Ebola crisis: life on the front line in Liberia
By Amy Richmond, Child Protection Adviser in Liberia
My name is Amy, and I’m in Liberia, responding to the Ebola crisis – the deadliest outbreak in history. It’s perhaps the most challenging assignment of my Save the Children career.
Waking up to Ebola
Waking up in my room, this Ebola assignment feels almost routine – like any of the dozens of emergency assignments I’ve been on for Save the Children. My surroundings are strangely familiar. A simple bed, the glowing red alarm clock circa 1982 and heavily screened windows through which stifling hot air wafts, even in the early morning.
But once I step outside, I realise this is an assignment like no other. First, I’m overwhelmed by the sharp smell of the chlorine solution used as a disinfectant here, then by the otherworldly sight of workers fully outfitted in infection control suits, as well as the often graphic Ebola prevention signs. I take a deep breath. Now, the real work begins.
The tragic discovery of David*
The children we’re helping here are facing overwhelming tragedy. I want to tell you about an 8-year-old boy. Let’s call him David.
On a routine area survey, where relief workers go house to house searching for people who may have had contact with the Ebola virus, aid workers came across David. He was in his home – about the size of a garden shed, though not as well built – surrounded by the dead bodies of his family.
I shudder to think what David went through being there when his family died from the painful sickness caused by the Ebola virus. No child should go through that horror. Miraculously, he survived. It’s our job to ensure he can overcome this tragedy and find a safe place for him to grow up.
Children are always the most vulnerable in crisis – and Ebola is no exception. My colleagues and I keep children safe from harm. We help children to overcome horrific, traumatic experiences. We also reunite children with family members if they get lost or become orphaned.
Taking necessary precautions
I know I can’t take care of children if I don’t take care of myself. And Save the Children has very strict protocols to ensure my safety.
Everywhere I go, I use hand sanitiser, wash with chlorine solution, and step through a bleach bath or am hosed with a foot shower. I take medicines, wear infection-control gloves and have protective nets to keep other diseases at bay, knowing there’s little access to healthcare here.
And I’m exceedingly careful about what I eat and drink.
Making a difference for children
We work long, gruelling days, but at the same time, we’re energised by knowing we’re making a difference for vulnerable children in this crisis.
The days are full and varied. In the morning, I read the latest briefings and meet with our Child Protection team on our response work for the day, which may include caring for orphaned or unaccompanied children like David. In the evenings, we work on documents to secure much needed funding.
Finally, I collapse on my bed in the oddly comforting red glow of the alarm clock, ready to sleep for a few hours – and do it all again tomorrow.
*Name changed to protect identity