"My children used to have to work" | Saving in the time of Ebola

10-year-old Fatmata was terrified when Ebola came to her village. Not only did it personally affect her, but the impact of closed schools and lost livelihoods were felt all across Sierra Leone. However, thanks to a mixture of radio lessons and savings groups, education was made to be accessible and affordable, in spite of the situation…

“My mother’s sister died from Ebola. She lived across from us and I became even more frightened. One of my friends, Jebbeh, died as well. I was so sad. We used to play together…” explains Fatmata sadly. “I was happy when my school reopened, and I wasn’t scared to go back. I needed a new uniform, books and notebooks and also money for lunch every day.”

Money has always been an issue for Fatmata and her family, and like many families in her position, this situation was exacerbated by the crisis. Previously, when supplies and fees were needed for school, Fatmata would have to help her mother collect and sell firewood.

As a response to this, and to help mitigate against future hardship, World Vision helped start a savings group in Fatmata’s community, so that mothers could afford education and uniforms, enabling many families to keep their children in school.

Fatmata’s mother, Jeneba, joined the savings group shortly after Ebola came to their village. The group, set up for mothers, helps the community create a contingency fund that can then be loaned to each other in times of need.

“The savings groups have helped my family a lot. There are two groups - one for mothers, and another for children. I joined the group in December 2014 and we meet once a week to give our contribution. We also started a savings group for children to help them with their education expenses,” Jeneba explains.

“I’m now able to afford my children’s tuition and I can keep my children in school, but only because of the loans. My children used to have to work. We fetched firewood and sold it in our village. They earned their own money to go to school and it was very difficult for them. With the savings group, I could change my business. I started selling petrol that I bought with the money from the loans. I don’t have to collect firewood anymore,” she adds.

During the Ebola crisis, many women in the savings group lost family members and their lives became harder - with business slowing down and people staying inside, unable to meet in public. The loans helped families not only keep their children in school, but to expand or start a business, paying school fees with the earnings.

Antoni Keikula, who helps to administer the World Vision savings group, explains that the ability to access money and education was vital for many families in the midst of the crisis.

“Once the schools were closed in Jaiama Bongor, we gave children, aged seven and upwards, radios. The government broadcast classes via radio and the children had a chance to listen to them in their homes. We also allowed more parents to take out loans during the Ebola crisis, so they were able to help their children go back to school when it reopened,” he says.

“We also talked about hygiene and how to prevent Ebola during our meetings. As a result, none of our sponsored and registered children got Ebola,” he continues.

The savings groups have helped families establish their lives again after the peak of the crisis, and without the loans, many children like Fatmata wouldn’t be in school today.

The ups and downs of our Ebola response are being reimagined as part of John Warland’s World Vision garden at the Chelsea and Hampton court flower shows this year. In the aftermath of Ebola, our support of children in Sierra Leone, like Fatmata, is more important than ever. Discover how sponsorship can help a child like Fatmata, and find out more about the World Vision gardens»