A Yokohama charity worker who has spent time in Ebola-hit West Africa has urged more global support to protect orphaned children at risk of abuse.

Risa Kojima worked in Liberia to protect children in the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 4,000 people in the country from 2014 to earlier this year.

“Support for children is most needed after the end of the outbreak,” the 32-year-old said in Tokyo after finishing her three-month mission in January as a member of Save the Children, an international nongovernmental organization, in the West African nation.

“There will be no future development for Liberia without a healthy environment for children. We need to build a system to protect children in a comprehensive way.”

Kojima said the number of children who have lost parents due to Ebola has exceeded 2,000 and that many schoolgirls reportedly became pregnant while schools were closed.

“The environment surrounding children has changed and the risk of them being abused is even higher,” she said.

During the mission in Liberia, Kojima engaged in activities to educate people about how to prevent child abuse, visiting shelters for adults and children.

Kojima said she explained that a child can be emotionally affected when they are casually told by friends not to come close just because a parent is infected with Ebola.

She told the locals about the consequences of child abuse. “When a child is abused not only physically but also mentally, it could hamper development of his or her sociability.”

Kojima hails from Yokohama, and was raised by her mother, who was a kindergarten teacher.

She said watching a documentary about famine in Africa when she was in elementary school inspired her charity work today.

“When I was a kid, I had a tiny appetite and even dinner was a painful time for me,” she said. “So it was quite shocking when I learned that there are children out there who are ailing due to lack of food.”

After specializing in child care and child abuse at graduate schools in Japan and the U.K., Kojima worked as a Japan International Cooperation Agency researcher in Sierra Leone, northwest of Liberia.

Kojima said she hopes to go back to Liberia soon to help create a solid child protection system.

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