Children returning to school after Sierra Leone Ebola crisis Leone need support, says World Vision

(Schools have re-opened across Sierra Leone following last year's devastating Ebola outbreak)(Photo: Jonathan Bundu/World Vision)

Sierra Leone is steadily getting back on its feet after a devastating outbreak of Ebola last year and a milestone in the recovery was the return of 1.7 million children to school on April 14.

Children were kept at home during the last 9 months as the country battled to contain one of its worst Ebola outbreaks.

The closure of the schools was also necessary because many were appropriated for use as treatment centers and needed to be disinfected and refurbished before being re-opened for the start of the new term.

Although the children have returned to the classroom, many have been affected by the crisis to some extent.

The government estimates that 1,450 children in the country caught the virus, and over 8,600 lost one or both parents in the outbreak. 

The country's children have also lost nearly a year of education as a result of the outbreak.  

World Vision said psychosocial support would be "crucial" to helping children return to normality. 

"Most children are very excited about going back to school after being idle at home for so long, but many are also fearful and worried," says Alison Schafer, World Vision's mental health and psychosocial support specialist, who is based in Freetown.

"Although they may be concerned about the possibility of catching Ebola in the classroom, they are more worried that they've forgotten everything they've learned. They're anxious about whether they can ever catch up." 

Teachers have a vital role to play in providing psychosocial support to the children in their care and Schafer has co-written a training manual being used by Sierra Leone's Ministry of Education to help teachers spot signs of stress, including poor focus and irritability.

World Vision has also provided training in psychosocial support to over 1,000 teachers.

But the aid agency has another concern - that some children may never return to school.

"Many children began working — selling firewood and jobs like that — while out of school this past year," Schafer explained.

"It will be hard for struggling families to sacrifice even that small income and send their children back, especially girls. We must advocate that all children have the opportunity to return to school." 

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