Liberia: Ebola has forced an 18-year-old boy to become a father figure
Elder brother to father figure is not an easy transition – especially not when you’re only 18 years old.
But Griffith has no choice. Ebola has taken his mother and two of his three sisters, and now only he and seven-year-old Annie* are left in the house.
“It is difficult”, Griffith confides. “When she does something naughty and I tell her off she gets upset and says she misses our mother.
“I don’t have patience like our mother did.”
Bereaved and forced to sleep outside
Griffith and Annie live in a basic home in Margibi County, Liberia, with very few possessions: most of what they owned had to be burned after their mother Margaret, sisters Mary, 11, and Madeline, 19, and Madeline’s 6-month-old baby boy died from Ebola.
During the six days they waited for their home to be thoroughly disinfected with chlorine, Griffith and Annie had to sleep outside, during the height of the rainy season.
”It was cold and uncomfortable but we hugged each other to stay warm,” Griffith tells me.
Relying on relatives, the government – and Save the Children
They have no income, relying on financial help from relatives who have little to spare, on the generosity of their close-knit community, and on help from Save the Children and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW).
We provided them with food and water to get them through their 21-day quarantine, and when it ended we provided a cooking pot, bucket, towel, and a mattress for them to sleep on.
These items make up the bulk of their possessions, but Griffith does own a mobile phone. It allows him to receive calls from Kou, 32, who works for the MOHSW and speaks to him regularly to see how he is coping.
A kindly voice of reason
Kou, who received training from Save the Children on how to provide Psychosocial First Aid, tells me: “When their mother was taken away it laid heavily on their mental state.
“Griffith thought all hope was gone and that no-one would care for them again. They felt they had nothing to live for.
“I came to say ‘No, you still have to live. You can still bounce back, go to school, get an education and help your sister’.”
Kou spoke to the community to make sure they knew that once Griffith and Annie were out of quarantine, they need not be avoided.
Her efforts seem to have done the trick – other children are happy to play with Annie now, and Griffith reports happily that he been able to go and collect water from the local water pump without anyone complaining.
Stoic and determined to help others
Their uncle Emmanuel is keeping up their rent payments to ensure they keep a roof over their heads, but Griffith worries how they will cope.
Despite this, Ebola has not altered his plans for the future. He is a talented student and when the schools reopen he aims to finish high school and go to university.
“I want to study medicine”, he says. “I want to be able to help other people when they get sick”.
*Name changed to protect identity