20 January 2015

Ebola survivors caring for children orphaned by the Ebola epidemic

Children who lost their parents to the Ebola epidemic are now receiving quality care and counseling from Ebola survivors, specially trained to provide quality child care, in a project supported by SOS Children’s Villages Liberia and other NGOs in partnership with the government of Liberia.

The Ebola outbreak has destroyed thousands of lives, separated loved ones, created panic amongst neighbors and stalled economies across West Africa. For Salome Tomah, an Ebola survivor, the Ebola outbreak has left her with traumatizing memories.

“You could not even count the number of dead bodies on the floor around me where I was lying… Every morning when the Ebola team came to remove the many dead bodies around me, I only waited for the time that I would die and be free from such pain,” said Tomah.
Tears stream down Tomah’s face as she recalls the horror. “Workers at the holding center where I was first carried when I was infected could barely touch the Ebola patients or come in close contact with us. As I was very weak and helpless, I had to crawl amongst several other patients to get to the ambulance that took us to the Ebola Treatment Unit, where doctors were caring for and giving medication to Ebola patients.”
However, while Tomah was suffering at the Ebola Treatment Unit, her 14-year-old daughter was being rejected and abandoned by neighbors, friends and relatives.
“My daughter could not go home after I left the house because neighbors and some of my friends and relatives told her to leave the house where I had been infected with the virus. So my daughter was just roaming the streets of Monrovia,” she said.  
Tomah was treated by a team of committed doctors and she survived Ebola. Shortly before Christmas she was reunited with her daughter and her father. Her husband fled and has not returned.

An ambulance arrives bringing two children released from the Ebola Treatment Unit to the Interim Care Center for further observation. Photo credit: Daniel van Moll

Today, Tomah is one of seven Ebola survivors working at the interim care center (ICC) in Monrovia, caring for children orphaned by Ebola. The ICC is operated by the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and is supported by SOS Children’s Villages Liberia in collaboration with other non-governmental organizations, such as UNICEF and Médecins Sans Frontières. SOS Children’s Villages is training the survivor-caregivers at the ICC in caring for the specific needs of children who have lost parents and family.
The ICC cares for children under the age of five whose parents or caregivers died in the outbreak. What remains a challenge for Liberian society and a goal for SOS Liberia is to strengthen the capacities of surviving parents and extended families affected by this killer disease, so that children are safe and cared for.
The ICC is being run by Ebola survivors employed by the Ministry of Health. In December, the first group of 10 Ebola survivors received the relevant training to care for children in line with the SOS Children’s Villages caregiver model. The ICC will have the capacity to care for 20-25 children at a time throughout the 21-day Ebola symptom observation period.
* Please note that the name of the survivor has been changed to protect her and her family’s privacy.