I stopped smiling after I lost my parents to the Ebola virus disease in 2014. I was 17, and my sister, Dorcas, 14. With no family able to care for us, we were placed at the Dream Again Home Orphanage in the bustling town of Wellington.
The facility opened in 2015 to care for Ebola orphans and consisted of three yellow and brown bungalow-style buildings and was home to twenty-two children, sixteen girls and six boys from age 1-17. Pastor Joshua Sandy, aka Pastor Joshua, managed the orphanage. A matron, cook, laundry person, cleaner, and security man assisted him. The orphanage provided a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, and education for our minds, but it could not put the smile back on our faces, and we did not have much time to dream again. Pastor Joshua and his assistants tried their best, but their priority was to provide us with the necessities. Visitors from America and Canada looking for children to adopt also wanted to make us smile. If we did, our smiles were often quick when not forced.
Life followed a routine at the orphanage. We woke up at 6:45 a.m., attended morning devotion, ate breakfast, and walked to school. Breaks from our pattern came when Pastor Joshua told us to expect visitors. As the home’s oldest girl, I made sure we cleaned the floors, tidied our rooms, and wore clean clothes. That was how we prepared when Pastor Joshua said a childhood friend of the orphanage’s owner would be visiting.
She arrived in a halo of sunshine one Saturday afternoon, dressed in a pink blouse and blue jeans. To this day, our nickname for her is “Sunshine.” But then, we sang “Hello, Aunty Edwina,” for that was her name, to welcome her. After, the younger children gathered around her and introduced themselves.
After an hour with the kids, Sunshine floated over to me. We chatted about school, family, and life at the orphanage. At one point, she tapped me on the back and said, “you’re a great young lady with so much ahead of you. Just keep your faith in God.’’ She held my hands and smiled. After 17 months of being at the orphanage, and not once having visitors looking to adopt, pay any attention to me, I felt warm and unique. Unfortunately, by 5 o’clock, she got up to leave. Still, before she did, she turned and told Pastor Joshua that she wanted to be responsible for Dorcas and me.
What?! Visitors wanted to adopt the younger children. They were cute, had not yet picked up bad habits, and could be retrained if they had, but no one had shown an interest in us.
Yet, here was this angel of sunshine, saying she wanted to give us a mother gain. My heart smiled, but I dared not wear it on my face for fear of being disappointed. Before Sunshine left that evening, she gave us her telephone number and said, “let’s keep in touch.’’ I smiled all that night. I felt the love of a mother again.
It took twenty-three months between Sunshine’s first visit and the day we moved to our new home with her in 2018. Before we left the orphanage, we had a small farewell ceremony. A few family and church members, friends, and the entire orphanage attended. We felt sad, leaving behind the place we had lived in for three years, but deep inside, we felt the warm embrace of Sunshine call us to a new home.
Before meeting this lady we now call mom, I didn’t think that I would ever smile again, but God has a plan B for everyone who has gone through sad events in life. He gives them back their smiles. Everyone deserves to be loved. Mom’s presence in our lives has allowed us to see the future and to explore the opportunities life throws at us.
There is a saying that “mothers are the greatest teachers.’’ I agree with it. Mom has broadened our understanding of what it means as young women to live with self-respect and self-worth. She has stressed we should make an impact on those around us and that “we should not allow anything or anyone to take our integrity away from us.’’
During the Ebola outbreak, we heard how British soldiers, US AID, and the United Nations helped Sierra Leone. We also heard of the financial and other contributions of politicians like Paolo Conteh and Hon. Alhaji Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella. And we thank them. But let’s also remember our Sunshine, Edwina Thomas, and the many unnamed Sierra Leoneans who, in small and unknown ways, put a smile back on the faces of Ebola orphans.
Geraldine Lamin is a third-year accounting major at The Institute of Public Administration in Sierra Leone. She shares the story of her adoption after her parents died from the Ebola virus disease. Writing is her hobby.