Caring for Our Ebola Orphans: Another National Emergency

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Nearly a month ago we carried a front page story about a three year-old girl who witnessed the death of her Ebola-infected mother just outside Redemption Hospital where she had gone to seek treatment.

The face of little Pearlina is unforgettable sitting alone dazed and scared outside the Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town, not knowing what was going on and why her mother was taken away, leaving her all by herself.

Fortunately for Pearlina, a humanitarian woman named Katie Meyler, founder of the local NGO “More Than Me (MTM),” immediately came to her rescue.  Ms. Meyler found the child sitting in the hospital office, where the staff, afraid to touch her, was keeping her, not knowing what next to do.

Ms. Meyler took Pearlina to the MTM guest house, bought her some stuffed animals and other goodies and cared for her until the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare could advise what next to do.

Then in this Wednesday’s edition, we carried another tragic story of a child, also about age three, whose lifeless body was found abandoned outside the walls of Redemption Hospital.

The shocked and confused passersby had no idea who she was, how she died or who could have left the body beside the hospital wall.

We think the fate of our children, especially those of our impoverished citizenry, but most especially of those parents who have died of Ebola and left hundreds, if not thousands of orphaned children, is nothing short of another national emergency

It is tragic enough for our people, through absolutely no fault of their own, to be dropping dead in horrifying numbers.   But it is even more heartrending (distressing, painful) to see young,   innocent children left behind with no clue as to what will happen to them, or from where they will get the next meal or bath.

To date, there are reported to be 668 abandoned children in 10 counties, the highest in Montserrado—244, followed by Lofa, 230.    

ALL OF US ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE CHILDREN.  Remember, Liberian families have always taken into their homes children of parents who could not afford to raise and   educate them.  Sometimes they are relatives’ children; but more often they are not, they are other people’s children.  This is a veritable part of Liberian culture and tradition. 

One historic and laudable example that readily comes to   mind is Liberia’s 12th President, Joseph J. Cheeseman, and his   wife Mary Ann, who around 1895 visited Grand Cape Mount County just after a tribal war there.  They found at the Superintendent’s house two little Vai girls from Jondu Village, Gawula Chiefdom, who had lost their parents during that war.  The Cheesemans took the two girls to live with them at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia and later, after retirement, to their home in Edina, Grand Bassa.  They named one of the girls Victoria E. Cheeseman, after the Cheeseman’s last surviving child who had recently died. 

When, as a young attorney around 1907, Louis Arthur Grimes—the man who would later rise to eminence, becoming Liberia’s Attorney General, Secretary of State and Chief Justice—visited Edina, he found young Victoria, the Cheesemans’ adopted daughter from Jondu.  Attorney Grimes fell in love with her and married her on December 10, 1911. 

Victoria E. Grimes gave birth to J. Rudolph Grimes, who became Liberia’s long serving Secretary of State under President Tubman.  Rudolph’s sister, Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman, became the first African woman to head a university—the University of Liberia.  Their elder brother, Henry Grimes, became one of Liberia’s first electronics engineers. 

We pray that some caring Liberian families will reach out to these Ebola and other orphaned children and raise them up to become successful and contributing citizens of the Republic.

Lest we forget, however, as much as all of us are responsible, the primary responsibility for these children rests with the Liberian government, especially its Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.   

The government must now revamp and re-endow MOH’s  Social Welfare Department, so that it is ready and able to care for these Ebola and all other orphaned children in Liberia. 

MOH cannot do it alone.  It can subsidize some of the orphanages and make sure they are up to standard with food, safe water, proper sanitation, educational opportunities and other amenities that will empower these children, just as the Cheesemans empowered Victoria E. Grimes and her sister, to become contributing citizens of the Republic.

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