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Sierra Leone Launches Radio, TV programs to Educate Kids During Ebola Crisis

17-year- old Doris Ansumana listening to a radio school program in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Oct, 20,2014- (N.deVries/VOA).

17-year- old Doris Ansumana listening to a radio school program in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Oct, 20,2014- (N.deVries/VOA).

More than a million children in Sierra Leone have seen their schooling disrupted because of the ongoing Ebola crisis.

To make up for lost school time, classes are now being broadcast on 41 radio stations and the country’s only TV channel three hours a day, five days a week.

Doris Ansumana takes notes now from her radio classes in Freetown.

It’s a big change for the 17-year-old who is used to the daily routine of going to school. Since the Ebola crisis things have become boring, she says.

“I was watching TV, I was going out to my friends, to play. At night, we watch movies," said Doris.

Doris says so far she’s enjoying the radio lessons.

But she says other youth don’t always have the resources.

“Some of them don’t have the opportunity to sit down and write because some Iive with their aunt, their uncle, so during the morning hours they go and sell," she said.

Her guardian Yabonett Sesay keeps an eye on Doris to make sure she does her work.

She, too, is concerned about other young students, as many can be forced into doing labor instead of studying.

“Some of them are selling for their living because they don't have money, so at least if the government [could] extend [broadcasts] at night, because everybody at night stays at home. They don’t go anywhere," said Sesay.

Brima Michael Turay is the deputy director for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the body in charge of the initiative.

He says the point is to have the lessons during normal school hours, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

He says the ministry worked hard at getting teachers' input and have recruited thirty of them to help with putting the broadcasts together. They are all qualified to teach for different levels.

He argues parents must realize this is for their children’s future and the ministry cannot constantly monitor them.

"This has to be one of their greatest responsibilities. We can provide the service as a ministry, but if parents who are at home don't participate... this will be fruitless endeavor," said Turay.

The broadcasts are coordinated by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and the Independent Radio Network. Several international partners such as UNICEF are working with the ministry, too.

Core subjects like math, science and English are covered.

There’s also a psycho-social component to remind children, especially orphans, that they are not alone in this Ebola crisis, says Turay.

“And instilling hope in them, letting them know all is not lost. And in fact we are doing some sensitization such as wash your hands, do this, don’t do that, so you don’t end up losing your life or family member," said Turay.

Children at the Ben Hirsch interim child center in Kenema, in eastern Sierra Leone, are a prime example of those directly affected by Ebola. The center is a place they can go after they’ve lost their parents to the deadly disease.

The experience is traumatizing, made worse by the stigma the children sometimes face from relatives.

But the radio programs are helping, says Vandi Pujeh, a staff member there. He says employees are also playing their part to make sure children listen.

“When the time reaches for them to listen to the radio, we call them in and during the listening hours, we draw our own questions, through radio, so we ask them 'What did you understand? What did you learn?,'" said Pujeh.

The ministry will continue to roll out more programs, and also has plans to bring solar-powered radios in the coming months to very remote areas of the country where there is no electricity.