At first glance, life after Ebola struck Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has returned to normal. Yet the outbreak, which infected more than 28,600 people and killed more than 11,300, still has had a deep impact on daily life.
Boy walks past mural in Freetown, Sierra Leone, reading "Ebola stops with me".
The epidemic, which has continued to flare up, shattered the countries’ fragile health systems, closed schools, drove farmers from their fields, shut businesses and sent the countries’ economies into a tailspin.
For those that survived, loss, stigma and ill-health mean recovery will be a long journey.
Fear, stigma and survivors
"During the Ebola epidemic this school did not close initially. But the parents were afraid to send their children to school in case they were infected. When some of our pupils died, we began to lose courage.” Bagoura Almamy, primary school head teacher, Guinea.
Children learning in class at school in Coyah Prefecture, Guinea.
"People stopped coming to the health centre. They were afraid to leave their homes and come. They preferred to stay hidden. Those who dared to go out for treatment were only very serious cases," Health worker, Pecos Doualamon, Guinea.
Notice on door of health centre advising people how to avoid catching Ebola, Guinea.
"Ebola affected me a lot. It killed my father, my uncle and my good friends. I live with my aunt now. I don’t feel happy because I don’t see my father anymore.” Isha, 15, Sierra Leone.
Isha, 15, looks through her schoolbooks at her home in Moyamba district, Sierra Leone.
“Five people from my family died. That’s how the sickness affected us. When they took me to the treatment centre they treated me well, they gave me water. At that time I thought I might be dead, and never go back, but the doctors said “no, it is not your time yet”, so I came back as a survivor.” Umaru, 12, Sierra Leone.
Umaru, 12, learning in class at school in Moyamba district, Sierra Leone.
The road to recovery
Many children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents to Ebola since the start of the outbreak in West Africa. To ensure they recover and thrive, Plan International is working with orphans and vulnerable children so that they are cared for and able to return to school in a safe environment.
Children sponsored by Plan International in Bomi County, Liberia.
We run sessions at schools to sensitise children about the stigma Ebola survivors are suffering from and support schools to organise activities such as plays and music with the aim of reducing discrimination towards Ebola survivors and girls who fell pregnant during the crisis.
Children take part in drama activity supported by Plan International to reduce discrimination against young mothers.
“When school reopened I went there, nobody talked to me, I was alone by myself. Then Plan International came to sensitise my friends, and they started talking to me again. And now it is better. We talk, we play and we laugh now. I forgive them of course. I can’t blame them. I am just happy that I have my friends back.” Ebola survivor Michael, 14, Sierra Leone.
Michael, 14, and his aunt Hawa in front of the drugstore Hawa opened in Moyamba Junction, Sierra Leone.
“One day I will be a lawyer, because I want to be able to help my people and my colleagues, especially girls. I want to help girls because some men abuse them. I will defend the girls because they are not at fault. The perpetrators are in the wrong. I will study hard in school to become a lawyer.“ Franck, 13, Sierra Leone
Franck, 13, raises his finger to answer a question in class.
We are rebuilding health systems capable of preventing, detecting and responding to future health epidemics so that West Africa can progress toward a safer and healthier future.
Women wait with their children during vaccination campaign at health clinic built by Plan International in Monserrado County.
Despite the extensive devastation and loss of life, there is still great hope in West Africa. With your support, children and young people are learning to live and be excited about their futures.
Kadiatou, 7, an Ebola orphan from Coyah Prefecture.