Liberia, a developing nation, was engulfed in civil war for 15 years, a war which killed over 25,000 people including women and children, orphaning children and leaving many people disabled. Liberia has been left in a state of poverty and struggle, the war causing a serious setback for us.
Even now, over ten years later, young people in Liberia are faced with many issues, our rights on a daily basic are abused and violated, girls are been raped, boys are sexually abused, young people are used as perpetrators of violence. According to the government, in 2014, 657 children were victims of sexual and gender based violence.
On top of all of this, in 2014 we were hit hard by the Ebola crisis causing a huge catastrophe to our already poor health system and a crisis for education, as the country schools were shut down.
During the Ebola crisis, working with members of my children and youth group, we took risks to go into effected communities, informing people and carrying out public campaigns on the radio on how to prevent the spread of Ebola. We also carried out research into the number of children who had been orphaned by Ebola. I felt motivated and determine to speak out for these children and contribute to society.
Orphaned by Ebola – One Girl’s Story
During our research I met a seventeen year old girl, a student, who had lost both her parents, and nine other relatives to the evil hands of Ebola. I remember that morning, the sorrow and fear on her face, she was broken; and at first she refused to talk to me. I told her how afraid I was at first, I told her my story about my fear during the crisis, then she consented and told me her story. She said her family didn’t believe that Ebola existed.
Her father had been a nurse and contract Ebola in a local hospital. At first they believed it was Malaria and then that someone had poised him and the family. They didn’t want to take him to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) as they did not believe anyone who visited the ETU came out alive. When he died the other family members washed his body and then contracted the virus and died. This continued until most of her family had died. An unknown community resident eventually reported the situation to an Ebola response team. The family members, include her, were taking to an ETU. Her four siblings died in the ETU after five days. Her and her little brother of four ears old were the only family members who survived. She told the story with tears in her eyes. I felt that sorry deep down in my heart as my eye filled with tears.
She then explained how community members then ill-treated her and refuse them from visiting or playing with their kids. “They think we will spread the disease further to others in their homes.” She said. “Our parents are dead, we don’t have family members either, how do I take care of my little brother, I’m sure we won’t get in school again, I feel like dying too” she cried.
Supporting the Women and Girls at the Forefront of the Ebola Crisis
From her story, I placed myself in her shoes; I got passionate about our project. Our research identified that over 1,500 children in my county had lost their parents to the deadly virus. These children needed families; hope, and integration into society and I wanted to help.
After campaigning and advocating on this issue, a scholarship and fund raising program called “Back to School” was launched to raise money for school items. After brining different organization together, we were able to provide five hundred scholarships to vulnerable children, orphans, and children that were affected by the Ebola virus disease, including the 17 year old girl and her little brother.
This was particularly important for the young women and girls who were at the fore front of the crisis. They were the ones taking the lead in caring for family members and relatives who were sick and could transmit the disease. They risked their lives for the safety of their families.
Girls also became vulnerable and exposed. In some cases girls had to trade their bodies to earn money for them and their families who were increasingly desperate. After the crisis the number of teenage pregnancies has increased. Even now girl’s enrollments in school are low, because of the many issues they faced including during Ebola, early marriage, teenage pregnancy rape and financial constraints.
Many girls in this situation did not think they would be able to return to school or recover from the horror experienced during the crisis. Some girls have been able to access the scholarship scheme and now the Liberian National Children’s Forum, which I am a spokesperson for and supported by Plan International, are also supporting girls and young women though peer counselling programs and sessions as a way of supporting girls in Liberia.
My Asks to Governments
During the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey, governments and organizations around the world have the opportunity to support the Compact for Youth in Humanitarian Action. I hope this will help mobilize support for the following actions:
1. Children and young people from Ebola affected countries need more support to build their capacities and development. My education was disrupted during the Ebola Crisis, because all schools were shut down in Liberia as a way of fighting the Ebola Virus Disease. During that time I felt discouraged and afraid. This must not happen for other young people in a crisis.
2. We must be involved in actions to prevent violence against children. Young people are the ones to make the future tomorrow, our participation in national and international activities and decision making is essential to help to improve development, justice, peace and security around the world.
3. We must do more to stop early marriage and low girls enrolment in school as it is hampering the situation for girls development around the world. We want governments around the world to spend less on the military and more on girl’s health, safety and education.