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Plucky DRC student battles Ebola to sit final school exams

Paramedical workers in an Ebola treatment centre on March 9, 2019 in Butembo, DRC
Paramedical workers in an Ebola treatment centre on March 9, 2019 in Butembo, DRC © AFP

Ebola continues to ravage the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but even a deadly disease did not deter one student from completing his secondary school baccalaureate, or “bac” exams, which determines whether he can go on to university. 

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"My mother had told me: 'My son, you must study. If you have your diploma, you will succeed in life. Even if your parents are gone, you still have your life to live,'" student Claude Mabowa Sasi told Associated Press newswire.

Mabowa has lost his mother, brother, and sister to the deadly hemorrhagic disease that has killed 1,700 over the past year in the DRC. Although vaccinated against Ebola, he soon began showing symptoms losing his appetite, a splitting headache and he went to the Ebola treatment center in Beni, where he was diagnosed and put into quarantine.

 The bac exams are only held once a year, and Mabowa, 21, was in quarantine, unable to sit the test with others.

Alliance for International Medical Action, or ALIMA, realised that Mabowa was determined to not miss his opportunity, and set about trying to find a solution.

ALIMA found a school official who would proctor the exam, handing Mabowa the papers behind a window without touching him. After he finished the test, he held each paper up to the window so it could be photographed with a phone and emailed to officials for scoring.

All the testing implements, including the papers and the pencil, were incinerated after the exam.

"The fact we brought the exams to him is an important step for his healing and recovery," said ALIMA psychologist Goretti Muhumira.

Other ALIMA staff members even brought Mabowa a school uniform to wear while taking the bac, to try and make taking the exam as ordinary as possible.

And the bac has an oral component too Mabowa remained behind the glass while the proctor administered the test questions.

"It was difficult for me to hear them well through the glass, so they had to repeat themselves several times before I could understand the question," said the nervous student.

He finished the last part of the exams on Saturday, and will await the results in isolation until he is free of the virus.

Mabowa wants to study political science at the University of Kisangani.

"I have not lost everything, and I am confident that I will succeed and honor my mother's memory," he said. "If she were still here, I think she'd be proud of me," said Mabowa.

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