Bashir* is barely three months old. He’s been through more in that short time than many people manage in a lifetime.
Bashir is an orphan. His mother died from Ebola, along with six other members of his immediate family.
He is one of thousands of children in West Africa who have lost their parents to Ebola. One of thousands of children who are vulnerable and facing a harsh struggle to survive. One of thousands of children who have faced unthinkable tragedy before their lives have really begun.
But Bashir’s story isn’t just one of sadness. It is also one of hope.
Bashir’s mother died in December, just four days after being admitted to an Ebola treatment centre in Macenta – a town deep in Guinea’s Forest Region.
With no immediate family to look after him, Bashir was immediately placed in our care and taken to a crèche we’re running in Macenta. In spite of everything he’s been through, he’s still a bright, bubbly baby, and he quickly won the hearts of our team.
But children who have been separated from their families need protection, care and psychological support. And the best way to ensure they receive this essential support is to locate their family members who can take them in. So during Bashir’s time at the crèche, our child protection team was working tirelessly to track down members of his extended family who could take care of him.
After weeks of searching, we managed to trace relatives living in a village several hours north of Macenta. We went up to see them, and they agreed to take Bashir in.
Bashir’s reunion with his family was a memorable event. The whole community – including the village chief – came out to welcome him to his new home and Bashir’s extended family were all overjoyed to welcome a baby they must have thought they would never see again.
It was also a harrowing reminder of the destruction Ebola has wrought. Many used the occasion to grieve for the deaths of the Bashir’s seven relatives. Bashir’s new care giver – his great aunt – was clearly overwhelmed with emotion at losing her niece, but also jubilant to see Bashir once again and for him to be in such good health.
A long road ahead
Bashir was the last orphan to leave our Macenta crèche – yet another sign that we’re fighting back against this deadly virus.
We still have a long way to travel, though. Across West Africa, thousands of children have lost their parents to Ebola and face a struggle to survive. That’s why we’re working tirelessly with our partners to provide family tracing and reunification services, and will continue to train our child protection networks to work with families and reunified children, offering psychosocial support throughout the key stages of a child’s development.
In the days and weeks to come, we hope we’ll be able share more stories like Bashir’s: because amid the fear, stigma and isolation this terrible disease has caused, the stories that have a happy ending are more important than ever.
* Name changed to protect identity