In just over a week I’ll be boarding a plane which will take me 4,500 miles away from you to Sierra Leone in Africa. I’m feeling nervous and excited and, if I’m honest, right now a little overwhelmed.
I’m used to seeing your faces every day, bar the odd sleepover with your grandparents. But I’ll be away from you for six nights – a long time, especially when one of you (hi Baby Girl!) is still very committed to breastfeeding.
Sierra Leone is a long way away. It’s highly likely I won’t get to speak to you both for the week, let alone pop back if you need a cuddle. It’s strange to think I’m going to be all those thousands of miles away but you’ll both continue about your daily routines at home, with your dad and your grandma picking up the jobs that I usually do.
I want you to know why I’m going. Neither of you will understand this right now, but one day you might remember the week Mummy left you to go to Africa and, when that happens, this is what I’ll tell you.
In 2014 (the year you were born, Bubs) West Africa was in the throes of a devastating epidemic of a viral disease called Ebola. It raged through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, killing more than 10,000 people. Sierra Leone recorded the second highest death toll, with more than 3,900 people losing their lives to the disease.
When you hear the numbers like that, it’s easy to think of all those people as mere statistics. What we saw, safe in our living rooms in the UK, was wrapped bodies on stretchers carried out by doctors and nurses in full protective clothing. We didn’t see behind that protective wrapping, to know the person for who they’d once been. A mother, father, son or daughter. A person who’d laughed, loved and lived.
It’s now nearly two years since I saw those initial reports on TV and, since then, Sierra Leone has been declared Ebola free. But although the Ebola Management Centres have been packed up and the TV crews have flown onto the next news story, the mark of the disease lingers. Ebola ripped through entire families, leaving many children orphaned and alone. These children are already facing challenges in a country where many don’t have access to clean drinking water and school is considered a luxury.
As two little girls in Devon, hundreds of thousands of miles away from these kids in Sierra Leone, you might wonder what on earth your mum has to do with all of this. Why should you give up your mum for a week just so she can meet people affected by this strange disease firsthand?
Well, those little girls and boys are no different to you both, really. They like to play and learn and have hopes for their futures too, just like you. But, unlike you, they don’t have a Mummy and a Daddy at home to tuck them in every night and read them a bedtime story. Some of these children didn’t just lose their mums and dads to Ebola – they lost their brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandparents. Can you imagine losing everyone you love in one go? You’d feel sad and confused, scared and lonely. I imagine that’s how many of these children have felt, too.
But there are many inspiring and amazing things happening in Sierra Leone, to help these children and pull communities back together again. I have the opportunity to learn about some of these projects and to share the stories on this blog of mine. I hope people might read and be inspired to share what they read with their friends. And then, maybe, some of those people reading these stories might want to donate to the charity I’m travelling with, to help them help more little boys and girls affected by Ebola.
If you’re still not sure that this is a good enough reason to say goodbye to your mum for a week, then watch this video and meet Maria, a little girl who lives in Sierra Leone.
I hope you both now understand why I’m going and I hope that, when you’re old enough, you’ll feel proud of me for making this decision.
I love you both very much,