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Rebuilding lives after the Ebola crisis

21 March 2018

The Ebola virus outbreak claimed 11,000 lives across West Africa in 2014-2016. In Sierra Leone alone, 3,956 people died and it is estimated that 12,000 children lost parents.

Rugiatu (9) and her family in the Kambia district of Sierra Leone.

Rugiatu (9) with her two older brothers, her aunt Dora and uncle Alafia and their children, at their home in Sierra Leone. Photo: Mark Stedman.

Rugiatu is nine and wants to be a teacher when she grows up. But her life has not been easy so-far. Rugiatu’s mother died during the Ebola crisis, which struck Sierra Leone 2014-2016.

Rugiatu was only seven when her aunt Dora took her and her two older brothers in. Her aunt Dora went from having two children to having five children to care for.

“It was a burden but it didn’t affect me. They are my children” Dora said.

Dora is working hard and hopes she can help Rugiatu to achieve her dreams, but there is a long long road ahead. Thanks to Trócaire, Dora has support and they are not alone.

Trócaire's response to the Ebola crisis

Trócaire has been working in Sierra Leone since the 80's. During the early days of the Ebola virus, when many organisations were evacuating, Trócaire stayed to help the communities where we work.

When Ebola struck, families who had sick relatives were quarantined for 21 days. In many cases in Sierra Leone entire communities were cut off for weeks. People couldn’t leave for food or water or tend to their farms. They had no way to grow their food. They were isolated and panicked.

At local level where Trócaire works our partners were the first responders to these families. They often provided interim food supplies before the international support arrived to deliver food rations.

Our partners also provided extra essentials like pepper, vegetables, water, firewood for cooking, soap, toothpaste etc. This helped families to keep going throughout their quarantine.

Families also received wind-up radios and mobile phones so that they could keep in contact with public service announcements and sick relatives who were in the treatment centres.

‘Labour groups’ were organised to work on the land of quarantined farming families so that they wouldn’t lose months of food on top of everything else. This support provided much needed comfort to families during the darkest days of Ebola.

Rugiatu (9) with her brothers in the Kambia district of Sierra Leone.

Rugiatu and her brothers, Ibrahim and Alimany, lost their parents to Ebola. "They were scared and frightened and they missed their mother." Dora said

Trócaire also supported counselling and care for families including Dora’s during Ebola. Often women were trying to explain the loss to children while also dealing with their own loss. About 10,000 people received this support.

Rebuilding lives after Ebola

After the crisis ended we reached families affected by the crisis and brought them together to help them to rebuild their lives.

Dora had three extra children to feed and send to school, so she needed support to re-start her farm and increase her income. She joined a local women’s farming group. The produce from the community farm has supplemented her own farm income and improved the family’s nutrition.

With the farming group support she can build up her savings, spend less of her income on food and provide more nutritious food for her children.

Despite never getting to go to school Dora is very smart and motivated. All her hopes are for her children.

“Rugiatu wants to be a teacher. Her brother wants to be a doctor. I want to help them to learn. I always advise Rugi, you must stay serious about school. If you want to be a teacher concentrate on your studies when you go to school concentrate on what you are doing and make sure you learn. Then you will become a teacher if you want.”

Over the coming months Dora and her farming group will begin a women’s empowerment training around family relationships, how to report violence in the home, literacy training and training about how to vote in elections.

When Dora has a good income and a stronger position in her family she will be better able to support Rugiatu and provide her with what she needs to succeed.

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