Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 October 2017
The 2017/2018 school year has started in earnest in Sierra Leone, and many children are happily being sent off to school by their parents with brand new uniforms, school bags, and books.
However, many other children are not that lucky. These are orphans who lost one or both parents to the Ebola Virus Disease that ravaged the country in 2014 and 2015. Known simply as Ebola Orphans, there are thousands living around the Mano River Union basin of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In particular, hundreds of these children living in Sierra Leone cannot access proper education as their guardians cannot afford to fully support them.
To ameliorate their plight, the government of Sierra Leone is collaborating with the President of the regional body of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Protection, Gender and Children Affairs.
Sierra Leone’s Minister responsible for Children and Social Welfare – Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, has this week on Wednesday, October 18th 2017, launched the start of an educational support scheme for 1,000 Ebola Orphans around the country.
Jointly funded by ECOWAS and the Ministry, the project will ensure at least 400 orphans from Western Area (Freetown) and up to 600 from the Provinces are provided with school bags and other school items, as well as cash transfer of Le200,000 given to guardians of orphans in Primary School and Le300,000 given to guardians of orphans in Secondary School. The cash transfer is to enable the guardians to purchase new uniforms and shoes.
The project is being implemented nationwide by the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES) who are now the Key partners of government in all social protection issues for Ebola-affected citizens. In her statement, Minister Blyden said the government and partners have spent a lot of time and money on capacitating SLAES to be a self-motivated entity that is capable of implementing projects. She said today that the government is very proud of SLAES and fully trusted them.
Minister Blyden said that President Koroma has been keeping to his promise to Ebola affected citizens which include Ebola Orphans across the country. Whilst burnishing the credentials of Mohamed Chernoh Chericoco Bah, her party’s Vice Presidential candidate for the 2018 elections, the Minister said Bah is well known for giving out scholarships to hundreds of needy children across the country. The Minister said that the APC government has always been concerned about educating the next generation.
She said she has already made a request to ECOWAS which was being “very seriously considered” for this educational support to Ebola orphans to continue into next academic year and future years. This year’s support is half a Billion Leones and will provide support to 1,000 Ebola Orphans.
She said the orphans have lost parents, but should not lose hope as government is there for them. She encouraged the guardians and caregivers of the orphans to take good care of the orphans. “It is only God who can adequately reward” she said. Minister Blyden strongly advised that the cash transfer collected was to be used only for educational support and nothing else.
The President of SLAES, Yusuf Kabba said they are very thankful to the government, especially Minister Blyden for her patience and love for Ebola affected citizens. He said the orphans have lost their parents, but Dr. Blyden is there as a mother for all the orphans across the country.
He said the happiness of these orphans is very important to the Survivors Association, as many of the children’s parents died in front of survivors in Ebola Treatment Centers where they had been admitted. He said whilst the parents were dying, they were begging others not to forget the children they were leaving behind. So those who survived the disease owe it to those who died.
“This is why we are implementing this project. We owe it to those who died in front of our eyes,” Mr. Yusuf Kabba said.
The distribution and verification process for the scheme will last three days in the Western Area, following which, the Ebola Survivors are going to travel around the entire country with the support of Ministry officials to distribute the cash transfer and other educational materials to needy Ebola Orphans.