Returning to school despite the Ebola epidemic

The appearance of the Ebola virus disease in Mangina, a locality of around 35,000 inhabitants, has overturned the daily lives of the population.

Anne Herrmann (translated from French by Darren Ou Yong)
10 October 2018
Aldegonde Katsoko, director of a high school in Mangina, epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.

“Normally, on the first day back at school, several hundred students have already been enrolled but this year only two have enrolled,” explains Aldegonde Katsoko, the principal of a secondary school in Mangina, the epicentre of the Ebola virus disease epidemic that struck the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

On the morning of the 3rd September, the day of the return to school, Aldegonde only had two enrolled students. “When the epidemic was declared, families left Mangina,” explains the principal, who smiles despite the empty classes. “Others stayed but fear the transmission of the disease at school.”

The appearance of the Ebola virus disease in Mangina, a locality of around 35,000 inhabitants, has overturned the daily lives of the population. Numerous families took flight while others no longer leave their homes, harvest their crops, or go to the market. Out of fear of contamination, parents did not send their children off on the day of the return to school.

“I speak with the parents and I explain to them that the children are better protected at school,” insists the principal who understands the parents’ anguish better than anyone. Before becoming the principal, Aldegonde was above all a mother of four children. When school term began again, it was not easy for her to let her children head to school because she saw neighbours die of the disease and their children become orphans.

Education is essential for children to fully develop and to find a certain stability during a time of uncertainty. In order to encourage parents to send their children to school, UNICEF trains 7,200 teachers in measures of prevention against the Ebola virus disease. Aldegonde and the teachers at her school received information on the disease, on methods of transmission, and on methods of prevention.

“We assure ourselves that the children know and apply measures of hygiene,” the principal concludes with a certain pride. A month after the return to school, Aldegonde’s efforts have borne their: 400 students are on the school benches. The principal continues her efforts to convince the last hesitant parents.

In order to guarantee that schools are a protective learning environment for children and their teachers, UNICEF raises the awareness of close to 300,000 students and equips schools that are most exposed to the Ebola virus disease with handwashing points, soaps, and thermometers, as well as educational and awareness-raising material.

UNICEF’s response to the Ebola epidemic is supported by the World Bank Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, the European Commission – European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, the Vaccine Alliance, the United States Agency for International Development, the Central Emergency Response Fund and the Government of Japan. UNICEF is also supported by the German Committee for UNICEF.