Before the Ebola crisis in 2014, Madaindu Dakowah was living happily with her husband and three children and several other relatives.
But Ebola ended her happiness when she lost her husband, sisters and brothers. Their deaths left her with the burden of taking care of 15 children, all of whom were in school at that time. At first, things were moving on fine, but when the business she was doing collapsed, things started turning ugly.
It was a battle for survival.
Her daily struggle to take care of the children could force anyone to lose courage and succumb to the adverse situation. But Madaindu emerged stronger despite the difficulties she faced and became a ‘real mother’ to the children.
“Life is difficult right now but that does not mean I’m going to neglect these children. It hurts me that most of the children are not going to school right now. Sending then to school and feeding them is a major problem.
“But I still managed to get the older one to graduate from high school this year and I’m doing everything possible to enable the other to start school before the year ends.
“Right now, we have only five in school, leaving nine out of the children out of school this year,” she said.
The 33 year old, commonly referred to as “Mother of Children” by community members, hides her many stories and struggles behind her strong personality.
Her dream is to see all the children realizing their dreams. And community members say she is not partial to one child, as her love for every one of them is evident.
“She is there for all of the children making sure that they don’t run out of food. She works hard and overtime for their survival. She has to sell for people, and the little profit that she can get from selling is the one she uses to take care of the children. It is not easy, but she is doing well,” said Ma Kamara, a neighbor of Madaindu in the same Banjor Pinyonkosa Community.
“She doesn’t talk about ‘my own’ (referring to her biological children), Ma Kamara said. “She considers all the children her own without favoritism. In her house, everyone is treated equally.”
Madaindu’s love and compassion is keeping a huge family of 15 children together, but she cries knowing that most of the children are out of school. The current hardship at home has led to one of the girls running away from the house to seek a better life somewhere unknown.
“When I look at these children, I can see future medical doctors, lawyers and teachers. But this is difficult to achieve because not all of the children are in school. The other girl ran away because she was not in school this year. I wish it did not happen,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Madaindu said she feels guilt that the other children are not in school – a situation she described as unfortunate.
“I want a better future for them all. But I cannot now. I have to send the ones in higher classes to school in order for them to graduate soon and the ones in lower classes, much later. But time is far spent.
“But I accept the fact that my decision to send the older ones to school is not right. Every child deserves an education, and that’s why this year I have doubled up my efforts to raise funds to send them all to school,” Madaindu explain with her head bowed.
Massa Massaquoi, who lost both of her parents during the Ebola crisis and just graduated from high school, praised Madaindu for being there for them and making all the necessary sacrifices to provide for their daily needs.
“She is indeed a mother to all of us despite the hardship. And I will love her for that. I dream to become a lawyer and hope someone will come to my aid since she doesn’t have the money,” said a crying Massa.
Ousame Rashid, another victim of Ebola who is now in the 7th grade, also lauded Madaindu for her support and wish her many more years of life.
Rashid added: “I want to become an engineer, but I’m not sure if this will happen. But if it’s God’s will, my dream will come true although I’m not sure because of the current financial situation our mother is going through.”
For her immense courage and compassion she has started to receive support for the children from some good will citizens.
Although she faces so many hardships, Madaindu continues to stand tall to cater to the children’s needs. We salute this brave lady and hope that the country gives birth to many such strong daughters and mothers.
Madaindu and the children’s stories came to light through the help of the Emma Smith Foundation’s effort to bring out the untold stories of Ebola survivors in Liberia. The program is funded by the UNDP.