Hundreds of boys and girls head to class at an SOS Children’s Villages secondary and primary school in Freetown.
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone—Barred from class for nine months because of the Ebola virus, hundreds of students were overjoyed when they were allowed to returned to SOS Children’s Villages schools in Freetown a few weeks ago.
“I am so happy to be back in school again after nine months of boredom,” said an 8th-grade boy on his first day back at school. “I cannot express how I feel seeing my best friend again after a long time.”*
On April 14, Sierra Leone lifted its nationwide school closure in light of the declining number of new Ebola cases and the preparedness of schools to guard against the spread of the disease. SOS Children’s Villages waited until April 28 to reopen its two schools in Freetown so that all safety measures were in place when the more than 500 students returned to class.
“I understand it has been very frustrating staying home for nine months, considering how much they’ve missed out academically,” said Thomas Allie, the principal of the SOS Hermann Gmeiner International School in Freetown. “But as a childcare organization, it is our priority to keep the children safe.”
Two girls attend class on April 28 at SOS Children’s Villages Kindergarten in Freetown after nine months of a government-mandated school closure.
After Liberia was declared Ebola free on May 9, Sierra Leone and Guinea remain the only two countries still reporting new Ebola cases. However, Sierra Leone reported only two new cases of Ebola for the week ending May 10, compared to 58 new cases reported for the week ending March 8.
Schools pose a heightened risk for the transmission of Ebola because so many people are crowded into a relatively small space. That’s why the Ministry of Education in Sierra Leone provided all schools with hand-washing stations, sanitizers, thermometers, gloves and anti-septic soap, among other things. Of the three main Ebola-affected countries, Sierra Leone was the last to reopen its schools.
Taking further precautionary measures the first day back at class, teachers at the SOS kindergarten and the SOS primary and secondary school made sure that there was no body contact between the students. During lunchtime, students were required to sit far away from one another.
“I wish I could run and play with my friends again. I have missed them so much and now I cannot even hug them,” said a 9-year-old student.
Sierra Leone has reported 12,523 cases of Ebola and has lost 3,904 people to the virus since last May, when the first case in Sierra Leone was reported, according to the World Health Organization. In total, 26,759 people have contracted Ebola and 11,080 have died from it. Virtually all cases of Ebola have been contracted in Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia.
*Names of children have been withheld for privacy reasons.