Nearly two years into the largest known Ebola outbreak in history, there are hopes the epidemic that raged through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could be formally declared over by early 2016. Ebola has killed more than 11,000 people, and robbed around 22,000 children of a parent or caregiver. But nearly everyone in the three West African countries has been touched by the disease in some way. Here are some of their stories.
Ebola survivor and widow with four children, Hawa Kandé in Conakry, Guinea.
“My husband was a doctor and he went to Sierra Leone to look for another job. That’s what he told us. Then he got sick from Ebola and died. I think he knew he was sick and went there because he didn’t want to infect his family. That’s why he removed himself. Even though I survived Ebola, it was hard at first to come back here. Even today some of my neighbors won’t allow their children to come over. There are days I’m very down. It’s my kids that give me strength, because I need to take care of them.”
Learner Jan Sankoh, 13, in Waterloo, Sierra Leone.
“When Ebola came into the country, school was suspended. I was so scared at first I stayed in the house. I told my neighbors that you should wash your hands even when Ebola is not here. Not everyone believed in Ebola, but I told them that they should believe it is real. Children have the right to go to school every day. When you learn, you will have everything. I want to be a scientist. I want to study about the stars and the moon. At night, I sometimes see shooting stars outside my house. That’s why I want to be a scientist.”
West Point A-LIFE group member and 10th grade learner and Jessica Meufville, 17, in Monrovia, Liberia.
“We were trained [on Ebola prevention], and we got a lot of information about Ebola that was different from [what] people here were saying. After the training, we went door-to-door to tell people how to protect themselves. It was challenging. A lot of people never accepted our message and it used to make me feel bad. Our supervisor used to always encourage us and it was that motivation that kept me moving to go on to talk to more people so more lives could be saved.”
Imam Elhadj Cheikhouna Sylla in Conakry, Guinea.
“I was taken to an Ebola treatment center to see people who were sick with the disease and that strengthened my belief in Ebola’s existence. I knew I had an important role to play in the community and I gave more than 20 speeches in the mosque to convince people about Ebola. When there was a case in the community, I’d go and talk to the family about taking the person to the treatment center or about having a safe burial if the person had died. Ebola has affected the way we live together, and my hope is that there is more peace in the country.”
National Commissioner of the Boy Scouts of Guinea Marlaye Souma in Conakry, Guinea.
“When you become a Scout you make a promise to stay a Scout for life. We say a Boy Scout for day, a Boy Scout forever. When Ebola entered the country, UNICEF supported the Boy Scouts to distribute hygiene materials in communities. People trusted us and so we were able to help convince them that the disease was real and to teach them to use proper precautions in order to protect themselves. Looking back, I’m proud as Scout to have contributed to the training of many young boys who are today giving a lot to their community.”
County Mobilization Coordinator for UNICEF Tarlo Kerkula Slipway Community in Monrovia, Liberia.
“One time I went to the Slipway Community to visit a home where there were two sick people and two dead bodies. I was going with volunteers to talk but didn’t know the family. They chased us away by throwing sticks and water at us. I had sleepless nights after that. I tried to involve the community leaders. What I’ve learned is that every community has its own solution…if you work with them you get the desired results.”
Doctor and Ebola frontline responder Fanny Mae Koroma in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
“The rules of Ebola, like not touching, went against our traditions. We had to tell people that running away or keeping secrets in the house was not going to help end Ebola. What helped was having a local person talk to the communities. They trusted me, and they knew I wouldn’t hurt them. There was no trust in the health system before, but now people understand about hygiene practices like washing hands. I hope that stays with people.”
Ebola survivor and orphan Isata Mansaray, 10, with her grandmother Fatmata Mansaray in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
“When I was released from the treatment center I was told that my parents had gone to America, but later my uncle admitted to me that they had died from Ebola. When they were alive, they were able to give me everything I needed — I was able to get my hair done. But I don’t feel too sad now because my grandmother is looking after me. A social worker comes and plays with me and asks how I’m doing. I want to be a bank manager so I can take care of my family, especially my grandma.”
Ebola survivor and caregiver Emma Bangura in Kambia, Sierra Leone.
“When I began to feel sick, I was afraid to go to a hospital so I went to my mother’s house, but she wouldn’t let me in. She called the Ebola emergency hotline and an ambulance arrived with people dressed in those protective suits who sprayed me before taking me to a treatment center. At the time, I thought my mother didn’t love me and wanted me to die, but she did the right thing. Now I volunteer as a social worker helping orphans, widows and survivors — anyone who’s been hit by Ebola.”
Social mobilizer Agnes Ngele in Moyamba, Sierra Leone.
“Ebola changed everything for us. People changed. They no longer wanted to see nurses, health care workers. I had been working with people to convince them to get immunizations and protect themselves against malaria. I move mountains with those who are reluctant, and they change their attitudes. That’s why they called me the Iron Lady. Now with the disease gone, I’m back to working on social mobilization, but it’s difficult after Ebola. My hope for Sierra Leone is that we can get better health facilities.”
Head teacher Elizabeth Kamara in Waterloo, Sierra Leone.
“When the schools closed because of Ebola, I decided not to sit at home idle, so I went to work at the hospital and helped wash clothes. We went for training on how to work with children who have been traumatized by the illness before the schools re-opened. When we’re in class we look at the children to identify those in need. It’s harder now to keep the children’s attention. Many have lost stability in their lives. My hope now is that by the grace of God our country will get back to normal and that we’ll be able to build up the children’s resilience.”
Entrepreneur and Public Administration and Sociology student Pandora Hodge in Monrovia, Liberia.
“We started doing cinema screenings in communities about Ebola, but I thought there was more we could do. We had 72 students involved and with support from the Ministry of Health and UNICEF we began going door-to-door in communities. I would always inform the leaders first and then just talk to those who were willing to listen. We reached more than 400 communities. If Liberians start to put Liberia forward first, all the wishes that we have will come true. Development doesn’t come from a country, it comes from the people within the country.”
Learn more about UNICEF’s Ebola response. #FightUnfair