In March 2014, the Ebola virus swept across West Africa, claiming thousands of lives. It was the largest Ebola outbreak in history and it shocked the world. As the headlines and statistics dominated global news screens, millions of everyday stories remained untold. Ordinary people were thrown into unimaginable situations.
This is one girl's inspirational story.
When Ikmatu thinks about the Ebola outbreak, her mind always turns to a young boy she used to go to school with. They had known each other their whole lives and often hung out, even though she was several years older than him.
His family was poor and he brought his books to school in a plastic bag. Ikmatu sometimes looked after them for him and shared her lunch when she could see he was hungry. A lot of families don't have the money to eat well in Freetown and Ikmatu was happy to share what she had. That's Ikmatu all over. An older sister and used to looking after people.
She was 13 when the Ebola epidemic took hold in Sierra Leone. Her young friend was just ten. They'd recently sat their school exams and Ikmatu vividly remembers seeing him in the exam hall, writing away. He died soon after, along with his whole family. The memory still makes her cry.
There were others too. Her friend lost her grandmother, an aunt and a brother. A young boy from down the road saw his entire family wiped out. He had to move to live with relatives in a different part of town.
As the devastating events unfolded, Ikmatu felt increasingly agitated. Some days she would distract herself – laughing with her brother and sister, talking about Manchester United, her favourite football team, or listening to music together. Like all younger siblings, Ikmatu's are both infuriating and lovable. They'd play together, goofing around in the living room where Ikmatu sleeps on the sofa. But Ikmatu struggled to shake the sense of unease with what was going on around her. Couldn't she do something to help?
As sorrow, fear and mistrust gripped Sierra Leone, life was changing rapidly. Ikmatu's poor, but vibrant community in Freetown – the capital city - was turned upside down. Ebola spread terrifyingly quickly through the densely-packed region and it's easy to see why. Ikmatu's home sits at the top of a tarmac road leading down a hill into the slum which hugs the sea bay. Below her, hundreds of corrugated iron roofs provide shelter to thousands of people. The homes are overcrowded and the narrow alleys become water-logged and muddy during the rainy season. Sanitation is low and disease is common.
It was a perfect breeding ground for a virus like Ebola which is spread by direct contact with blood, saliva or other bodily fluids of an infected person. The problem was that people didn't know that. Without information on what was happening and how to stop the disease, Freetown was left helpless.
Looking out from the balcony of her family's small living room, Ikmatu felt helpless too. She would stare out at the passing fishing boats and tankers on the water, contemplating what was happening to the place she grew up in.
Until Ebola hit, Ikmatu had enjoyed going to school. She studied hard and saw her girlfriends between classes. As the disease swept through, schools and businesses began closing. Ikmatu and her siblings had to crowd around a radio where school lessons were broadcasted. They wanted to continue their education, but in many ways their lives were put on hold.
But Ikmatu didn't want to just sit back and do nothing. She wanted to fight for the home that she loved. So that's what she did.
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Fighting for FreetownNon-Fiction
As Ebola ravaged Sierra Leone, it brought fear and confusion with it. But one girl wasn't about to lie back and do nothing. Ikmatu wanted to fight for her home.