Holistic Care for Ebola Orphans

In 2014, our world was rocked by the sudden and violent threat of Ebola. Sierra Leone’s underdeveloped health system collapsed under the weight of the rapidly-spreading Ebola virus. Ebola treatment centers in West Africa had only 25% of the isolation beds they needed. There were just two doctors for every 100,000 people in Sierra Leone. Nearly 450 health care workers died from lack of basic protective gear like rubber gloves, goggles, and aprons. Heartbreakingly, 5,000 children became orphaned by the deadly disease.

“Ebola orphans” were left particularly vulnerable in the wake of this humanitarian crisis. According to UNICEF, at least 16,600 children in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone lost one or both parents or primary caregivers to Ebola. As the virus retreated in 2016, World Hope set out to identify, protect, and care for these orphans who were grieving, displaced, and alone.

One of these children was named Ibrahim. Ibrahim was thirteen at the time a World Hope staffer met him in Kamakwie, Northern Sierra Leone. His mother was a local nurse who became contaminated while treating a close friend who was suffering with Ebola. Only one week later his mother was gone.

After his mother died, the burden of grief became too much for Ibrahim. With no one to care for him, he dropped out of school and became a street child. The social worker who tells his story says, “From morning till night he just roams about the street, sleeping at cinemas, market places, or wherever the night meets him.”

A kindhearted friend of Ibrahim’s mother found out about his situation. Although she was stretched thin with work and raising her own three children, she decided to take him in. While she committed to caring for him and re-enrolling him in school, Ibrahim’s habit of roaming the streets became a recurring problem. He walked as a way of coping with his loss, and his new caregiver was alarmed to find that he often wandered into ghettos and other dangerous places.

When World Hope’s psychosocial worker, Mustapha Koroma, met with Ibrahim’s caregiver on a home visit, she was close to giving up on Ibrahim. His wandering habits scared and confused her. Mustapha was able to educate and encourage Ibrahim’s caregiver on the problems she was facing, encouraging her to see Ibrahim as her own child and to treat him with love and patience. Mustapha also counselled Ibrahim, instructing him and helping him to recognize the authority of his new caregiver. Then, Mustapha prayed together with Ibrahim and his caregiver.

During a follow-up visit, Ibrahim’s caregiver expressed excitement and joy over the fact that she was seeing positive change in Ibrahim’s life. Ibrahim’s wandering habits have stopped and he is committed to giving more attention to his schoolwork. “Mr. Mustapha came at just the right time, thanks be to God!” she exclaimed.

Ibrahim is just one of 100 Ebola orphans treated through World Hope’s Ebola Orphans project, and stories like his abound – stories of loss, persistence, and resilience. Abdul lost his mother to Ebola, and despite having only one leg, he is dedicated to finishing school so that he can support his blind father. 15-year-old Jane lost both of her parents to Ebola, and is now caring for her 6-year-old sister who has sickle-cell anemia. Despite these challenges, Jane has persevered in school and completed her Basic Education Certificate exams. These children demonstrate incredible courage, faith, and strength of character.

World Hope’s Ebola Orphans project set out to care for not only the material needs of orphans, but for their psychological and spiritual needs as well. Each orphan was carefully verified and registered, with home visits and school visits scheduled to ensure that each child was in a secure environment that would allow them to heal from the immense trauma they had endured. Social workers not only connected caregivers with service providers and community resources, but also acted as emotional and spiritual support through counseling, education, and prayer.

We are excited to report that after conducting follow-up visits, all 100 orphans were still attending school! The food, hygiene products, and school supplies provided by our team, as well as school visits and accountability, have been effective in ensuring their school attendance. Our team also reported that counseling has improved the relationships between orphans and their caregivers, and that regular visitations done by WHI social workers have helped caregivers better understand the lives of orphans and give better care.

Like so many places around the world, where we find physical need, we find spiritual need as well. We find people who, just like us, have dreams and desires and God-given talents – but who face overwhelming obstacles and are often discouraged. When our team went into Ebola-affected communities, we found that trauma care and counselling were just as necessary as rice, clothes, and money for school.

Mustapha shared that “educating orphans about Christ has given them hope and confidence.” We were humbled by the opportunity that God placed in front of us as we ministered to these incredibly brave and resilient children and their new families.

(Names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of these vulnerable children.)