In March 2014, Ebola virus disease was first reported in Liberia. The epidemic’s epicenter was Lofa County, nearly 300 miles from the capital and most populous city, Monrovia. As a result of traditional burial practices, a lack of leadership and healthcare, and denial, Ebola quickly spread. More than 4,800 Liberians died as a result of the disease.
Liberia was first declared Ebola-free in May 2015. Since then, sporadic cases have continued to emerge. It is estimated that more than 10,500 people were infected throughout the country. Those who survive face lasting challenges, including health issues and stigmatisation.
Samaritan’s Purse worked in Liberia throughout the Ebola crisis—providing clinical care as well as spearheading an awareness campaign—and continues to help those who face darkness in the aftermath. We’ve started various programmes including a survivors’ clinic and post-Ebola counseling. Each of the 13 survivors below, all from Monrovia or Lofa County, are beneficiaries of Samaritan’s Purse. Though many have lost everything, we continue to point them to the comfort they can find in Christ.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
PSALM 23:4, NKJV
First, Ebola came for her husband. As he lay dying, Maima Myer’s family and community deserted her. She was left to raise 10 grandchildren alone. Without the use of her legs and with no one to help her, Maima was unable to care for herself or her husband. When he died, the community returned to burn all of their belongings to ensure that Ebola didn’t spread.
But it was too late. Ebola had come for Maima. She had watched her husband die, and she knew what would happen to her. She went to the Ebola Treatment Unit, where she received the care she needed. But when she returned home healthy, she wasn’t welcome. She had to rely on her oldest grandchildren to help her with chores, but with no income, they wouldn’t be able to live for long.
Samaritan’s Purse found Maima and provided seeds and tools for her to start a garden. While she waits for her first harvest, Samaritan’s Purse is also providing food for her family. When the staff members visit, it raises her morale.
“When Samaritan’s Purse comes to pray for me, I feel that I am human among friends,” she said.
Esther Tarr and her husband were childhood sweethearts. When he got sick, they didn’t know what was wrong. He took medicine, but his condition worsened. Esther knew that Ebola was in the country, so she sent her six children to stay with her brother to protect them. That’s what saved them. Esther’s husband died at home.
When she developed similar symptoms, she went to the Ebola Treatment Unit. She lived, but when she returned to her rented home, all of her belongings had been removed and her landlords told her she couldn’t return. She took her six children and went to her sister’s house, but even her sister stigmatised her and mistreated her children. Esther sent her four youngest children back to her brother’s house because she couldn’t bear to see them suffer. Now her family is split.
While Esther was at the survivors’ clinic run by Samaritan’s Purse, she learned about a project for Ebola widows. The project provides counseling, food, and vocational training for women whose husbands died from the virus. Esther, angry at God and her circumstances, signed up. It changed her life.
“For me, Ebola has reduced my life to a point where I’m just beginning to be hopeful,” she said. “My life was not that wonderful, but compared to what my life is now, when I see myself now, I say, ‘Is it possible for anything better to come out of me again?’ I’m now beginning to have hope. I’m now beginning to have some light.”
When Ebola hit Liberia, Hawa Sekou and her husband both decided to work in the Ebola Treatment Unit. She clearly remembers the morning when he told her that four staff members had died and that he wasn’t feeling well. He helped bury the bodies and then went to work. She never saw him again.
Two days later, Hawa began feeling ill too. In the Ebola Treatment Unit, her fate was different from her husband’s. She lived. But when she returned home, she had seven children to care for and no source of income. She mourned her husband, both because she missed him and because he was her provider.
When Samaritan’s Purse started a programme for widows in her community, she decided to attend. The programme gives her an opportunity to talk with others who have experienced the pain of Ebola and to be encouraged by the Word of God. Sometimes, Samaritan’s Purse brings fish or other food to the group, and Hawa takes it home to make soup for her children.
“I see how God is still with me through this programme,” she said. “He lost His Son, too, for the sake of us, so God knows pain.”
