“I am happy to be back in school this morning and grateful to be among those still alive,” says Claris, a student at the SOS School in Monrovia, Liberia. “We were home for a long time without going to school and we are so excited to be back this morning.”
Claris is one of the 400 students to return to the SOS School, along with 25 teachers, after it was reopened on Monday 16th February. The nearby SOS Nursery also reopened its doors to over 50 children.
A mother whose three children attend the school says, “I’m excited to bring my child back to school this morning. When the schools were closed, I was thinking about how my family would survive and the education of my children.”
Ordered to close in July 2014
The Ebola virus was identified in Liberia in March last year. To protect the country's children and minimise the spread of the virus, Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson, ordered all schools to close in July 2014.
By February 2015, 3,858 people had died in Liberia due to Ebola. However, the rate of infection has recently slowed dramatically, and only three new cases were confirmed in the first week in February.
Due to the promising decline of new Ebola cases, and the increasing risk of children missing out on their education, some schools have now been allowed to reopen. Only schools that have received Ebola preventive materials from the Ministry of Education reopened on 16th February. Others are expected to open on 2nd March 2015.
Reopened schools must be vigilant
“I’m happy to be back in school and hopeful that things will get better even though we still have a few Ebola cases. We still have fear of any recurrence,” says Clarles, another student at the school. The fears and risks that surround Ebola remain – something schools are well aware of.
At the SOS School in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, staff check the temperatures of students with thermometers to spot early symptoms of Ebola. Throughout the school, taps and buckets with chlorinated water are in place for regular hand washing.
Physics teacher Milton Padmore says “I am happy to be back but we need to double up our efforts as we observe all the preventive measures, in order to keep the campus healthy and clean.”
The first day back at school was dedicated to learning about Ebola and how to prevent it's spreading. A team from the SOS Medical Centre in Monrovia helped deliver these Ebola awareness sessions, so that all students and staff will act vigilantly and comply with all Ebola prevention measures.
“Smiles on the faces of children”
Richard Pichler, International CEO of SOS Children's Villages, says:
“All children have a fundamental right to education. That’s why we’re so pleased that schools have begun reopening in Liberia now that the Ebola epidemic appears to be waning there.
At our SOS Schools, which were among those to open, we remain vigilant, with strict hygiene controls in place to minimise the likelihood of any new Ebola cases. But from the smiles on the faces of the children, parents and teachers it’s obvious how happy they are to be back.”
Schools remain closed in Sierra Leone
Unfortunately, schools in Sierra Leone remain closed due to the risk of Ebola. In the north of the country, the Ebola outbreak is critical with new cases increasing. In total, just over 3,000 people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, with more than 8,200 cases of infection.
To ensure children continue to receive an education, staff from SOS Schools and Nurseries have been home-schooling their students since January 2015. The government has also organised nationwide home learning education programmes on radio and TV. The government in Sierra Leone is keen to open schools, colleges and universities soon, and proposes to do so by the end of March 2015.