Last Saturday, we had the opportunity to visit some Ebola survivors. Our driver and “tour guide”, Idrissa, is a young man who provides psycho-social support to survivors. Being eager to learn all we could, we bombarded him with questions during our entire trip to the selected locations.
Through his answers, we learned many things including various physical, psychological and economic problems that survivors did not have prior to contracting Ebola. These include paralysis, loss of vision, hearing impairment, severe headaches, painful joints, personality changes, confusion and short-term memory loss.
These survivors are also grieving the deaths of family members and friends. Many have had their belongings and/or homes burned to ensure that these would not spread the Ebola virus. Added to that, survivors have been stigmatized and evicted from their communities and often even their relatives refuse to be with them.
We were introduced to Amos who has this story to tell...
"I am 46 years old. In spite of educating myself about Ebola preventative measures and following them carefully, I was the only member of my community that contracted Ebola. Thinking that I only had Malaria (very common here) I was very shocked to hear that my test was positive for the Ebola virus. On November 27th I was brought to an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) run by Doctors without Borders (MSF). There is no cure for Ebola so the treatment is to give vitamins and anti-malarial drugs as well as to address the many symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding. Being sent to an ETU is considered a death sentence as most victims die. I held on to my faith and determined that God would not allow this to happen to me.
I was discharged on February 5th but the community I lived in would not allow me to move back into my home or stay in the area. I returned to the ETU and slept on the ground outside of the gates, but since then have been allowed to stay in an unfinished tent at the far end of the compound. I receive some of the food left over after the patients have eaten. There are only 5, no 4, patients with confirmed Ebola in the unit at this time. One was carried out dead yesterday.
Sometimes I have trouble being thankful that I am alive. As a result of Ebola, my left eye is blind and the vision in my right eye is deteriorating, I have lost control of my bladder and my memory is not what it was before. I have no home, no belongings and with my impaired vision, will not be able to return to my previous livelihood as a small-scale trader. I pray God will show me the purpose of all this as I have no remaining human dignity and often feel that death would be a relief.”
The story that Mary (Ebola survivor) shared with us:
Mary previously lived in a house with her mother, father, five siblings, an auntie and her grandmother. Of these, all but four died. Mary, her brothers John, Joe and David survived.
After recovering from Ebola, the oldest brother John has been left with poor eyesight and the responsibility of supporting his siblings. Finding work that is available and suitable for him is very difficult. Their deceased father had previously worked for a rubber company but in February the small family was asked to leave the employee-housing compound. The company did agree to pay for one year of schooling for three of them.
Mary is nineteen years old and in grade eight. Due to previous financial constraints, some years she has not been able to attend school. She hopes to get an education to become an accountant but will miss days of school whenever there is a small cleaning job, a chance to sell some oil or a request to cook for someone. She needs to work whenever possible in order to help support her family.
A story about Ebola Ophans:
Our last stop was at an orphanage for children whose families have died of Ebola. There are sixteen orphans ranging from thirteen months to twelve years of age. This orphanage had been closed down for many years but it has now been reopened. There are three separate rooms. Each room serves as a combined classroom, dining room and bedroom for the group of children assigned to that room. Most of the beds have a fabric bottom sheet but some have only a piece of plastic tucked over the mattress. There are no covers at all.
The children use the beds to sit on since there are very few chairs. There are no mosquito nets, which concerns us. What would they ever do if they needed medical care? There are only two women at the orphanage to care for the sixteen youngsters. They volunteer their time to supervise the children, cook for them, do the laundry, keep the facility clean and provide the only schooling these children receive. We saw very minimal school supplies. There is a little area set aside as an outdoor kitchen but we were told that the food supply is erratic. We witnessed only one toy in the entire orphanage. It is a well-used toy car with wheels that no longer turn. The baby enjoys sitting on it. For all the other children, there are no toys, not even a soccer ball.
The stories about the effects of Ebola on this country and its people are breaking our hearts!
International Relief Managers