DECEMBER 8, 2014 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
They say you don’t have to be infected to be affected. This is true for 19 year-old Ramatulai Kargbo and his two brothers and sister who survived 42 days of quarantine after losing both their parents to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
Ramatulai is scared she’ll apparently now assume the strange role of breadwinner of her family, being the eldest.
“I’m worried how we are going to survive and stay together as a family,” she says between sobs, adding that her parents’ relatives are nowhere to be seen during this difficult period in their lives.
Ramatulai- a SSS IV pupil of St. Joseph’s Covent, and her two brothers- Mohamed 17 and Abu Bakarr 3, and sister- Fatmata 15, live at 21A George Brook, Dwazark, Freetown. The family was quarantined for 42 days following the death of their parents. It was their father, Musa Kargbo, 42, who first passed away after five days of illness.
“When father fell ill we immediately took him to the Kingharman Road Hospital for treatment,” narrates Ramatulai. “He spent five days at the hospital awaiting the result of his swab test.”
However, Mr. Kargbo eventually died on 17th October 2014 while waiting.
“In fact we didn’t see any test result, they just told us he died of Ebola,” says Ramatulai.
That same day, Ramatulai recalls, the authorities came to their house with military, police and OSD personnel and ordered the family quarantined for 21 days.
“It was a strange feeling,” Ramatulai recollects. “It’s like we were being punished for a crime committed by our father. The presence of the security officials and prying eyes of neighbours and onlookers was so embarrassing and frightening.”
But the worst was yet to come for the Kargbo family. Several days into the quarantine, their mother, Haja Bangura, fell ill.
“We called 117 for help but nobody came to take our mother away for treatment,” alleges Ramatulai. The authorities, she says, only came when their mother ultimately passed away on the 31st October, 2014, almost two weeks after her husband.
“We were terrified,” sobs Ramatulai. “It was too much for us to absorb. We thought we were all going to die one by one before the quarantine period expires.”
Because their mother died while on quarantine, she says the authorities told them they would have to be quarantined for another 21 days. Apart from the initial food supply from the World Food Programme (WFP), they received no further allocation throughout the additional quarantine period, according to Ramatulai.
“We survived through compassionate neighbours who send us food through the security officials,” she says.
However, she says during this period officials from the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, Unicef, WHO, WFP visited them at various points asking them questions relating to their health.
“No test was conducted on us throughout the quarantine period,” she confirms, adding that strangely none of them fell ill or showed any symptom of the Ebola virus.
After 42 days of quarantine the surviving Kargbo family was cleared by the authorities as Ebola-free and they were each given a certificate to confirm their negative status.
However, for the Kargbo family this is no victory and no time for celebration. They are still grappling with the loss of their parents; relatives and friends have abandoned them; they have to cope with the stigma associated with their unfortunate situation, and the future looks all gloomy.
And there’s little help from the community, if any. Community reaction to their plight has been mixed, says Ramatulai.
“Some people, especially our neighbours, are sympathetic with us, but most other people provoke us a lot,” she says. “When we go to fetch water from the community stream, people move away when they see us coming.”
Nevertheless, Ramatulai is grateful to God she and her brothers and sister are still alive.
“We know all is not lost, and we thank God for our lives,” says Ramatulie, “but I don’t know what is going to happen to us…I’m scared.”
Like the Kargbo family, more than 7,000 children in Sierra Leone that have been orphaned by Ebola, according to UNICEF, share an uncertain future.
Now Ramatulai is not only seeing herself assuming the role of breadwinner but also as mother to her 3 year-old brother.
Who’ll pay the rent? Who’ll put food on the table? And by the time the country is declared Ebola-free and schools re-open, will Ramatulie (and his brother and sister) be able to return to the classroom?
Credit: Development & Economic Journalists Association-Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).