FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE - With schools closed for months because of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, the country is trying to find other ways to educate children, including daily broadcasts. But orphans present a particular challenge.
A Freetown woman is helping to meet that challenge by opening her home to orphans and other vulnerable children and giving them classes and free meals.
Each day in Anne-Marie Caulkner's home, the children are taught subjects like math and English. The resources are basic — a blackboard and no desks, just benches to sit on — but the help the kids get is vital.
“I was an orphan," Caulkner said. "I went through abuse, gender-based violence.”
Since then she has made it her mission to help those less fortunate.
Caulkner said that since Ebola struck, she has not been able to have as many children stay with her. About 20 orphans live with her how; other children come from single-parent homes and head back there from the orphanage at night to sleep. She said that sometimes she can have up to 50 children for classes and free meals.
In light of the Ebola outbreak, Caulkner said she has always taken all the necessary precautions with the children and has included Ebola prevention information in her classes. Her goal is to give the children a better life — "to engage them, to educate them, so that when they become somebody in future they will be beneficial to the nation as a whole and their own people.”
Caulkner is providing help to more than just the children: She also brings in young women who have faced difficult situations to help teach the classes, if they are qualified.
One such woman, Rebecca Kamara, was a teacher but stopped working when the schools shut down. Then her mother died from Ebola in November.
Kamara’s landlord took advantage of the situation, saying she had to have sex with him if she could not afford to pay the rent to stay in her home.
"At that time, I was suffering," she said. "I didn’t have the money.”
Kamara soon fled with her younger brother, and Caulkner found her living on the streets and took her in. Her teaching skills have been a big benefit to the children.
The orphanage does not have a radio or TV. So the children cannot tune into the education classes the government has created, which air Monday through Friday. Kamara said the informal classroom setting in Caulkner's home is a nice alternative for people who cannot afford communications equipment.
Kamara added that through her work as a teacher, she has managed to feel more confident again.
Schools are to officially open in Sierra Leone at the end of March.