IMPACT
11/24/2014 02:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ebola Nearly Wiped Out This Entire Family. Now Sisters Are Raising 6 Orphans

Siatta Stewart has no idea how she was spared from Ebola, but the grateful 30-year-old has little time to mull such thoughts. She has to focus her efforts on the six children she has been left to raise.

Over the course of nine weeks, the Liberian woman lost seven family members, according to the World Food Program (WFP).

In August, her mother was the first to succumb to the virus that has claimed nearly 5,500 lives in the worst epidemic on record. Then, she lost her father. Stewart’s aunt died soon after coming to help the ailing family. Stewart then said goodbye to her brother, his wife and their children.

ebola liberia
Siatta and Famatta Stewart are raising six children in a remote part of Kakata, in the Margibi district.

Five of the seven deaths occurred inside Stewart’s home in Kakata.

"I don’t know why I did not get sick," Stewart told Donaig Le Du, WFP communication officer. "I took care of them."

Now, Stewart and her sister Famatta, 32 -- both of whom don’t have stable jobs -- are the only remaining adults in their family. They’ve been charged with raising their six brothers, sisters and nephews.

liberia orphans ebola
Darius, 6, lost both his parents and sister to Ebola. He is one of the six children Siatta and Famatta are raising.

Their plight offers a window into the orphan crisis that has emerged since the Ebola epidemic broke out in West Africa.

As of October, at least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had lost one or both parents to the deadly virus, according to UNICEF. But those figures were expected to quickly double, the aid organization said.

These kids are mourning the loss of their parents, and in many cases -- the loss of any family connections altogether.

Because of the rampant stigma associated with the disease, many of these children are left to fend for themselves because surviving relatives are too anxious to take them in.

"In some communities, the fear surrounding Ebola is becoming stronger than family ties," Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for West & Central Africa, said in a statement.

But aid organizations are working to step in where family members have opted out.

In Liberia, for example, UNICEF is training 400 additional mental health and social workers to strengthen support for children who have been abandoned.

WFP provides food for survivors and orphans, relief Stewart has now come to rely on. She recently picked up enough food to tide the family over for a month.

Stewart, who once worked at a school that has been closed because of the virus, hopes that the young kids she’s raising will be able to get scholarships to continue their education.

"The rest of the family is gone forever," she told WFP. "We know they are not coming back. We try to comfort the kids."

Find out more about the World Food Programme's efforts to help Ebola survivors and orphans here. Support UNICEF's efforts to combat Ebola through the fundraising widget below or by calling 1-800-FOR-KIDS.

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Ebola in West Africa
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