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In Liberia, the Ebola virus has left an estimated 2,000 children as orphans. Finding them places to live - foster homes or with other relatives - can take time, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton discovered when she visited a children's shelter in the capital Monrovia.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Over the past few months, ChildFund in Liberia's capital has been looking after more than 50 Ebola orphans as they're commonly known here, kids who've come into contact with people sick with the virus. Their ages range from 2 weeks to 17 years. These children must be monitored for 21 days, the cycle of the Ebola virus, in a first care home to ensure that they're also not infected, says Anthony Klay Sie. He's program manager for ChildFund Liberia.
ANTHONY KLAY SIE: Children are placed in a group of three. If a child starts to show signs and symptoms of Ebola, that child is immediately isolated.
QUIST-ARCTON: Klay Sie says they've recorded five cases of Ebola among the children in their shelter. Three died. Two have survived. For the healthy children, it's a two-stage process. After they've completed the first observation period, the children move to a second care home. After at least another 21 days there, they can go home or to extended family. Today is that day for 18 children.
SIENNA WISSEH: The six bags, they go in a car with the children and - blanket, the bucket, everything.
QUIST-ARCTON: Sienna Wisseh, from Liberia's Family Welfare Division, is helping to supervise the children's departure. They're being given clothes, toiletries, a mattress and a blanket each along with 25 kilos of rice and cooking oil, says Klay Sie, and colorful mattresses, piled high on top of three vehicles.
SIE: The government and other partners are providing what you call reunification packages to children. Normally, children who come from a family that had an infected person, their belongings are all burned. So upon their return, they may find it difficult to start life over.
QUIST-ARCTON: Klay Sie is describing the busy scene at the care home. The Togba sisters, 13-year-old Lovetee and Tray, who's 12, are both wearing delightful, bubble hairstyles and broad smiles. But these turn to nervous, sorrowful looks as the girls remember the loved ones they've lost to Ebola. First, Lovetee.
LOVETEE: We were seven. My father, my grandma, my auntie, my uncle die and my brother.
QUIST-ARCTON: Lovetee calls the uncle, who died of Ebola, her Pa, her father, because he was the one looking after the Togba sisters and paying their school fees. Her younger sister Tray says...
LOVETEE: I feel sad 'cause I'm used to the place.
TRAY: The first time I came I was sad because the place was strange to me. It was just my sister and I.
QUIST-ARCTON: Hawa Sherman is the supervisor of the children's shelters.
HAWA SHERMAN: I'm very happy, and I'm sad because all the months we have gotten so used to them. We're happy because they are going to be reunited with their families, and we'll also miss them, too. They need more love definitely. Losing your parents is hard - very hard to take. So we need to give them more love.
QUIST-ARCTON: After a false start, when a couple of the colorful mattresses heaped upon the roof of one vehicle get caught on the gate, the convoy sets off. First stop, Jacobstown. A neighborhood at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of Monrovia. Makutu Jabeteh, who's an Ebola survivor squeals with delight, hugging her newly returned 5-year-old daughter, Mabana Konneh. The U.N. children's agency says there's also reintegration at community level with more than 800 children resettled to date in Liberia. Stigmatization of Ebola survivors and those who's family members have died of the virus has been a problem. Jacobstown's community chief, Oscar Wisseh Sr., has a brief word with the small, happy gathering.
OSCAR WISSEH: We do not stigmatize the parent. We will not stigmatize the children.
QUIST-ARCTON: Papers are signed certificates delivered. Weah Korveh, an Ebola survivor who lost six family members, has just been reunited with her 3-month-old son, Sekou Dukely. She says thank you to those who've looked after her baby boy.
WEAH KORVEH: Thank you for taking care of the children. I don't know to (inaudible, crying) so many of my people have passed away.
QUIST-ARCTON: Baby Sekou's mother breaks down. But she gets her message across.
KORVEH: Thank you. Thank you (crying).
QUIST-ARCTON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia.
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