THE BLOG
12/22/2014 11:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Ebola Fighter Named Moses Leads Orphans to Safety

Time Magazine just named "The Ebola Fighters" its 2014 Person of the Year. What motivates individuals to dive into the throes of a dangerous pandemic in order to save innocent people's lives? An Ebola worker named Moses recently shared his story with me. This Moses, a 46 year old Sierra Leonean man, may not walk on water, but he has walked the walk of a public servant for decades, working tirelessly to lead children and shunned individuals out of the red sea of blood and trauma in Sierra Leone and nearby Liberia.

Moses was called to action early. After graduating with Honors in Linguistics in a Freetown college and working as a language arts school teacher, the Sierra Leone Civil War exploded on him and his country. Rebel troops abducted over twenty thousand children, drugging, molesting, and forcing them to serve as child soldiers. Moses formed the Defense for Children International SL and became a project supervisor at the International Rescue Committee for the psychological adjustment and social integration of former child soldiers. He writes: "I felt deep satisfaction with this work which definitely made a difference to families uprooted and ravaged...I have been drawn to this kind of work since."

After 2002, Moses worked for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help Liberian refugees coerced into becoming child soldiers. He explained that he also co-founded Green Africa SL (Sierra Leone) where he still works:

...for the economic empowerment of especially rural women and youth when, alas, the epidemic (Ebola) struck...This epidemic threatens not only our lives and that of our loved ones but also everything we have worked for. We have seen...stigmatization of people only because they or their loved ones were sick or killed by the disease...myths and misinformation about Ebola were widespread.

One such myth spreads the falsehood that survivors are contagious. In truth, survivors to date seem to be immune from the disease. Many of the individuals who lived in Ebola-riddled households are children - over 11,000 children are now directly affected, with over 5,000 having lost one or both parents. The littlest boy in the photograph below is a double orphan now living with relatives - his mother died in July and father passed away in August. But the boy goes back every day to the house where he lived with his parents, hoping miraculously to find them there one day.

Double Ebola Orphans

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Photo courtesy of Moses Zombo

His teenage sister, also shown in the photo, has become pregnant since the parents died. Part of this may be due to all schools in Sierra Leone being shut down since September. One hundred teachers are under quarantine, and others are attending the sick. Two million children are NOT attending school. Fifty thousand children live on the streets, vulnerable to trafficking. Moses' colleague, Harvard Professor Theresa Betancourt, who studies resilience among children in adversity in Sierra Leone and many other settings, refers to this dilemma as the "second wave of problems...orphaned children on this streets and teen pregnancy...(there are) few safe places for them to find acceptance."

Moses treads a lonely trail through Ebola barricades to provide psychosocial aid so that these traumatized victims do not become another lost generation. Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has only one psychiatrist (retired) and 20 psychiatric nurses (one trainee just died from Ebola) toil for 6 million citizens. Moses donated his own money to train Ebola survivors and people from social work backgrounds.

Ebola Fighter Trainees - Moses on the far right

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Photo courtesy of Moses Zombo


He worries that "the social fabric of this society is going to pieces as it did after the (Sierra Leone Civil War) conflict." In fact, many Ebola victims were previously victims in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Dr. Betancourt notes:

One of the most troubling things we are seeing in this epidemic are the consequences of health systems and public trust that were never restored after the devastating civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone...This crisis must be seen as a chance for the region to "build back better" in order to move ahead in advancing human health and well-being. A very critical part of this in the light of the massive trauma that children and families have experienced is community-based psychosocial support.

Moses is excited that the Irish charity GOAL has supported setting up a Kenema interim care center for homeless children. UNICEF is establishing interim care centers for the children of people with Ebola. He is in awe of the heroic resilience that affected individuals have shown. For instance, Juliana is 22, a nursing student. Her mother, a nurse who worked in the X-ray department at the Kemena government hospital, became infected with the Ebola virus. Juliana, who cared for her mother, caught the virus as did her younger son, fiancé, and sister. All these family members died except for her.

Ebola Survivor/Fighter Juliana and her Son

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Photo courtesy of Moses Zombo

Juliana completely recovered in a month, then immediately joined volunteers giving psychosocial support to affected people while also taking care of her other son, her young brother and the daughter of her deceased sister. As Ebola Fighter Juliana put it, "There is not a nobler job in the world than that which saves lives."

Moses agrees: "This is a critical time...In spite of the world seeming to crumble around us,...we recognize that with our lives and that of our loved ones at stake, we owe it to ourselves to do this." And so, Moses and Juliana walk the Ebola Worker walk, guiding Sierra Leoneans toward resilience and emotional health.