Sierra Leone: Impact of COVID-19 on orphans

By: Alimamy Jalloh

Tissana Orphanage Home, Tombo Highway on the Western Area Rural District

When Covid-19 hits Sierra Leone, citizens became apprehensive of their health, social life and cost of living. ‘Tissana Orphanage’ located in the Western Area Rural District, off Tombo Peninsular highway in the outskirt of Freetown, is a home for scores of orphaned children.

Though children in the orphanage suffered from the hardship brought about as a result of COVID-19, including restrictions, closure of schools and increase in negative feelings, management of the orphanage were successful in keeping the home free from the coronavirus.

The staff in charge of the Orphanage, Mary Bangura, disclosed that they really encountered several major challenges at the home during the height of the pandemic in the country. She noted that although the orphanage is purely meant for children who had lost or could not identify their parents anymore, a total of 40 inmates initially were hosted, but presently they have 39, (21 girls, 18 boys, 1 female left few weeks ago).

“As we all know when the government through the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) closed schools in the country, we also closed our school in the Orphanage. We were in one location constantly during the height of the pandemic and lockdown, and no one was let out of the compound,” she said. “Because of the closure of schools, as an institution, we did not to let the children sit like that and become lazy. We conducted remedial lessons for them. It really affected our Orphanage in Tissana Village, on our intending projects and plans ahead for the children,” said Madam Bangura.

“Occasionally, we used to take the children to the beach to have some fun and feel good at home but that stopped due to the Coronavirus in the country,” she said.

Another major challenge faced by management of the orphanage, according to Madam Bangura, was the use of borehole water facility situated in the Orphanage. It was to be used exclusively by the orphanage, but due to water shortage in the community, the hand-pump facility was utilized both by inmates and villagers of Tissana.

According to her, this genuine interaction, posed a serious threat to the children in the Orphanage during the height of the Covid-19 in 2020, and at present.

“To prevent the spread of infection, we limit the number of people entering the compound to fetch water and we ensured that they maintained social distancing,” said Madam Bangura.

Bangura said that visitation of relatives was suspended, and later eased with the introduction of tough measures to protect children from contracting COVID-19.

She said that a family visitor will be asked to wait outside the orphanage, and urged to maintain social distancing, hand washing with soap and wearing of face mask.

“No physical interaction between children and their relatives was permitted,” she said.

Bangura said that officials of the Ministry of Social Welfare visited the home and provided them with Convid-19 hand washing detergents such as hand sanitizer, Dettol, and face masks, and educated them on how to prevent children from the coronavirus.

Kadiatu Sesay, a child at the orphanage, who is attending the Grace International School in Tissana Village, said… “Because of Convid-19, we were restricted by our teachers not to move around the compound and play with friends like that.” She said that before the emergence of Convid-19, they used to go to the nearby beach in Tissana to play and interact with school mates. But because of the coronavirus, all those activities were restricted or stopped. “There is increase in negative feelings, and we thought the world is coming to an end,” she said.

Francis Kallay Kamara, Principal of Grace International Academy in Tissana Orphanage Home, said ”At the height of Covid-19, learning was not effective. “Because of the lockdown we immediately called management meeting in the school and told teachers that at the height of the coronavirus they should not come to school.”

Nationally, 22% Children are not living with their biological parents, and 13% of children have at least one deceased parent. Based on a national headcount of Street children in Sierra Leone, conducted between September and November 2011, 49,698 children across the country live and work on the streets for their survival. The report also states that, there are 500,000 children living in informal fostering (Ref: SLPP Manifesto 2018, pg: 48).

According to a report by Save the Children, globally, more than 8 in 10 children felt that they were learning little or nothing at all, and two thirds of parents and caregivers reported their child had received no contact from teachers since their schools closed.

The report, “The Hidden Impact of Covid-19 on Children: A Global Research Series” also shows that COVID-19 significant impacted on the psycho-social wellbeing of children and their caregivers. More than 8 in 10 children reported an increase in negative feelings, according to the report.

The report shows that the poorest households, households with disabilities, female headed-households and girls, are the hardest hit.

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19, in partnership with Sierra Leone Association of Journalists.

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