After Ebola: the school that saved the children

Five years on, we meet three children from Liberia who have big dreams for the future.

On the border where Liberia meets Sierra Leone, you’ll find a small school. From the outside it looks like a lot of other Liberian schools; simple, one story structures with rows of wooden desks and chairs lined neatly in the basic classrooms. However, on closer inspection you’ll find a well-stocked library and even a suite of desktop computers.

This is A Momo Passewe Memorial Academy in Cape Mount county, school to 89 pupils who line up each school day for a serving of Mary’s Meals and the chance to learn.

During the Ebola outbreak of 2014/15, the local communities here were devastated by the disease which didn’t discriminate between girls or boys, parents or children.

At the time, Principal Siaka Clarence Paasewe (the school is named after one of his ancestors!) reached out to a number of children orphaned by Ebola, and the school decided to take them in; adapting dormitories so they could become a boarding school with the children attending regular classes. He explained:

“We heard about a town in the bush, and we heard that they had been badly hit by Ebola, so we visited there. Some of the children’s parents died, some of them were victims of Ebola. We found children just passing round, not going to school, no-one to look after them, so we decided to bring them over.”

We spoke to three of them. 

The eldest of the children – a quiet 10-year-old girl called Jebbeh – doesn’t say much but her face lights up when she talks about playing with her friends and her hopes for the future: “I want to be a doctor” she said, “I will travel everywhere, giving injections.” 

Marke is younger, at just 8-years-old, but he already has a quiet confidence that becomes clear when he talks about the importance of education: “I want to be a teacher and I would like to come back and teach in this school. Education is good for all children. If I saw people my age not going to school, I would force them! It’s good to be here.” 

For Maima, a focused determination shines through her answer to a simple question about favourite school subjects. The little 8-year-old tells us that her favourite subjects are Social Studies and Math but she doesn’t stop there: “In Social Studies we learn about Liberia’s flag. It is red, white and blue, with stripes and one star. When I leave school, I would like to be President. I will do good for the people. I will build roads and bring food.”

This simple answer from a child reveals a stark reality: that, without Mary’s Meals, there would be little to eat for these classmates. They were brought together through tragedy but are now bound by something much stronger; hope and the chance of a brighter future. 

With that, Maima returns to talk more expected of a young girl her age. “My favorite thing is to joke with my best friend and play kickball together” she says. “I love kickball. I can kick it very far!”