As the Ebola crisis worsens in West Africa, Liberians in Virginia are growing more concerned about loved ones back home. In response, a group has launched Virginia in Action for Liberia Against Ebola to gather supplies and donations for the stricken country. Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.
At First Baptist Church in Richmond, a multicultural group sings, prays and listens to leaders of faith rally the congregation about the need to respond to the Ebola crisis. First detected in Guinea last March, at least 1,500 people have died including more than 100 health care workers, according to the World Health Organization. But officials warn that’s likely an underestimate and it will take months to contain the virus, which is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids.
(Music: Liberia Will Be Saved)
As part of the vigil, seven Liberian youth light candles and the crowd sings “Liberia will be Saved.” The event was the public launch of Virginia in Action for Liberia Against Ebola (VALAE), which is partnering with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board to spread the campaign throughout the Commonwealth. Dr. Calvin Birch is chair of new initiative and founder of the African Christian Community Church.
Birch: The world has become a global village and therefore Ebola has become a global episode that everyone has to respond and react based upon the United Nations projection that it has become an international public health emergency issue that needs a desperate and urgent response.
Outside the Church, members of the Liberian community wrap up tall moving boxes filled with donations of soap, bleach and other disinfectants. Lydia Bull is originally from Liberia’s Montserrado county and has been in the US since 1994. Bull has four generations of family members in Liberia, who she says are growing more fearful as food becomes scarce and the healthcare system collapses.
Lydia Bull: My concern is about the youth, the little children not seeing a future and about the whole country because even though some of us are here we still got the majority of our family back home. So when one is affected all is affected.
Patrick Taylor: People dying everywhere, everywhere you go people dying.
The Ebola crisis has directly affected some Richmond residents. Patrick Taylor just lost his sister Beatrice to the virus. The pastor of Fountain Baptist Church said she ran a pharmacy where she often came in close contact with people, checking their temperature and vitals.
Taylor: She was 36 years old, she left four children, she was involved with the healthcare profession, so I guess that’s how she contracted that virus, but we we didn’t know that it was [Ebola] until the end, almost when she was about to die that’s when we discovered it was [Ebola].
Taylor said initial tests indicated his sister may have had malaria or typhoid, and when her conditioned worsened to the point where she couldn’t talk, there was no hospital or clinic willing to admit her. She died in the car, while her family members were frantically searching for medical attention. Now every one of Taylor’s family members who were in contact with his sister have been quarantined.
Taylor: Getting medication to them is very difficult, it’s a very fragile situation over there. Event getting help for them was very difficult and even up to now since my sister passed, the team that treats people has not been able to go to their house to start treating them and monitoring them.
And back in Taylor’s home village in Lofa county, he knows more than a dozen who died. Liberia is one of the hardest hit countries with more than 1,300 suspected cases of Ebola and more than 700 deaths. The population was already dealing with extreme poverty, unemployment and the lasting effects of civil war. Now entire communities are quarantined and curfews imposed; schools, markets and borders are closed; and prices for food and basic necessities have soared. Adam Kyne is President of Liberian Ministerial Association of Virginia.
Adam Kyne: It is very important for us in America to also understand that just sanitizer now in Liberia is very expensive, so just one bottle of sanitizer can actually be a help to people. There are business people in Liberia who raised prices of every sanitary product to an extent that a poor person can’t afford. There’s already hunger, a person is just struggling to just buy water to drink, and then you’re talking about sanitizer that costs close to five dollars because the price has gone up.
Virginia in Action for Liberia Against Ebola is calling on individuals, hospitals, schools and companies to get involved in the donation drive. In addition to sanitizers and soaps, they’re collecting safety goggles, face shields, disposable aprons, latex gloves and hospital masks as well as monetary donations.
Reverend Birch is hoping Virginia’s historical connection to Liberia will help motivate the people of the Commonwealth to take action. The country’s capital city, Monrovia, was named after US President and Virginia native James Monroe.
Birch: Most Virginians probably don’t know, but this state has an outstanding relationship, historical tie with Liberia. Liberia’s first president Joseph Jacobs Roberts, was a descendent from Petersburg, in Virginia. There are so many streets in our country that carry same name of streets in Richmond because the group of free slaves that left from here they took the names of streets here in Virginia, in Richmond, in Williamsburg and named streets after them in Liberia.
Birch says after the virus is contained, the work to repair communities and infrastructure in Liberia must continue.
Birch: The next phase is giving emotional support because the nation is under trauma right now. So we will have hopefully another phase, where we can empower the citizens, continue with education, preventative education to help them know how to go about their normal itineraries without contracting the virus. So we’ll continue educational campaign even after the healthcare practitioners have gotten control of the virus.
Virginia in Action for Liberia Against Ebola hopes other religious and secular groups across will get involved in the campaign. Birch says his goal is to raise $1 million and to send their first shipment of supplies by the end of September. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.