"Regina has been alone since the death of her parents" | Coping with stigma in Sierra Leone

Regina sits in front of her small mud house, wearing a colourful yellow dress that stands out against the grey backdrop. She leans against the wall next to her grandmother, who is balancing a little boy on her lap, but who can barely walk anymore. It has been just over a year since her parents died and Regina remembers that time as if it were yesterday.

“I miss them so much,” she says, lowering her head and speaking in a quieter voice. Her life has drastically changed since Ebola came to her community. “I feel very alone, because my parents are not here to encourage me anymore. I will never be able to say goodbye to them.

"They were taken away so quickly.”

11-year-old Regina has been living with her grandmother since the Ebola outbreak.

Every morning before school, she sweeps the floor, and then takes a bath in the small river nearby. She doesn’t fetch water from the river, but from a well that is about a 20-minute walk away.

“In my free time I like to read my schoolbooks. My parents were always fighting for us and they encouraged us to go to school and to take our studies seriously.”

When Regina’s grandparents fell ill in August 2014, both her parents were quick to care for them. It wasn’t long before both her grandparents passed away, and were buried by Regina’s house. The following month her parents got sick too. That was when her whole family was put under quarantine.

“It was like a house arrest, because we weren’t allowed to leave our homes. People dressed in white cloaks came to take my parents to the treatment centre. My mum asked me to come with her, but I refused. I wasn’t ill. That’s the last time I saw my parents. They died in the treatment centre.”

Regina was left feeling frightened and sad.

“I was told not to think about my parents, but it was so hard. We had to spend 42 days inside the house and during that time, my school was also closed. I didn’t think of school, because I was so sad.”

When Regina returned to school, she found that despite not contracting Ebola herself, her friends were cautious of her, knowing she’d had family members who’d succumbed to the disease. “When the schools finally opened again, I was so happy to go. But it was a surprise when I was in my classroom. My friends didn’t want to play with me and they pushed me away.”

“Whenever I think of my parents, I feel so discouraged about continuing my studies, and I want to stay at home and cry. It is difficult to continue my studies because I’m always hungry and I can’t learn when I am hungry.”

To support Regina, World Vision implemented a home visitor scheme to help build confidence and a support network for vulnerable children left orphaned by the disease. Regina’s home visitor, Mr Gia, has played a special part in her life over the past year, as her grandmother Nancy explains.

“Regina had been alone since the death of her parents. Other children were afraid of her and she didn’t have friends. Her home visitor, Mr Gia, was her only friend for a long time.” Having somebody checking up on her is very important to Regina.

“He visits me very much and tells me it is important to go to school. He is very encouraging,” she says.

For Regina, visits from Mr Gia don’t just provide encouragement; he often brings food that she can take to school. Being so poor, Regina frequently has to go without lunch.

“They don’t give us food in school, but with Mr Gia’s help, I can eat lunch sometimes. My biggest wish is to have enough food, so I can focus on my studies. I don’t like being hungry. I want to continue my studies, but sometimes I’m so discouraged and sad.”

Over the course of the crisis, World Vision was able to provide over 30,000 radios to help school lessons to be broadcast in "catch-up" classes, for children unable to attend school. As the crisis ebbed, we cleaned nearly 3000 schools so that children’s education could begin again, while implementing the home visitor scheme to support children like Regina.

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 Regina, is more important than ever. Discover how sponsorship can help a child like Regina, and find out more about the World Vision gardens»