UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
Assa Conde Bah, a 4-year-old Ebola survivor in Kankan, Guinea, who lost her mother to the disease, participates in a play and recreation session organized by UNICEF and NGO Enfance du Globe, which provides her psychosocial support and helps her reintegrate into the community.
Four-year-old Assa Conde Bah takes her turn, and when she finishes, the other kids break into a cheer. She grins brightly.
Two weeks before, none of the other children here would play with her. As a survivor of Ebola, she was feared and stigmatized.
This stigmatization is all too common, and it affects not just Ebola survivors but also the relatives of victims. Group play and recreational activities are one way UNICEF and partner NGOs are working to help Ebola-affected children fit back into their communities.
As of mid-September, UNICEF had identified and registered 5,951 children who lost one or both parents to the Ebola virus. Among them are 58 children here in Kankan who now receive counselling and support.
Today, for example, children who have lost parents to the disease are mixing with children who have not been so directly affected. Along with supporting social reintegration, these sessions offer a way for community volunteer counsellors to provide children with the psychosocial support they may need.
“The play sessions help to eliminate any form of stigma that there might be against children who are Ebola survivors,” says Mamadou Gueladjo Barry, a social worker with Enfance du Globe, an NGO that partners with UNICEF. “These kids have also lost parents, and some have lost hope. We listen to them and talk to them.”
Eleven-year-old Lancine Diallo lost his mother to Ebola and is now being looked after solely by his father. Lancine has been coming to the play sessions since they started at the beginning of September. He loves sports and especially likes the days when he gets to play football. Lancine says that he hasn’t suffered from stigmatization himself, but he saw that when Assa arrived, she was excluded from games.
Lancine Diallo, 11, lost his mother to Ebola. He has been attending the play and recreation sessions in the Kankan neighbourhood of Dar-es-Salaam since the beginning of September.
“But now it’s ok,” he says. “Everyone plays with her. In the future, if I ever saw children excluding someone else, I would go and explain to them why it’s wrong.”
The play sessions have nonetheless been good for Lancine, too, Mr. Barry believes, because, he explains matter-of-factly, “They have helped him cope with the death of his mother.”
Keeping things interesting
The play sessions in Dar-es-Salaam run six days a week, and the number of children turning up is increasing daily. To keep things running smoothly, they are split into four age groups: 4–8, 9–12, 13–15 and 16–17.
The volunteer counsellors who guide the play sessions must use all their creativity to keep things interesting, inventing new games for the children to play every day. The counsellors are chosen by Village Councils for Child Protection, which UNICEF has helped establish in every village in Guinea where there are children who have lost one or both parents to Ebola.
Although there have been no registered cases of Ebola in Kankan since January, children must wash their hands and have their temperature taken as a safety precaution before they join in the games.
In addition to psychosocial support, children who have lost one or both parents to Ebola receive other types of help, as well, with funding from donors including the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the governments of Germany, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
Social worker Mamadou Gueladjo Barry, who works with the NGO Enfance du Globe, drops in on a play and recreation session in Dar-es-Salaam.
After being registered, children’s caregivers are eligible for a monthly cash transfer of $25 per child (up to $75) to buy food, clothes and other necessary items. Social workers visit their homes to make sure the family is coping and the money is being spent appropriately. The children also get a school kit containing a backpack and pens, a hygiene kit containing items such as toothpaste and soap, and a family kit with clothes and foodstuffs such as beans, rice and oil.
The volunteer counsellors are fun yet professional, and they join in all the games themselves. They are good at encouraging the children and making sure everyone gets a turn, and it’s evident they have the children’s trust.
But when one child messes up jumping rope and is sent out by the counsellor, UNICEF’s Child Development Officer in Kankan, Sarah Mouyon, has a quiet word with the counsellor. She explains that it’s very important that the children are encouraged and that if they fail they must be allowed to try again, rather than being immediately sidelined.
“As well as managing the programme, my role is also to supervise the community volunteer counsellors,” Ms. Mouyon says. “The orphaned children are perhaps a little bit more shy and timid than the other kids; the death of a mother or father weighs on them. This is about helping them find joy again by playing.”