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Youth Lead the Way After Ebola

Plan is assisting youth who are on the front lines protecting vulnerable children and communities.

Adamsay is relieved the Ebola outbreak is finally over.

The 14-year-old from a slum area in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, bore witness to unimaginable devastation.

More than 11,000 people across West Africa lost their lives to the deadly virus. In a fragile country like Sierra Leone, which was already ravaged by 10 years of bloody civil war, the disaster has had enormous consequences.

"I was afraid of being infected by my friends; when the Ebola outbreak was at its worst we could not see each other,” she said. “For a long time I just sat at home and could not go to school."

Adamsay is lucky. She did not lose any family members from the disease and her father was able to keep his job and continue to put aside money for her education.

"Several of my friends got married, because their parents could not afford to continue looking after them,” she said. “Some of them even had a baby and dropped out of school because it is their responsibility to care for the child and cook."

Recently, West Africa was declared Ebola-free, but Sierra Leone has been left with a large number of children and young people who have lost their parents and close relatives to the disease. In many places the risk of neglect, exploitation, and early marriage has increased.

Plan International works with volunteers from local youth groups to protect children in the country.

One of them is 23-year-old Abdul Rahman. For him, it is important that children are allowed to just be children.

"We had problems with child labor, teenage marriages, and abuse of girls before, but it has become much worse after the Ebola outbreak because people have become poorer and many children have nothing,” he said. “Therefore, we, the young people from [this district], have taken on the responsibility of informing children about their rights and improving security. Children need to play and go to school, not to work or be married off. "

Before the Ebola outbreak, Abdul was in school and was the father of a young daughter. Today he has dropped out of school, is unemployed, and struggling to recover after losing his mother, younger brother, and daughter in just three years.

Even though he has been through unimaginable tragedy, he sees it as his duty to help others. He and his friends have been at the forefront of the fight against Ebola since the outbreak began.

With the support of Plan, hundreds of young volunteers like him have provided guidance to the community on how best to protect themselves against the disease. They were trained to isolate potential Ebola sufferers until the health authorities could reach them to prevent the disease from spreading.

Ahead lies huge reconstruction efforts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea – the three most affected countries in West Africa. Health care systems have completely broken down, and there is still an acute shortage of ordinary necessities like food, soap, and clean drinking water.

Plan has established health centers and is providing affected families with basic relief items. In order to ensure that the fragile progress in Sierra Leone continues, Plan is supporting youth groups in Freetown’s slums, so that the young can lead the fight for better conditions for slum children and young people while helping to reduce the risk of the disease returning.

The journey ahead will be long. But, with organizations like Plan and individuals like Abdul leading the way forward, there is hope.

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