The village of Banfélé is located about 10 kilometers outside of the urban municipality of Faranah in Guinea. It is in this small village of four households where eight-year-old Karamo Keïta lives. He comes from a family of three children, all of whom are boys. Like many other Guinean communities, Banfélé suffered greatly because of Ebola. Out of the four households, the disease affected three–including Karamo’s. 

It all started when Karamo’s mother visited her father who had been infected by Ebola in another neighborhood in Faranah. She then contracted the disease and contaminated her eldest son. Karamo’s grandfather, mother and brother all died from Ebola. Karamo’s father had previously passed from causes unrelated to Ebola. As a result, Karamo was categorized as a “child affected by Ebola.”

In the days following the death of his mother, Karamo took refuge in isolation and in mourning. He was always sad. At times, he refused to eat. He would not talk to anyone. Karamo’s grandmother, his guardian, was of course deeply concerned by the situation. 

Often when facing the loss of loved ones, the kind words of friends or traditional and religious leaders help to restore hope. With various types of support and coping practices, people with a certain level of social maturity manage to overcome the shock of loss. This is not the case for children. Instead of thoughtful words, children need an environment that gives them the opportunity to fulfill their potential and feel safe.

To meet this basic need, a child protection and psychosocial response plan has been developed by UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Promotion of Women & Children. The plan aims to provide a minimum package of services to address the needs of children directly and indirectly affected by Ebola. 

Tostan’s activities fall within the scope of this plan for May 2015 to April 2016. These activities will reach 152 Ebola orphans, 71 of which are girls, spanning 30 households. Ebola-affected households are located in 12 neighborhoods, districts and sectors of the prefecture of Faranah. To date, 37 psychosocial support workshops have been facilitated by 44 community volunteers (including 24 women) in Banfélé and 10 other communities affected by Ebola. A total of 728 children, including 152 Ebola orphans, received psychosocial support to enable them to develop their resiliency. These children come from 393 households, of which Ebola affected 30. The workshops are supported by the parents who come to observe them, before going off to work in the fields. 

The psychosocial workshops have managed to end the isolation of Ebola orphans. Thanks to the workshops in Banfélé, Karamo is smiling again. Before, he would spend all of his time alone, asking for his deceased mother. He has since emerged from isolation and finds joy in playing with other children in his community. Karamo’s wish is to continue playing with his friends and later become a mechanic. With support from UNICEF, 728 children, including 152 orphans, have a play area in their communities. Guineans often say: “A child who does not play is a sick child,” which points to the fact that playing is a key part of a child’s development. Children use games and entertainment to learn about and understand their environment, while also developing their bodies and minds.

In addition to this playing with modern toys, the community volunteers—most of whom are women—share advice, tales and riddles with the children. They also teach local folklore in the form of song and dance. For these communities, the psychosocial workshops help to revive a form of social education that prepares boys and girls to be responsible adults. Formal schooling does not always support this form of education. Some communities already feel that these workshops deserve to be sustained with the support of UNICEF. The President of the Dalmara district, N’Faly Oulare said, “When an activity supports the interest of children, it should be supported by us, parents and by local authorities.”

This story was adapted from the original in French, written by Mouctar Oulare, National Coordinator of Tostan Guinea