Finally, a year after the Ebola crisis began in Sierra Leone, and children began losing their parents and caregivers, a comprehensive multi-agency Ebola orphan support programme has begun.

Naturally, Street Child is at the fore of it.  

This massive nationwide programme, coordinated by Street Child and funded by the German charity Welthungerhlife supported by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), commenced today with a food distribution in Kissi, Eastern Freetown and will be followed by initial distributions in every major town in Sierra Leone in the coming days.  

The programme guarantees a 3-month food supply to over 2,000 families, selected by Street Child, who together are supporting over 8,000 children who have lost parents or adults they depended on and regarded as parents.  

Depending on their level of vulnerability, as assessed by Street Child, families will also receive other benefits including bedding, hygienic items and cash grants to meet immediate needs.  

This is a gigantic step forwards for these children and their families. As Street Child have consistently highlighted, including in recent media articles in the MailMirrorBBC World Service and several international outlets, the plight of Ebola orphans is dire – and hitherto, despite being much discussed, the majority have not received significant support from any major source, besides Street Child’s own efforts.  

In itself of course it does not solve the long-term situation of these children – however the 3-month period of respite it provides gives Street Child, and hopefully other agencies, a great and unique opportunity to intensify efforts towards sustainable outcomes for these children.   

In addition to providing one-off supplies to over 10,000 Ebola orphans in late 2014 and early 2015 as documented in Street Child’s unique Ebola Orphan report in March, Street Child has in recent weeks provided uniforms and school supplies for 3,079 Ebola orphans and livelihood support, in the form of seed grants for the current planting season to, 1,141 rural families supporting Ebola orphans.  

CEO of Street Child UK, Tom Dannatt commented, “This programme, in collaboration with WHH, WFP and with the support of the Ministry of Social Welfare is a just pure, simple, great news! It is about some of the saddest, hungriest children in the world getting fed. We are very grateful to all parties for their role in making this happen. There has been a crying need for a programme like this for months. This is a big moment.

“I also want to take this moment to once again praise Street Child’s more than 200 nationwide social workers for their remarkable work throughout the heat of the crisis in identifying these children, showing them some love and providing some initial physical support. Without that work, this great programme that started today would not be happening. I also want to thank the many individuals that supported our Ebola Crisis Appeal that made our initial drive possible.  

“As wonderful as it is, it is vital however that this new programme is seen as the start, not the end. Street Child is determined to see every Ebola orphan in school and in a financially sustainable household. For as long as children and families are extremely hungry, it is has been extremely hard to focus on anything else. Put plainly, a hungry family’s temptation not to plant donated seed but to eat it – or to sell a school uniform for food has been one we have had to be conscious of in our recent efforts. With a 3-month food-security window now guaranteed, we have this superb foundation from which to build – in terms of helping these children actually build futures, despite everything they have been through.

“And for that, we of course continue to plead for donor support. We still need to fund thousands of children into school – and then help these families build income streams. When this programme with WHH and WFP ends, a follow-on feeding programme should hardly be necessary – if we can help these families build businesses and incomes now. We have a unique window of opportunity.”