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Virus threatens Liberian children’s education

26 September 2014

© CHILDREN IN CRISIS

Inspection: pupils in Rivercess County, who are supported by FAWE-Liberia, pose with their books

Inspection: pupils in Rivercess County, who are supported by FAWE-Liberia, pose with their books

CHILDREN in Liberia, the country worst hit by the epidemic of the Ebola virus, may be out of school for more than a year, in a society "gripped by fear", an education manager reported this week.

Rufus Mandein, who is the education manager for FAWE-Liberia, a charity dedicated to delivering education to girls and women, said on Tuesday that he had been told that the "best-case scenario" for the reopening of schools, closed across the nation in July, was February next year, but that it could be as late as September.

"We have had to postpone, indefinitely, teacher-training," he said. "None of the children are going to school, and they have nowhere to play because of the outbreak. They just have to stay indoors."

Liberia is rebuilding its education infrastructure after a 14-year civil war. About 41 per cent of children in Liberia are enrolled in primary school, and the adult literacy rate is 43 per cent. Mr Mandein described the Ebola crisis as a "very big blow for our education system".

The epidemic in West Africa is now the largest the world has ever seen, and Liberia is the worst-affected country. Some of the best doctors at its only academic referral hospital have died from the disease, and the capacity to treat other diseases, including malaria, has been affected. The outbreak had "exposed our very very weak health system", Mr Mandein said.

He called for the promises of the international community to be fulfilled. There are signs of hope: the Island Clinic, supported by the UN, has opened in Monrovia, offering 120 beds. In addition, 17 new treatment facilities, supported by military troops from the United States, are under construction; and the UN has established an Ebola mission. Cuba is sending 165 medical staff, and China is sending a mobile-laboratory team.

Mr Mandein said that FAWE-Liberia's current task was to educate communities to respond to the crisis. "We need to reach out to our project communities to create awareness; provide chlorine, soap, sanitisers, and hand-washing utensils for the people we work with," he wrote in a recent blog. "Our approach must be holistic, and show that we care not only for their educational need, but also their health and physical well-being."

Once the schools reopen, he said, parents would have to be reassured that their children could attend safely.

FAWE-Liberia is supported by Children in Crisis, a charity that delivers education to children in remote, post-conflict territories. This month, it launched a campaign, "A Chance to Learn, a Chance in Life", to raise funds for children in countries affected by the virus, and those in Afghanistan. All funds donated by the British public between 3 September and 2 December will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

www.childrenincrisis.org/ukaid

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