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Who will care for Ebola orphans?

After 10-year-old Saye lost his mother and sister to Ebola, he has no-one to care for him.
After 10-year-old Saye lost his mother and sister to Ebola, he has no-one to care for him.

Due to the contagious nature of Ebola, it has been common for several members of the same family to contract the virus and die. With their deaths, thousands of children are being left with no-one to care for them. It is estimated that 3,700 children have lost one or both of their parents to Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

After first suffering the loss of their parents, many orphans have to then endure being stigmatised and shunned by their communities. Often, remaining relatives fear that orphans will spread the Ebola virus, and therefore do not want to be near them, let alone care for these vulnerable children.

“These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned. Orphans are usually taken in by a member of the extended family, but in some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties,” reports UNICEF.

Losing family to Ebola

In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, 10-year-old Saye recently lost his mother and sister to Ebola. His mother was first to contract the virus, and was cared for by Saye's elder sister. Because of this close contact, Saye's sister then contracted the virus herself.

As Ebola ravaged his mother and sister, Saye looked on helplessly. There was nothing he could do. After they died, Saye was left alone, with no other family members willing to care for him.

Along with 18 other Ebola orphans, Saye was take to a Child Care Centre in Unification City, about 40 miles from Monrovia. These centres provide temporary care for children left alone after Ebola killed their family members.

Care for children with no-one

Liberia alone has recorded over 2000 cases of children who have been orphaned as a result of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This number will increase as Ebola claims more lives and continues to devastate families. Furthermore, as fear grows about Ebola, more children will be shunned and abandoned, even when family members remain.

Picture of ebola victim - Sierra Leone
This family in Sierra Leone lost their father to Ebola. Without his
financial support, the children are not able to go to school.

SOS Children's priority, as ever, is to support children who have lost parental care, or are at risk of doing so. We will also help unaccompanied children or those separated from their family due to the Ebola epidemic and its consequences

George Korhadi, the National Director for SOS Children in Liberia, said:

“SOS will support by providing food and non-food items for orphans [such as Saye] in temporary holding centres. Children are held in these centres for 21 days for observations (to check if they have any symptoms of Ebola). After that period, SOS will seek to reunite children below the age of five years with their relatives or place them in foster homes.”

Children orphaned from Ebola may be accepted into SOS Children’s Villages after all other options, including family reunification, have been explored.

Clinging to hope

16 of the children in Monrovia have now been reunited with their extended family. Saye is one of the two children remaining. The other child is 10-year-old Blessing, also orphaned because of Ebola. No-one has come to take them home.

Children from Sierra Leone
Where there is an Ebola epidemic there are orphans, like these
children in Sierra Leone. While longer-term solutions are arranged,
they are being cared for in a temporary children's centre.

While playing together, Saye and Blessing discovered they are cousins. Amid their trauma, they have found some comfort in their relationship, and become close friends. Saye said, “Now that I know I have a cousin, I will look after her too. We will stay together and learn together.”

Displaying enormous resilience, Saye said, “I don't want my situation to stop me from what I will do when I grow up. I will do my best to make my parents proud”.

Orphaned children in Sierra Leone

Across the border, orphaned or abandoned children can also be found in Sierra Leone as a result of Ebola. Our colleagues report that the epidemic is worsening in the country. While exact statistics still being collated, current estimates suggest that at least 300 children in Sierra Leone have been orphaned due to Ebola.

These children are being cared for in temporary child centres, while longer term solutions are worked towards. The highest priority is to reunite them with their extended family, or if not possible, finding other care solutions. SOS Children is already helping to care for 163 orphaned children in Sierra Leone, ensuring they recieve basic necessities and care.

Please, donate to our Ebola crisis appeal. Help orphaned children receive the care they need. 

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