Shunned for having Ebola
Abibatu, 18, is a student and assistant head girl at GEC-funded St Joseph’s School in Moyamba, Sierra Leone. She’s also a girls’ rights advocate for Plan International. Last year, Abibatu lost half of her family to Ebola – Ebola took the lives of her father and two brothers. One brother and three sisters survived.
“Before Ebola I was living with my parents and brothers and sisters all together, it was a happy life.
“These problems are quite common here. You see children aged six or seven sent by their parents to the river to fetch water or carrying heavy loads on their heads. Sometimes after doing all that they don’t get the chance to study because they’re so tired.
“In June I went to Port Loko for Day of the African Child. We were having a debating competition. I debated about quality education for all and we came first.
“As assistant head girl at school, I get students into assembly, lead prayers when the teachers are not around and make sure the school is quiet. I’m a commercial studies student and do costing, finance and maths. I want to be an accountant and am trying my hardest.
“My oldest brother, Joseph, was a doctor working in Makeni [a neighbouring district]. He operated on two patients. One of them had Ebola and through that, Joseph got it. My father and brother, Samuel, went to see him. When they came back, they both starting showing signs of Ebola – they were vomiting had diarrheoa and their eyes were red.
“We called the medical people that very day and they came to carry my father and Samuel to the treatment centre. On the way there, my father lost his life. Samuel was at the centre for two days then he died.
“They took us to the treatment centre and we were really struggling. [My brother] Lanphia didn’t talk for three days. He was just lying there. As for me, I was having really bad stomach ache. One time, they even told us that our brother [Lanphia] had died but after some time they said he just went into a coma.
“Eventually they discharged us and took us to Moyamba. We had lost our mother, father and older brother. It had taken just 20 days.
“People daren’t come close to us now. They won’t come to the house and some are even afraid to talk to us. When I went to the market to buy some things, the motorbike taxi wouldn’t let me on the bike. I feel sad about that.
“I just want people to know that if the virus was still in us then the medical people wouldn’t have discharged us. But because they know we are well, they discharged us.
“We’re meeting with Plan International and are going on the radio to talk to people about it. We’re going to say that whenever someone shows any of the signs of Ebola, they should quickly report it to the medical people.
“There are other problems caused by Ebola. I heard of 15 girls in this village who have become pregnant because they’re not going to school and have nothing to do. Some of them are as young as 13 or 14.
“Some other people are homeless because of Ebola. Some rented their house and when they got the virus, they went to the treatment centre, and were given their notice when they got back. This is our house, built by our father and left to us, otherwise we’d be given notice too. We had a tenant living with us. When we got back from the treatment centre, she’d packed her bags and left.”
Despite Abibatu’s experience, she’s still fighting for her dreams for the future, “I want to go back to school and continue my studies. I still want to be an accountant.”
This week, Abibatu will be joining and sharing her story with some of the most influential women at the Women In the World Summit in London.
To date, Plan International has helped over 2.5 million people, including 1.2 million children during the Ebola epidemic.