SIERRA LEONE: Don Bosco Fambul Free Child Hotline Provided Critical Support During Ebola Crisis
(MissionNewswire) Don Bosco Fambul, located 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. Since 2010, the organization has provided a countrywide phone counseling service.
At one time, nearly half the calls focused on teen relationship issues. Since the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, the counseling line has turned into a widely used resource for Ebola prevention and support. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that there were more than 13,264 confirmed Ebola cases and 3,949 deaths from the virus in Sierra Leone alone.
“At the beginning of the Ebola epidemic, the children asked for information about symptoms and for protective measures,” says Brother Lothar Wagner, director of Don Bosco Fambul. “From September 2014 forward, we became a crisis intervention measure against the deadly disease.”
The organization began advertising its free hotline as a preventative defense against Ebola in May 2014 and youth were encouraged to call to access critical information about the virus. Since that time, more than 25,000 calls about Ebola have been answered and fielded. The data gathered as a result of the calls has helped the country’s national registration office identify Ebola hotspots and crisis regions. The head of Don Bosco Fambul’s telephone counseling department maintained permanent contact with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for Social Affairs as well as the Ebola command center. In addition, food deliveries were organized to the quarantine zones identified by these calls.
Through the hotline, Don Bosco Fambul brought hope to the children and adolescents of one of the poorest country in the world during a terrible time of crisis. For Fatmata and Samuel, who lost their parents to Ebola, Don Bosco Fambul provided much needed refuge. Both had contracted Ebola but were treated and recovered. Relatives looted their home and neglected the children, leaving them languishing in a hospital in Port Loko until Fatmata recalled one of her teachers telling her of the Don Bosco Fambul hotline.
Once connected with the organization, Fatmata was provided immediate assistance from a Don Bosco Fambul social worker. The children were cared for at the Don Bosco Interim Care Center in Freetown and were both eventually reunited with relatives and returned back to school. Their parent’s home has been renovated and both receive supportive family services.
In order to help children like Fatmata and Samuel, Salesian missionaries at Don Bosco Fambul, with assistance from the Catholic non-governmental development organization, Manos Unidas of Spain, transformed a school into a home for 120 boys orphaned by Ebola. This unique care center for orphans on the Don Bosco Fambul campus meets the children’s basic needs while 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 21 days and any change is recorded immediately.”
Youth who do not have extended family to go to are able to stay long-term 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.