Brussels pledges €1 million to help children affected by Ebola

Abdelkader Mohamed [Georgi Gotev]

The European Commission will make €1 million available to help provide education and psychosocial support for children affected and left orphaned by Ebola. EURACTIV Spain reports.

This financing is part of a fund of €11 million that has been earmarked for education projects in conflict zones, as a part of the EU Children of Peace initiative. 

The aid will be channelled into humanitarian projects run by UNICEF and the Save the Children organisation, aimed at helping the children of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The money will be used to reopen schools that were forced to close due to the epidemic.

Additionally, the EU wants to educate children and teachers in disease-prevention, as well as supporting measures that will improve hygiene in schools, with the aim of increasing the population’s resistance to the virus in case of future outbreaks.

Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, commented that, “by investing in their education, we are investing in their future to give them the building blocks for life beyond Ebola.” Last October, Stylianides was appointed as EU’s as a special coordinator on Ebola.

>>Read: Stylianides appointed EU Ebola czar

The announcement comes shortly after the news that Ebola has returned to Sierra Leone, where the virus has been detected in a village to the north of the country. President Ernest Bai Koroma confirmed that one 67-year old woman had died as a result of the new outbreak, and that another woman has tested positive for the disease that has ravaged West Africa. A quarantine has been established.

Around six million children were unable to attend school this year. The total amount of aid provided by the Commission and the EU member states to combat the virus is around €1.8 billion. By the end of 2015, more than 1.5 million children will have received European aid in 26 different countries.

Photo testimony

The European Commission organised a photo exhibition illustrating the EU’s efforts to help children in the Ebola affected countries Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, return to normal life.

Abdelkader Mohamed, an education counsellor working for UNICEF, related his personal experience since December 2014, when he started his mission in Ebola-hit Guinea.

Speaking to an audience in the Commission’s Berlaymont building, he said how shocked he was when he arrived in Forekaria, a Guinea county neighbouring Sierra Leone, where one of the first things he saw were the two houses where all 22 inhabitants had died of the disease.

Mohamed said that Ebola had left more than 6,000 orphans of which 1,200 had lost both parents. At least 800 children have been contaminated with Ebola and at least 500 died, Mohamed said, stressing that the psychological effects of the disease had been devastating. He related how children could not have contacts between them, could not play together. During six months the schools remained closed.

The UNICEF official stated that rumours have had a devastating effect. One of them concerned the “thermoflash”, the infrared thermometer that takes temperature from a close distance. According to the rumours, the thermoflash was contaminating people with Ebola, and the minister of education had to publicly be “thermoflashed” to dispel the rumours.

Mohamed also said that because of the rumours, it was difficult to reopen schools, but this finally took place on 19 January and the children accepted to study also on Saturdays, to catch up with the lost material.

He described the immense joy of children returning to school after their long ordeal, which to a great extent is reflected in the exhibition. He heard children saying that school was the place where they were feeling the most secure. Schools were instrumental for promoting the good practices of washing hands. To a great extent the children themselves played a role in convincing the parents that they should return to school. Special attention was given to orphans.

Jonathan Hyams, the photographer whose works were exposed, said that his experience showed that every child had a very powerful story. He told the story about Joshua, a 15-year boy who is a survivor of Ebola, having lost his father and his younger brother, and was very weak, depressed and with poor sight when the two initially met.

Hyams said that he spent a lot of time in his room and a child protection officer took a particular interest in the boy’s case. One month later Joshua recovered strength and determination to leave the home and step out. He kept a photograph of the time when he was in his worst shape as a symbol of his determination to overcome the difficulties. The picture of Joshua holding the photo of his worst time in life is one of the highlights of the exhibition in the Berlaymont building. 

The Ebola outbreak is threatening to reverse years of progress in education. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 9.4 million children are living in the affected areas of West Africa. Out of this number, around 6 million have been forced to leave school because of the crisis. Many have been traumatised by the consequences of the disease, and some are experiencing stigmatisation and are being discriminated against and even threatened by their communities. More than 16,000 children have lost one or both parents or carers in this crisis.

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