Via The Observer, an op-ed by Bintu Salloh: We have survived Ebola – and its stigma. But life is hard.
Ebola is no longer a strange name. Its mark is everywhere. Wherever you look, you can see this virus and how it affects everything it touches. The community where I was living in Aruna Street has been suffering badly. And it’s been hardest for people like us.
When my auntie was told she would survive Ebola we felt blessed. That was seven weeks ago. But back in the community the fact that she was ever touched by the disease became a curse.
The community was fearful of us. People had been calling us “Ebola Family” and I was thought of as the “Ebola Girl”. I felt ashamed. So did my brothers and sisters. It’s hard to live in a place where you feel that everyone is talking about you. The other children were told not to come near us and never touch us. They would drive us away if we came near, shouting at us to stay away because we had Ebola. All because my aunt is one of a few people to survive the disease.
I used to hide in our house. Even in the past when I’ve been in pain from hunger I didn’t feel as unhappy as hearing the things they would say about us. No one wants to be an Ebola Girl. The treatment was so bad that we had to move away.
Not long ago, I heard on the radio that the government in Freetown was saying that Ebola survivors should be seen as special heroes.
Even the president was looking at survivors with respect. But back where we live [in the east of the country] it didn’t feel like that. Freetown seemed very far away.
My father left us long ago but, somehow, because of all our troubles, I thought that maybe he might return for me and my brothers and sisters. But he never came. And he sent nothing for us. If it wasn’t for the care packages we received from the charity Street Child I don’t know how we would have survived. So after the quarantine was lifted, at last we were able to move away to Dauda Town.
From what we’re hearing from the radio, the number of people suffering from Ebola is getting lower in this part of the country, but I hear it’s getting worse in other parts. Kenema is still under quarantine though. Movement is still limited.
The real struggle is day to day, trying to make money for food. Many of the usual businesses have not been able to trade. Even though my auntie is strong again she can’t do much for us. Her business before was selling gari [pounded cassava] but we used all the money she had to eat and she has not been able to start up again. Anyway, the market where she used to buy her gari to sell on has been closed –there is a ban on public gatherings.
Now we’re trying to make a little money from backyard gardening, growing potato leaves and selling them around our community. But many other people are doing the same. I might be selling potato leaves all day and only earn 1,000 leones [15p].
If my auntie is not helped to start her business again, how will she be able to take care of me and our family by herself? Who will support us to go back to school when they open? Already I’ve missed a term of school and we’re still waiting. No one knows when school will open again.
People, however, are beginning to learn more about this disease. And this makes it easier for a family like us. If people understand a little more then they are less cruel to those that have been touched by the disease.
No one calls us the Ebola Family here. Life once again has some hope that things will get better. And even if they don’t think of my auntie the Ebola survivor as a hero, I can at least be glad that they no longer call me Ebola Girl.