Double quarantined Ebola orphans get help


January 22, 2015  By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

A young Sierra Leonean family of four who lost both parents to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in October last year has received help from well meaning people.

Michael Leigh, a Project Manager by profession living in London, read the story of the Dwarzark orphans on line. Leigh was so emotionally touched by the story that he confessed he was still crying when writing a message via email to this reporter pledging his commitment to help.

“Am in tears as I write you this message,” wrote Leigh. “These children really need ‘proper’ help until they are capable of taking care of themselves. I cannot see myself eating and wasting food, here in London, whilst knowing that these wonderful children are not in a position to feed nor fend for themselves. That would not be humanitarian. I promise you that for as long as there is breath in my body, these children will never starve, even if I have to alter my lifestyle to provide for them.”

Leigh continued: “I will now endeavour to work harder to provide for them. I promise that they will all go to school and complete school. They will become graduates. That is my wish and my AIM. They will have a FUTURE. I would rather go without, than see them go without. This is my Calling. I have to do this. I want to do this. I will do it for them.”

Matching his words with action, Leigh sent money for the Kargbo family to enjoy Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays and also opened a bank account in Ramatulie’s name. He spoke via mobile phone to the family and has been in touch ever since.

Furthermore, Leigh is planning to ship ‘some clothes and other goodies’ for the family. When he last spoke to the family, 3 year-old Bakarr asked for a bicycle.

“I understand their situation because I experienced a similar situation when growing up,” said Leigh, who also specializes in Banking and Stock Broking Systems. He owns the domain, but it is not yet live; and also runs a Property Investment Company.

“I am awaiting the growth of the tiny stock trading facility that Sierra Leone uses (via Nigeria). Then I will put it live. Background work is already ongoing,” he said humbly.

Another reader who got moved by the story of the Dwarzark Ebola orphans is the current Miss Sierra Leone, Margaret Murray. She read the story on social media (WhatsApp) and felt instinctively that she should help.

“They are just kids and they need help,” says Murray. “Someone should help or else the girl might do something she will ever regret.”

Murray was on her way to Nigeria when she read the story, but promised to meet the family in person when she returns. She wants to foot the rent of their apartment and include the family as recipient of any charity she will do in the future.

Selo Karbah, a child care provider living in the United Kingdom, also read the story on Facebook.

“This story is so sad for me,” she wrote the author afterwards. “Honestly I could well take them all. I am willing to provide education for the young boy when my school reopens.”

Karbah owns Blessing Children’s Centre and Primary School in Sierra Leone.

“My own idea is that it will be best for one person to take them, based on the circumstances in which both parents died. From a child provider’s point of view, and my vast experience of working and caring for children, they cannot be separated,” she suggested.

Karbah’s greatest passion is working with and caring for children regardless of their religion, sex, ethnicity, family status.

“I believe that in order for us to build a brighter Sierra Leone (and a better world) then we must build our children now, for they are the future of the world. Therefore, I seek to contribute to the brightest future of the world if not Sierra Leone,” she said.

In addition, several other Sierra Leoneans living abroad were touched by the story of the Ebola orphans. Ramatulie said various people visited them at their 21A George Brook, Dwarzark, Freetown residence claiming they were sent by their relatives living abroad to crosscheck whether their story was true.

“They promised to get back to us,” said Ramatulie.

19 year-old Ramatulie Kargbo and his two younger brothers and sister survived 42 days of quarantine but lost both their parents during that period to the EVD.

Ramatulie said that she was scared she would 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 said between sobs, adding that her parents’ relatives were nowhere to be seen during such difficult period in their lives.

Ramatulie – a SSS IV pupil of St. Joseph’s Convent, and her two brothers – Mohamed 17 and Abu Bakarr 3, and sister – Fatmata 15, are still living together.

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,” narrated Ramatulie. “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,” said Ramatulie.

That same day, Ramatulie recalled, 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,” Ramatulie recollected. “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,” alleged Ramatulie. The authorities, she explained, only came when their mother ultimately passed away on the 31st October, 2014, almost two weeks after her husband.

“We were terrified,” sobbed Ramatulie. “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 said 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 Ramatulie.

“We survived through compassionate neighbours who send us food through the security officials,” she said.

However, she said 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 alleged, 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, said Ramatulie.

“Some people, especially our neighbours, are sympathetic to us, but most other people provoke us a lot,” she said. “When we go to fetch water from the community stream, people move away when they see us coming.”

Nevertheless, Ramatulie 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,” said 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 Ramatulie is not only seeing herself assuming the role of breadwinner but also as mother to her 3 year-old brother.

Follow the initial story on:

(Note: Photo for this story has the consent of the family for publication.)

Credit: Development & Economic Journalists Association-Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).