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Ebola in Sierra Leone: Is the end near?

Mustapha's community was hit particularly hard by Ebola: 37 people, 12 of them children, died in just two weeks. Sierra Leone is struggling with the longer-term impacts of this deadly disease
Mustapha's community was hit particularly hard by Ebola: 37 people, 12 of them children, died in just two weeks. Sierra Leone is struggling with the longer-term impacts of this deadly disease

For the first time since the outbreak was declared in March 2014, no new cases of Ebola have been recorded in Sierra Leone. However, the country is still grappling with the longer-term impacts of this deadly disease. Sierra Leone’s economy is under enormous stress, and its people are struggling with hardship. Our family strengthening programmes are key resources for many families, such as Famata’s.

Many of the families benefiting from SOS Family Strengthening Programmes were affected by Ebola – especially those engaged in small businesses. However, even during the most difficult periods, SOS Children has continued to provide support for vulnerable families. We have worked hard to ensure that they do not slip further into poverty and have made sure that children continue to grow up with the love and care they so desperately need. 

Life before Ebola

Famata and her husband were caregivers to nine children and grandchildren when they became beneficiaries of the SOS Family Strengthening Programme in Sierra Leone. Famata sold fish on the side to sustain her family's needs.

“I barely made US $4 a day. I often fell asleep hungry so that my children and grandchildren could eat,” explains the 48-year-old.

Both her and her husband never had the opportunity to attend school. He had no job and relied on the revenue Famata made from selling fish. As a result of the family’s modest income, only two of the nine children were able to be enrol in school.

Life was transformed with SOS Children

In 2007, Famata’s family was admitted into the SOS Family Strengthening Programme. Becoming a beneficiary granted her children the chance to register in school. The family received food items and their health needs taken care of. Famata was given a microfinance loan of US $300 to help expand her business.

“I used to dry my fish at a neighbour’s preservation room [but] now I have my own thanks to the loan,” says Famata, smiling.

Apart from expanding her business, Famata also built a retaining wall around her seaside residence to prevent flooding. She and her family live in a swampy region in Sierra Leone where homes can become submerged by water.

The SOS Family Strengthening Programme allowed her to focus on her fish business full-time. Her daily income increased from US $4 to about US $10 a day, which was sufficient to provide for everyone in the family.

Woman in protective gear carrying a girl - Sierra Leone
An MSF staff member carries a young survivor out of the isolation ward at their treatment center in Kailahun, Sierra Leone

Ebola struck Sierra Leone

When the Ebola outbreak struck Sierra Leone in 2014, things took a turn for the worst. Famata’s business slowed down and her daily income plummeted. Her younger sister contracted the virus and died in November 2014, leaving behind four children without parental care – amongst them, a seven month old infant. Famata and her family were quarantined for 21 days shortly after her sister contracted the virus.

“Those were the most difficult days in my life. We ran out of almost everything in the first week, including water. What the government provided was not enough,” she explains.

During this time, she became the guardian of her late sister’s seven month old child after the child was confirmed negative of the virus.

“She was severely malnourished when she came under my care. I could not go out to buy milk to feed her. I prepared rice porridge which she lived on for days before SOS Children’s Villages came and helped us,” explains Famata.

Life-saving support during times of despair

SOS Children has provided her family with essential food items (milk, sugar, rice, beans, palm oil and vegetable oil) and non-food items (Dettol, mosquito nets, hand sanitizers and antiseptic soap). With her niece adding to the number of children Famata now takes care of, she says she is thankful to the organisation for the timely intervention. The child is now over a year old and is healthy and active. Her business is steadily picking up again as the Ebola crisis is gradually fading in the country.

“It is through the SOS Family Strengthening Programmes support that my niece is alive today,” says Famata.

SOS Children works with vulnerable families in 125 countries. Learn more about SOS family strengthening programmes.