economies into a tailspin. This denied many thousands of children their rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living.
“Five people from my family died. That’s how the sickness affected us. When they took me to the treatment centre they treated me well, they gave me water. At that time I thought I might be dead, and never go back, but the doctors said “no, it is not your time yet”, so I came back as a survivor,” says Umaru, 12, from Sierra Leone.
To help ensure they recover and thrive, Plan International is working with orphans and vulnerable children so that they are cared for and are able to return to school in a safe environment.
We run sessions at schools to sensitise children about the stigma Ebola survivors are suffering from and support schools to organise activities such as plays and music with the aim of reducing discrimination towards Ebola survivors and girls who fell pregnant during the crisis.
“When school reopened I went there, nobody talked to me, I was alone by myself. Then Plan International came to sensitise my friends, and they started talking to me again. And now it is better. We talk, we play and we laugh now. I forgive them of course. I can’t blame them. I am just happy that I have my friends back," explains Ebola survivor Michael, 14, from Sierra Leone.
Plan International is rebuilding health systems capable of preventing, detecting and responding to future health epidemics so that West Africa can progress towards a safer and healthier future.
We are also working to strengthen livelihood opportunities for young people through our skills training programme.
Despite the extensive devastation and loss of life, there is still great hope in West Africa. With our support, children and young people are learning to live again, and have great plans for their future.
“One day I will be a lawyer, because I want to be able to help my people and my colleagues, especially girls. I want to help girls because some men abuse them. I will defend the girls because they are not at fault. The perpetrators are in the wrong. I will study hard in school to become a lawyer,“ says Franck, 13, from Sierra Leone.
The Day of the African Child is marked every 16 June to commemorate the 1976 protest in which hundreds of black South African boys and girls were shot when protesting at their living and educational conditions. This year's theme is 'Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting all Children’s Rights'.