Ebola in Liberia: are schools ready to reopen?

Oxfam Community Support Workers teach children in West Point, Monrovia how important it is to wash your hands to help prevent contracting Ebola. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Oxfam Community Support Workers teach children in West Point, Monrovia, how important it is to wash your hands to help prevent contracting Ebola. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

Schools in Liberia have been closed nationwide since August 2014. Some reopened on 16 February 2015 and the majority were supposed to reopen on 2 March 2015. Oxfam and the President of Liberia calls for a $60.5 million upgrade of the nation’s schools to help protect against future outbreaks of Ebola. 

More than half have no water supply at all and 43% do not have basic toilets. For those that do, the average use is one toilet for over 100 pupils. New Oxfam research calculates that providing water and sanitation for the 3,500 Liberian schools currently without these basic facilities would cost approximately $60 million over the next five years.

Oxfam public health experts and community volunteers have been working in New Kru Town community since late August 2014 to promote better understanding of how Ebola is spread, so people can identify symptoms and get treatment early. The district has been an Ebola hotspot with many cases, now down to a handful. To date, Oxfam has reached about 346,000 people through its work in Monrovia, Montserrado county.

Jacob P. Myers, teacher in Logan Town, a township in Monrovia 

“Ebola impacted my life in several ways. I am a public school teacher who earns only a little money. When Ebola came the schools closed so I wasn’t able to make any money to survive."

“I don’t feel 100% safe or good about sending my children to school. But as a teacher I think they should go to send the right message. Many schools are not equipped with proper latrines and hand pumps for handwashing. I think there needs to be a proper latrine and hand pump before schools open. There is also no sewage system."

Tetee, 27, Ebola survivor, New Kru Town

“I got the virus and went to the Ebola Treatment Unit. When I recovered and went home all my things had been burned by my landlord – it is the process now. But then the landlord put me out and I had to return to live with my family.”

“It’s hard to get back to normal. I would like to go back to school. I am a student in 12th grade and I have a 10-year-old daughter in 1st grade. But I don’t have money to register. I need $200 US for the semester and registration period is now. I don’t have a job or a husband – how will I find the money?”

Tetee’s studies, like many others, were disrupted by civil war in Liberia. 

O’Neil Nimley, 42, Vice Principal of a private school in New Kru Town

“I don’t feel ready to reopen the school. (…) It is a problem because the children are very behind in their studies. But we cannot open the school if it is not safe. Without the materials – the buckets for handwashing, the chlorine, etc – we will not be able to protect the students.”

“The school only has one handpump which is dry at the moment as it is dry season. To get water for flushing toilets and handwashing, we have to use piped water, which is very costly."