When Joseph Gbembo and his family first heard about Ebola in March 2014, they didn’t believe that it was real. Even when Samaritan’s Purse went into their community to distribute Ebola awareness messaging, they ignored it. It was only when Joseph was hired by Samaritan’s Purse to do some repair work that he understood that Ebola was real.
But his family still believed Ebola was a moneymaking scheme and that people were being taken to the hospital to be killed. Joseph’s aunt, who raised him, was the first to contract Ebola. Her son took her to the hospital, but when she didn’t get better, he took her back home to Joseph’s house. She died there, and her family participated in a traditional burial where they washed her body. As his family ridiculed him, Joseph washed his hands with chlorine and sprayed his house.
From that point, several family members began to get sick, including Joseph’s mother, brother, nephew, and sister. In total, 17 people died during the course of a few days. Joseph was left with 16 orphans to raise. Three more family members contracted Ebola, but they went to the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Treatment Unit and survived. Joseph used what happened to him to warn others in his community. Because they knew his story, they listened to him.
“When I see the children that my family member left behind with me … I remember my late family and it encourages me that these children that survive will be people tomorrow,” he said.
By the time Jenneh Gbembo, Joseph’s sister-in-law, got Ebola, she had already watched most of her family die one by one. When she developed symptoms, she asked Samaritan’s Purse to take her to the Ebola Treatment Unit. There, she received medicine to help with her symptoms. Soon she began to feel better, and her appetite returned. She especially remembers Darlington, a nurse who works with Samaritan’s Purse.
“[He] told me, ‘When you started waking up, we started praying,’” she said. “Before they gave me medicine, they started singing. In the ETU, they used to give us food. [All of this was] to encourage us.”
Now Samaritan’s Purse staff members visit Jenneh to ensure that she is healthy. She has six children of her own, and because so many of her family members died, she is caring for 14 others. She hopes her son, a senior in high school, will be able to receive training from Samaritan’s Purse to become a driver to relieve some of the financial burden.
Two-year-old Deborah Gbembo, the youngest daughter of Jenneh and niece of Joseph, faced the deadly virus with medical help from Samaritan’s Purse. When she returned home from the unit, she still had many relatives to play with her, but other people didn’t visit the compound where Jenneh, Joseph, and the rest of their surviving family lived.
“[The community] used to treat me bad,” Jenneh said. “Nobody used to come in the compound here. Nobody used to talk to us because they said when they touched our house, they can get Ebola.”
Deborah is now 4 years old. With the children that her mother and uncle are raising, she has lots of playmates, including her deaf 3-year-old niece and best friend, Hannah. Most of these children won’t remember the terror of Ebola, but they’ll face the lasting changes in Liberia.
Three months before the Ebola outbreak started, Barbara Bono was hired as an emergency room nurse at the local hospital. Suddenly, patients came streaming into the hospital for help. One night, Barbara went to help one of these patients back into bed. As he began to fall, he dug his fingernails into her hands. But because the outbreak had just started, Barbara didn’t worry about it.
Two weeks later, Barbara developed a fever. She immediately had her older daughter take her to the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Treatment Unit. While she was there, she tried to stay in contact with her daughters, but she was so tired that she often couldn’t answer the phone. Barbara is a single parent, and, while she was sick, she worried about what would happen to her children if she died. Although she watched many people in the unit be covered in plastic and carried away, she never gave up.
“Some people just felt that there was no need for them to do nothing, so they just gave up,” she said. “I kept holding up saying, ‘I’m going to be a testimony.’”
Today, Barbara works with Samaritan’s Purse as a health officer. She visits the homes of Ebola survivors to help with their health needs and to counsel them. Because Barbara is also a survivor, many people feel comfortable opening up to her.
