(MissionNewswire) The number of new Ebola cases in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea is in decline, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since the outbreak started, WHO has reported more than 11,841 confirmed Ebola cases and 3,747 deaths from the virus in Sierra Leone alone. A total of 79 confirmed new cases of Ebola were reported in the week ending on March 22, which is the lowest weekly total in 2015, according to WHO.
Salesian missionaries report more than 530 children who have lost both of their parents to Ebola and another 153 who have lost either their father or mother to the virus across the three affected West African countries. Salesian missionaries living and working in Sierra Leone have been responding with preventative education, food aid, medical supplies and other assistance since the outbreak began.
The Salesian-run Don Bosco Fambul in Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, is one of the country’s leading child-welfare organizations and has been on the forefront of efforts to help prevent Ebola in local communities and provide care for children left orphaned.
With assistance from the Catholic non-governmental development organization, Manos Unidas of Spain, Salesian missionaries at Don Bosco Fambul have recently transformed a school into a home for 120 boys orphaned by Ebola. This unique orphanage on the Don Bosco Fambul campus meets the children’s basic needs while also providing schooling and education on health and hygiene. Precautions around health and hygiene, including a focus on preventative measures, are extremely stringent since the orphans have all been in contact with people infected by Ebola.
“Because the Ebola virus has an incubation period of 21 days, sometimes it is thought initially that the children are not infected, and some have even come with false certifications of a clean bill of health but it may be just that the symptoms have not yet appeared,” says Father Jorge Crisafulli, Provincial of the Salesians in English-speaking West Africa. “All the boys who come to us, no matter where they come from, pass an initial period in quarantine cared for by nurses who have survived the virus. Their temperature is taken every three hours for the entire twenty-one days and any change is recorded immediately.”
The orphanage has a designated isolation area called Zone A which is a quarantined tent where up to 60 boys stay for their first 21 days at the orphanage. Strict preventative health protocols are enforced within this area such as a special handle to turn water on and off in the shower to ensure that no one is touching anything that has been touched by someone else.
The goal of the orphanage is to eventually reunite the boys with extended family that can care for them such as aunts, uncles and grandparents.
“When a child comes to us and is proven to be healthy, social workers and volunteers from Sierra Leone go to his village of origin to find someone of his extended family, so that he can return to them,” adds Fr. Crisafulli. “But this is not always possible, either because no one is left alive or because their families do not want to take care of the child.”
Often, Salesian missionaries at Don Bosco Fambul run into complications when trying to place boys with extended family such as struggles over land rights.
“One of the serious problems that we have encountered is that sometimes the extended family does not want the child because they want to keep the land of the dead parents that rightfully belongs to the child survivor. So they refuse. They say the child is a witch or a wizard and that it is their fault that the family died, and then they keep the land that rightfully belongs to the young person. For that reason, we have hired lawyers who take care of these problems, so that these children will have a future,” explains Fr. Crisafulli.
Boys who do not have extended family to go to are able to stay at Don Bosco Fambul, attend school and participate in activities such as music, dance and organized games. Counseling is also available to help them successfully transition into adulthood.
Headquartered in New Rochelle, New York, Salesian Missions has launched an Ebola Emergency Fund to assist Salesian missionaries in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone who are working to help contain the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. To raise money for the fund, the Catholic nonprofit aid organization has launched an emergency fundraising campaign and is issuing an urgent appeal for donations. Go to www.SalesianMissions.org/ebola to give.