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Liberia: Ebola destroyed and devastated our land


A couple of dozen students sat quietly inside the C.D.B. King Elementary School’s dim and dusty auditorium on their initial morning back. Despite the stuffy heat, a lot of of the children wore long sleeves and trousers that covered as much skin as possible.
A second grader wore pink knit mittens that muffled the sound of his clapping at the same time as the teachers introduced themselves. As everyone rose to sing Liberia’s national anthem, he saluted with his left hand, still sheathed in the mitten.

“Ebola destroyed and devastated our land,” Venoria Crayton, the vice principal, told her pupils. “It brought us sadness, it brought us pain. Some of your neighbors died, right? Some of your neighbors’ children died, right? But you are here.”

About eight months next governments in the region closed schools to stop the spread of Ebola, uniformed and backpack-carrying schoolchildren have returned to the streets of Monrovia, the capital, perhaps the majority visible sign of the epidemic’s ebb.

But Liberia’s on-again, off-again back-to-school campaign is as well a measure of the long shadow cast by Ebola, a disease that affected almost each facet of society in the hardest-hit nations, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Though Ebola cases have all but disappeared in Liberia, with the Health Ministry saying Wednesday that the last patient in treatment had tested negative for the virus, lingering fear and a depressed economy have dampened the turnout at schools. A lot of have from presently on to reopen, having failed to meet the minimum requirements put in place to prevent transmission of the virus.

A lot of of those that have reopened are struggling. Just as Liberia’s weak health care system collapsed as Ebola began raging across the country, a lot of people here worry that the country’s schools may be ill equipped to handle even the tail end of the epidemic.
C.D.B. King, despite being in the center of the capital, lacks electricity and running water, and has only a few toilet stalls for a student people that numbered 1,000 before the outbreak.

Presently, the school is trying to overcome those longstanding problems — and the ravages of a disease that has killed additional than 9,600 people in the region.
Fanning herself with a sheet of paper, Ms. Crayton, the vice principal, rattled off a inventory of don’ts: Don’t play rough. Don’t exchange pencils. Don’t share food. Don’t spit. Don’t urinate in the courtyard. Don’t hide illness in the family.

“If you want to live,” she told the students, “don’t lie about Ebola.”
By the end of the initial day of class, only about 30 students had showed up.
“People are still afraid, so they are careful with their kids,” said Augustus Seongbae, the principal. “A lot of of them are watching what happens to the kids who come initial.”

Fierce disagreement over whether to resume classes forced the government to change the original start date of Feb. 2 several times before finally deciding to reopen schools on a rolling basis starting on Feb. 16. The government said that with Ebola waning, a lot of children were by presently playing in their communities, and that potential teaching time in the classroom was being frittered away.

But some lawmakers, education officials and parents argued that children should not go back to school until Liberia is declared free of Ebola, or 42 days next the last case of the disease — which experts say could be months away.
Tolbert Nyenswah, the Liberian deputy health minister in charge of the Ebola response, said Wednesday that there had been no new confirmed cases of the disease in the country for 12 days, but that officials were still tracking 102 people for possible exposure to the virus.
”We are not out of the woods from presently on,” he said.

Miatta Fahnbulleh, the mother of the boy with the pink mittens, James Nyema, 9, used to send him to a private school. But because she had been unemployed for months from her job as a kindergarten teacher, she had chosen to send him to C.D.B. King, a public school. Public schools are free, though parents must pay for uniforms and other supplies.
She walked her son, known as J.C. because his middle name is Christian, to school in the morning with a blue plastic bag containing his lunch and a water bottle.

“I told him at the same time as he was going, ‘Don’t transaction with anybody, don’t drink anybody’s water, don’t touch anybody,’” she said, laughing, as she came to pick up her son next lunch.
She had dressed him in trousers and long sleeves, which he usually wore only during the rainy season — not presently, the driest and hottest time of the year. She had bought the mittens at a nearby market, where they had become available during the height of the epidemic last year.
“What can I do?” she said, laughing again.

At C.D.B. King, Ms. Crayton arrived at 6:30 a.m. on the second day of class to try to make the school safe against Ebola. No one at the school had received any direct training, so she consulted an instruction pamphlet she had received along with materials from international donors — infrared thermometers, buckets, chlorine, rubber boots and gloves, brushes and soap.
She chased away local petty traders who had stored their goods overnight in the schoolyard. “This is a government school,” she told one woman, who scampered away with her wares on her chief.

The school’s lone security guard — who ran at least two side businesses, inclunding renting out the schoolyard for storage and operating a prepaid cellphone card business just outside the school entrance — was put in charge of taking incoming students’ temperature. Hand-washing stations, filled with chlorine and water drawn from the well in the schoolyard, were set up at the entrances to the school and the toilets.
A teacher rang a cowbell to call the morning assembly. Next the Lord’s Prayer, Ms. Crayton warned her students, “Ebola is still in town, so we just want you to be very, very, very careful.’’

Over the remainder of the initial week, some of the pieces began falling into place at C.D.B. King. Liberia’s red, white and blue flag was hoisted up in the schoolyard. The children seemed to relax, and J.C. even wore shorts by the end of the week. By Friday, about 60 students had showed up.
The cowbell set the children free. Unable to find an aunt who was supposed to accompany him, J.C. began walking home, lingering in front of stores with toys. Back home, his mother laughed at the same time as asked about her son’s short pants and sleeves, with the mittens nowhere in sight.

“We’re afraid-o,” she said. “Ebola is still here.”
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