Why four orphans have begged for Australia's help

Why four orphans have begged for Australia's help

At three years old, little Yuha is too young to understand the meaning of “Ebola orphan”. 

But the wide-eyed toddler is old enough to feel her parents’ loss.  

“They are dead,” she says sadly in Swahili, clutching a cherished photo of them. “They used to bring me sweets.”

Yuha and her three siblings, including a baby sister, drew one of life’s unluckiest hands when they were born in a dusty African town that few Australians have heard of. 

Beni, in the conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, not only bears the scars of decades of violence. In 2019, it earned the unenviable title of Ebola ground zero.   

The deadly virus has ravaged hundreds of its residents, sending paranoia through the homes, offices, shops and streets. Here, a simple touch can prove fatal. Many people stopped shaking hands or embracing. Instead, they developed a new greeting ritual of touching elbows. 

In one of the most tragic stories to emerge, Yuha’s mum and dad died on the same day after long, painful battles with the terrifying illness. 

Their uncle and aunt took them in, but with five children of their own, they struggled to feed all the hungry bellies.   

A teenager and a child stand holding hands in front of their house.

Ghislene and Yuha are just two of the thousands of children affected by the Ebola epidemic.

We’re very sad because we lost our mother’s and father’s love.

Ghislene, aged 17

It’s the plight of orphans like Ghislene and Yuha that drove World Vision to take a radical step this year, to shine Australia’s attention on an epidemic the world was ignoring.

For the first time, the organisation released a confronting new catalogue featuring items like body bags and hazmat suits to showcase the reality of the virus – which has killed more than 2,100 people in 18 months.

Youth advocates from World Vision’s VGen also hit the streets of Melbourne to raise awareness with Ebola pop-up shops, with the catalogue raising nearly $40,000 in much-needed funds for the emergency response.

World Vision Australia CEO Claire Rogers said while confronting for Australians, body bags and hazmat suits were among the tools being used by humanitarian organisations to combat the disease.

Ebola is highly infectious and transmitted through bodily fluids and human contact, and the items are crucial in helping contain the spread. Even burials must be conducted by people wearing protective gear. 

“I make no apologies for telling it how it is – this represents some of the gritty work which World Vision and other humanitarian agencies do in some of the toughest places on earth,” Ms Rogers said.

Ebola has torn apart families and left more than 1,300 children orphaned, and many more suffering issues like distress, fear and anxiety.

When World Vision visited them in July, Ghislene wanted the world to help orphaned families like hers. She sat down with her little sister to write a letter to the “Prime Minister of Australia”.  

“Now we have become orphans, we want you to support us,” they wrote. “We want you to fight hard for us, to fight hard for us.”

Yuha simply wanted rice and beans. Her sister wanted help to go back to school, so she could “become someone who helps others”.

Since that time, the spread of Ebola has slowed – but the work has not finished. World Vision is continuing to educate communities to contain the spread, and support survivors who face stigma and isolation. And recently, a deadly outbreak of measles and attacks on aid workers have hampered efforts. 

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