Life in Sierra Leone after Ebola

April 10, 2017
Written by Clare Ahern
Photo by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

It has been just over a year since Sierra Leone was declared officially Ebola-free. Over the course of the outbreak there were over 14,000 suspected cases of the disease throughout the country. Almost 4,000 people died as a result. In its aftermath, Concern has been helping people rebuild their lives.

Kadiatu’s Story

Kadiatu Conteh is an Ebola survivor. She contracted the disease, but remarkably, she survived it. You might be tempted to call her one of the lucky ones, but the outbreak had heart-breaking consequences for her. She lost her two-year-old baby girl, along with every member of her immediate family – her mother, her father, her brothers, and her sister. 12 lives were lost in total. She is the only one left.

Kadiatu lost 12 members of her family to Ebola in Sierra Leone

Kadiatu Conteh, 22, is an Ebola survivor from Magburaka, Tonkolili, Sierra Leone. Photo: Kieran McConville

Kadiatu cries softly as she recalls learning about her family’s fate. The medical staff who nursed her back to health waited until she was being discharged before breaking the devastating news to her. They were worried about the effects it might have on her recovery if they told her sooner. They cried as they told her.

She says that at first, she didn’t want to continue living. “I prayed to God, saying I don’t want to live. I don’t have the appetite to live in this world because my life is over.”

Striving for a better life

It is difficult to fathom how anyone could pick up the pieces of their life after such loss. But today, Kadiatu is not just surviving, she is striving for a better life. She is completing a course in electrical installation and plans to start up a business in her village – the first of its kind there.

Ebola cemetery in western Sierra Leone

Graves at Waterloo cemetery, just outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. This is one of two cemeteries in the western region used for medical burials during the Ebola crisis. Photo: Kieran McConville

It has not been an easy path for her. Kadiatu didn’t receive the support she needed from the start. Her father had four wives, and with her immediate family gone, it was difficult for her to find her place in the extended family. Thankfully the wider community welcomed her back. She was not stigmatized in the way that some survivors of Ebola initially experienced, and Concern was there to help her.

“I dream that in 20 years’ time I will be a good person in my community – helping to improve it.”

Concern enrolled Kadiatu in a four-month vocational training course in electrical installation at the Sierra Leone Opportunity Industrialization Center (SL-OIC). She has since progressed into the full 18-month course. When that is finished, she has her sights set on the three-year electrical engineering qualification.

Hope for the future

“I want to be an engineer and would like to do the diploma. I dream that in 20 years’ time I will be a good person in my community – helping to improve it.”

For all she has achieved, Kadiatu still struggles with the loss of her family. She misses them every day. She tells us that the mornings are the hardest for her. She doesn’t enjoy them because she feels that mornings are for families.

She hopes to one day start her own family. She would like a small family — two girls and one boy — and she is determined to provide for them when the time comes. She firmly believes that a livelihood in electrical engineering will enable her to do just that.

As part of a Concern-supported program to help families rebuild their lives after Ebola, Kadiatu was enrolled in a four-month vocational training course in electrical installation at the Sierra Leone Opportunity Industrialisation Centre in Makeni, Bombali District. Photo: Jonathan Porter, Press Eye

For now, she is enjoying learning and the camaraderie of the classroom, and is full of praise for her teacher, Mr. Bangua, who she says really encourages his students. “He is the one who has given me the zeal to continue this course,” she tells us.

Gender equality champion

Despite enjoying such support, Kadiatu still has to challenge gender stereotypes in her chosen field. But this is no bother to her. She is something of a gender equality champion and this helped inform the decision around her career path.

I chose electrical installation because I saw there was a need for more women in this profession. I want to promote gender quality. That’s why I’m doing electrical installation — because people say it’s too hard for women.

Whenever her teacher tells her a task is not safe for a woman to do, her mantra is the same — “Remember Mr. Bangua, gender equality!” she says. “I know if I work hard, there is nothing men can do that I cannot do.”

Kandiatu is studying engineering in Sierra Leone

Kadiatu is now attending further studies to gain additional qualifications in the male-dominated engineering space. Photo: Kieran McConville

The power of support

Kadiatu’s story is one of remarkable strength and courage. But she also shows us what’s possible when people receive the support and encouragement they need to get through the worst that life throws at them.

While she will never fully recover from the loss of her loved ones, her hard work and determination have enabled her to look to the future. “Because I started with struggles, I don’t want to end up with struggles. I want to be happy in life so that is my plan.”

Want to receive updates on our work in Sierra Leone and across 24 countries?

Yes, keep me updated on Concern's work