UNICEF USA: Playing to Live – Post-Ebola Healing in Liberia

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An inspiring story of trauma and recovery in Liberia, one of the three West African countries (along with Guinea and Sierra Leone) most severely affected by the Ebola epidemic. Support UNICEF’s work helping children affected by the Ebola crisis. Visit https://www.unicefusa.org/ebola.

In 2014, Helena Baker and her husband, parents of several children, were infected by the Ebola virus. Seeking treatment at a local hospital in Caldwell, Liberia (a city near Monrovia, the capital) they meet Deedeh Sackie, a young teen also suffering from Ebola and orphaned by the disease.

Despite his life-threatening illness, Helena Barker’s husband opens his heart to Deedeh. As Helena recounts: “So, my husband looked at her and said… ‘She will live with us like our child.’”

Unfortunately, Helena’s husband succumbs to Ebola after Helena has already returned home. Nonetheless, Helena decides to honor his decision to take Deedah in, but then confronts new obstacles, including the loss of her husband’s income and Ebola-related ostracism from family and neighbors.

Bravely, Helena decides to take Deedeh and her children to a new place to live and finds work as an adult counselor at a UNICEF-supported NGO, Playing to Live (http://www.playingtolive.org/), that uses art, play and self-expression to help children—including those who were infected, orphaned, or otherwise traumatized by Ebola—to heal from their harrowing experiences during the epidemic. Playing to Live also provides children with psychosocial support and offers adult caregivers like Helena stipends for their work.

Helena tells the children: “I lost my husband. Some of them lost their parents. We all got affected one way or another.” But, says Helena, “The play is helping the children. It’s really helping them.” She adds, “Playing with them. It helps me, too. It brings changes in my life.”

As of November 29, 2015, the World Health Organization reports that, worldwide, there have been 28,637 cases of Ebola virus disease and 11,315 deaths. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone suffered the vast majority of these cases and deaths. In those three countries combined, more than 6,000 children were infected by Ebola. Over 18,000 children lost one parent or both, or their primary care giver(s) during the epidemic. Millions more fell behind in their education after thousands of schools were closed and, along with their families and communities, have suffered the damaging economic consequences of the epidemic, which affected the entire region.

For more information on the West African Ebola epidemic and the challenges Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are facing in its devastating aftermath, click here: https://www.unicefusa.org/mission/survival/ebola

For updates on UNICEF’s support for post-Ebola recovery in West Africa, follow us on any of our social media below.

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