Finding Happiness after Ebola

Jumping rope is Alphia’s all-time favorite thing to do.  Every day after completing her homework, she meets up with her friends in the play area in SOS Children’s Village Monrovia, in Liberia, to see who can jump the fastest. Alphia always wins. “She is so fast,” her friend yells between breaths.

Six-year-old Alphia is a young girl of many talents. Beyond her skill in jump rope, she is known for her beautiful voice, enjoyed by many when she sings with the SOS village choir. Alphia is also an honour student of SOS Kindergarten Monrovia.

SOS Mother with Alphia
Alphia, 6, smiling with her SOS Mother, Waletor.

Alphia, came to live with her SOS family in 2015 after losing both of her parents to the deadly Ebola virus that swept through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, from December 2013. Luckily, she and her baby brother Morgan* were not infected.

SOS Mother Waletor remembers the day the two siblings arrived at her house.

“We were all so excited to receive Alphia and Morgan,” she says. “But I quickly noticed that Alphia was sad. She did not respond to me. The love and warmth we extended to her was met with loud cries. Her eyes were fixed on Morgan as if she were having a silent conversation with him. She also seemed tired and weak – probably from crying and not eating enough. This child had witnessed so much pain and suffering. I was brokenhearted, and motivated at the same time. I had to make sure they found happiness again,” says Waletor.

In the early days, Alphia wanted to be alone. She had no interest in the people around her, or in participating in any activities. She would stand in the corners of the house and sob quietly. At times she would sit beside her brother. She refused to eat or make conversation.

“What I found most unique in her behavior was the fear of closed doors,” says SOS mother Waletor. “Yes, she liked being alone but not behind closed doors. She would cry hysterically for the door to be opened.”

To calm Alphia’s nerves, Waletor worked to rebuild her sense of safety and security. She constantly reminded her that she was in a safe place. SOS Children’s Villages creates a loving home for vulnerable children, and ensures that their childhood is shaped by positive experiences. About 70 children orphaned by Ebola have started a new life SOS Monrovia. With continued encouragement and support, Alphia found the care and attention she needed to thrive.

“Handling Alphia with her trauma was not easy, the most difficult for me was when she started sleep talking and wetting her bed. Every night she would speak, saying things I could not understand. I would go to her room every night to see if she was okay, only to find her fast asleep. This went on for a long time. It was difficult and disturbing to my other children as well,” she adds.

A psychologist made home visits to help Alphia cope with her emotions. She also made Waletor understand what the child was going through. She needed constant reassurance and extra support to recover.

“Alphia was in a dark place and I needed to draw her out. I needed to win her trust and be her friend. So every day, I would have conversations with her – at first they were monologues. Then I started telling her stories with all my children present. I noted that after some time she would smile. When the children did well in school, I danced for them in the living room. This made them happy, and over time the smile progressed into genuine laughter.”

“From this point, I ensured that my little girl did not sit alone anymore,” adds Waletor. “When she came from school, I made sure she was playing with her friends, doing homework or hanging out with me. Then one day, out of nowhere, Alphia told me that she had a story to tell. You can imagine my shock – though I did not show it. This was the first time I had heard her speak since joining us three months ago. I was very happy that day.”

Alphia has since healed from her trauma. Her warm personality and wide infectious smile have been re-awakened, and she has become a bubbly child again. This is a new chapter in her life, full of fond memories of a happy childhood.

Dedicated and compassionate SOS Mothers, like Waletor, are core to the work of SOS Children’s Villages. Learn more about the role of SOS Mothers, and how you can help to provide a loving home for an orphaned and abandoned child, like Alphia.

*Names changed to protect the privacy of the children.