Ebola orphans and survivors need ongoing help

Published: 14 July 2015 12:00 CET

Corinne Ambler, IFRC

Fatoumata Soumah speaks with the numbness of someone who has experienced severe trauma; too exhausted to laugh, smile, or even cry.

The 22-year-old beat Ebola, but 13 members of her family did not, including her mother and father. In the space of a few weeks her life changed forever.

“At first I didn’t know I had Ebola so I didn’t follow the protective measures, because I didn’t know Ebola existed. But then I had headaches, vision problems, fatigue, stomach ache and vomiting, so I went to the clinic and they said I had it.

“Seventeen of our family had it, and 13 of us died. My mother and father, all gone.”

Fatoumata hands over a plastic sleeve containing 4 certificates - proof that she, her 2 brothers and a sister have been cured of the disease. But that means nothing to her neighbours in Dixinn, in the slums of Guinea’s capital Conakry.

“The neighbours won’t talk to us, or buy from us. When the electricity or water company comes for money and we can’t pay them, they laugh at us. Now I have no relations with my neighbours. I’m worried about my life and I don’t know what the future holds,” she says.

“I’m stigmatized in the community and it has had a big impact on my life. My parents used to make a living selling iron but now they are dead, we don’t have any work, and when we look for jobs no one wants to employ us because we had Ebola.”

Challenges of raising younger siblings, alone

Fatoumata, who is bringing up three children on her own, is particularly worried about her 14-year-old sister Bountouraby, a clever girl who is now struggling at school because of a legacy of health issues from the Ebola virus disease.

“I have a problem with my vision. At school I can’t see the blackboard. I want to see a doctor about this problem but that costs money and we don’t have it,” Bountouraby explains. “The consultation is 20,000 to 30,000 Guinean Francs (3 - 4 US dollars) and then there will be the treatment on top of that. We don’t have the money.”

Fatoumata also has ongoing eye problems and headaches. To make matters worse, she went to the hospital a few days ago feeling unwell, and has been diagnosed with typhoid and malaria. She says if she could run a business of her own, her family would be in a much better position.

“I’m thinking about the future, what we need. We all have children and they need to eat. We need money to start a business so we can make a living. If we can have money to build a house, we can make a business out of renting it out to make money. Or if I can get money to start a business selling goods in the market I will be able to help my children and my little sister. They need to study, go to school.”

Fatoumata leads the way to the back of the small dirt section where the family’s house once stood. The roof has blown off and there are only three crumbling walls left. The useless structure is now filled with rubbish. Asked where they all sleep, she points to various outbuildings and shelters around the small garden.  

“How do we cope with this life? When one of us has money we buy each other food. We have an obligation to support each other. We are the same family. All we can do is just love each other and support each other. Together we can love and support ourselves.”

Over the next two and a half years, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will focus on helping people impacted by Ebola, especially the young, single mothers, orphans and survivors, to regain health, livelihoods and food security.

Fatoumata and her family will soon receive 13 condolence kits, one for each family member who has died, that contain rice, oil, sugar, milk, soap, chlorine and hand sanitizer. IFRC has assessed the family’s damaged house and is in the process of getting quotes to rebuild it. The Red Cross has also taken Bountouraby to a doctor for her eyesight problems and will help her get glasses so she can see at school.