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Transcript: Ebola and Outreach to Orphans

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(Locator: Kailahun, Sierra Leone)

Something as simple as pumping gas takes a little more effort in remote Kailahun.

(Sound: Hand-cranking gas)

Located in Eastern Sierra Leone, Kailahun is where the decade-long civil war ignited and in May 2014 it was the flashpoint for the West African nation’s first cases of Ebola.

The road to Kailahun is considered by locals to be an international highway because it leads to Liberia and Guinea. During the dry season, this craggy corridor is a dusty, teeth-jarring trek. In the rainy season, it is all but impassable.

But to the Sierra Leone United Methodist Church, the district is a land of promise because it is here where the bishop says they are needed most.

Bishop John Yambasu, Sierra Leone Conference: Each time you go to Kailahun. the physical presence of the massive destruction  that the war did, and then when you compare with what Ebola’s already done, I mean , those people don’t deserve that at all.

The church established a mission station here a few years ago but Ebola slowed its progress. Now that the district seems to finally be Ebola free, efforts are underway to launch an orphanage.  The United Methodist Church already has one orphanage in Sierra Leone – the Child Rescue Center in Bo about 80 miles away.  It is a much-respected facility – where children thrive. They want to adapt a similar model to care for children like Sao Musa.

(Sound: Nurse singing)

Hawa Kai has been caring for 14-month-old Sao for five months at this Interim Care Facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone.

Hawa Kia, Caregiver: (speaks Krio)

Phileas Jusu, Sierra Leone Conference:  He is a twin, the other one died. He is the survivor so the father and the mother also died.

Officials know his name, but that’s about all. They don’t know where he came from or if there are relatives who can care for him. And in the unlikely event that extended family is identified, will they want a baby who appears to have suffered neurological damage because of the virus?

Kia: There is nobody for Sao.

What to do with all the parentless children is a real concern. There are an estimated 12,000 Ebola orphans in West Africa. This is an independent facility in Kenema founded by a group of local women.

Sally Demby, Co-founder Kambui Advocacy Group for Women and Children: We heard about the Ebola orphans at the hospital. We used to go there to see them. They were just in the compound, the hospital compound. Nobody was there, the nurses were taking care of them but they didn’t have anywhere to go.

(Sound: children playing)

About half of these children are here because their parents died of Ebola. Others were in foster care and were sent away because their caregivers feared the children might contract the disease and spread it to the rest of the family.

Osman Konteh:  My name is Osman Konteh

Six-year-old Osman was shunned by everyone he knew after his parents died of Ebola. It’s a common story. But here, he’s found a new family.

The government discourages private orphanages because of possible exploitation-like sex trafficking. Instead, whenever possible, officials aim to place children in their home villages and with relatives. But, it’s not always easy.

Alfred Sakilla:  My name is Alfred Sakilla

Rosalie Sakilla: My name is Rosalie Sakilla

Six-year-old Rosalie and her brother, 13-year-old Alfred, are Ebola survivors who lost both their parents to the virus. Today, they are back in their home village of Koindu, living with their grandmother. But, initially, their neighbors saw them as pariahs. As a healthcare worker, their father contracted the disease, which quickly spread. The village put the blame on him.

Edith Tamba, Social Worker: (Speaking Krio)

Jusu: Since then the people in this village have been enraged that he was the person who brought Ebola into their community. To the extent that even when he died the children were no longer allowed to live in this community.

Government social worker Edith Tamba intervened.

Tamba: (speaking Krio)

Jusu: They pleaded with them to accept the children. It was not their fault to get the virus. They should continue to show them love because they are children and treat them like before.

Tamba: So the community accept them back.

While they are back home, the children are still missing their maligned father very much.

Alfred Sakilla: I remember about my father when he was caring the children, all ages – he was treating them free. Free medical treatment.

Alfred wants to follow in his footsteps -someday becoming a doctor. But, like thousands of other children in West Africa, Ebola has left him with emotional scars that may never heal.

Alfred Sakilla: I miss him very much.