The impact of Ebola on change and protection

My name is Alice.

I’m 17-years-old and come from Sierra Leone.

I am a child rights activist who has, for the past few years, been at the forefront of advocating with district officials and members of my community across a range of concerns. These range from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and teenage pregnancy, to early/forced marriage - issues that tend to prevent thousands of girls from realising their full potential. Working through my children’s group, we succeeded in changing bylaws that could save hundreds of girls from the impacts of these harmful practices.

But suddenly in 2014, our efforts, energy, aspirations and progresses were halted by the Ebola crisis.

My heart could bleed. My mind could hardly rest. I could hardly contain my emotion when I saw my friends out of school for long periods, and girls as young as 14 falling pregnant and some giving in to marriages.

How I wished I could have worked as usual to deal with the perpetrators of such acts. Oh how I wish I could have mobilized my peers to raise our voices against such issues as we had done prior to the Ebola crisis.

But with Ebola, we couldn’t meet together.

The government placed a national ban on public gatherings in order to control the transmission rate among individuals. Groups that had regularly met to raise understanding and take action around child protection issues could no longer meet.

Day by day, I would hope for an end to the crisis.

When World Vision introduced its Home Visitors programme, in early 2015, it came as a source of great encouragement. These Home Visitors visited households and encouraged children with messages of hope, building confidence and ensuring they felt able to report any abuse that they’d experienced.

Eventually hope arrived; last autumn the World Health Organization declared Sierra Leone Ebola free.

I could feel a surge of relief flowing through me, my peers, community leaders, and parents. Schools were re-opened and bans on public gatherings were lifted immediately. Normal life began again and club meetings could be held once more.

However, I could feel that numerous challenges still lie ahead of us. Many of our friends, for whom we had fought so hard, had become pregnant and some had already given birth during this period. I couldn’t hold back the tears when I learnt the figures from other districts as well. Our first major task was to see these girls back in school and make them feel comfortable in the community again.

I led a campaign for the integration of child mothers into the school system and to help prevent stigmatization of these girls by other pupils inside and outside of the school environment. Today, many of those girls are back in school and doing well, with regular support from our Kid’s Club members, Mothers’ clubs and Child Welfare Committees. The bylaws have been revived and my group has intensified its monitoring of the implementation of these laws.

Meanwhile, all FGM activities were completely banned by the government of Sierra Leone during the crisis, which had led to a significant decrease in the harmful practice. At the end of the crisis however, there were still a few remote cases of FGM being practiced on girls.

My hope is to see an end to all forms of violence against children in Sierra Leone.

May I at this stage thank the UK government and its people for the wonderful support in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. You are an amazing people.

May I also appeal to the government and people of the UK, to continue to support our transition process as we rebuild the broken infrastructure in Sierra Leone and continue our vital work around Child Protection, Healthcare, Education and Livelihoods.

World Vision began operating in Sierra Leone in 1996 in the midst of a decade-long civil war, assisting children and their families in the poorest communities. Today we support more than 58,000 children through 25 long-term area development programmes in four districts - Bo, Bonthe, Kono and Pujehun. The Kid’s Clubs are an area of our work that we are especially proud of, and Alice and one of her compatriots, Alfred, were invited to the Girl Summit hosted by the UK government and UNICEF in July 2014, to share the success of their amazing work in their community. You can read their other blogs here»

Discover how you can help change a child’s life in the aftermath of Ebola in Sierra Leone today»