It was a normal day for Naomie Johnny when she went to a friend’s house to plait her hair. While she was there, the friend said she had a headache and was feeling sick. The next day, Naomie woke up with a fever. She thought it was typhoid, so she took medicine. But when she didn’t improve, she sent her daughter to stay with her father. After four days, she was taken to the Ebola Treatment Unit, where she tested positive.
“Life in the ETU was very difficult,” she said. “I was really feeling discouraged, feeling that I was not going to live again. Whenever I imagine it, I just feel like crying.”
After two weeks, she was able to return home, but people in her community were afraid of her. They wouldn’t buy from her at the market, so her snack shop had to close. Without money, she had to take her daughter out of school. She decided to move to a new community where people wouldn’t know her status.
Naomie attends the survivors’ clinic run by Samaritan’s Purse, and Barbara visits her at her home. Through the clinic, she learned about a Samaritan’s Purse programme where she can learn to make soap and tie-dye. She’s doing the classes now in hopes that she will be able to open a new business soon. In the meantime, Samaritan’s Purse is paying her daughter’s school fees.
Even in Esther Fayieh’s small town, news of Ebola spread quickly. She heard about it on the radio less than a month after it entered Liberia. But in Esther’s town, people denied that Ebola was real. Esther did the same—until her sister was infected. By then, it was too late. Esther lost her father, mother, and five sisters to Ebola.
When she got sick, she wasn’t surprised. She went to the Ebola Treatment Unit in Foya. When she returned home, people were afraid of her. Hardest of all, she was left to raise her sisters’ five children alone.
Esther goes to the Samaritan’s Purse survivors’ clinic in Foya to receive medical care for the lasting side effects of the virus. Joint pain in her leg and hearing loss in her left ear continue to plague her. But Samaritan’s Purse is able to offer medicine to ease the pain. We are also offering vocational training to Esther so that she can support the family she has left. She has chosen to start computer science classes.
“Before I encountered the virus, I had a lovely family,” she said. “But all of my family died. I was very discouraged about life. But for now, [Samaritan’s Purse staff and doctors at the hospital] counsel me and talk to me, so I feel very fine even though I lost all of my family.”
Before the Ebola crisis, Isatu Wleh worked with the Red Cross in Liberia. When she got sick, she had to leave her job to seek treatment at the Ebola Treatment Unit. She recovered in the unit, but when she returned home, everything had changed.
“I was stigmatised by the community,” she said. “Everyone called me Ebola patient.”
Her community didn’t want to accept her, but her extended family insisted that she be allowed to return home. When she tried to go back to her job, the Red Cross told her that her position had been filled and there were no other jobs available. Worst of all, her husband left her with their five living children. She hasn’t seen him in two years. Isatu left her community to escape the stigma.
Now when she needs medical care, Isatu goes to the Samaritan’s Purse clinic because many others won’t accept Ebola survivors. There she receives counseling and has recently started a new opportunity. In her city, Samaritan’s Purse is offering the chance for Ebola survivors to learn tailoring. There she has learned a skill that can help her make her own money, and she has made new friends who can identify with her. Samaritan’s Purse has encouraged her to get back on her feet and to thank God that she’s a survivor.
When 20-year-old Gracious Dongba contracted Ebola, her sister drove her out of her house. She had nowhere to go except her former stepmother’s house. There, she was allowed to sleep in an outdoor kitchen. Eventually, she realised she needed to seek treatment and went to the Ebola Treatment Unit.
While she was there, people in her community spread rumors that she had died. Gracious survived Ebola, but the stigma was too much for her. She didn’t return to her community. She moved to a new area of the city and told no one that she was a survivor.
“Right now I don’t have anybody to depend on besides God,” she said.
She is able to receive healthcare at a clinic run by Samaritan’s Purse especially for Ebola survivors, and she recently enrolled in a Samaritan’s Purse programme where she will learn tailoring. She hopes it will be a new start to her life.
Before the Ebola crisis, Yawah sold rice, paper, and dry goods in the marketplace. But when she got sick, she had to leave her business and go to the Ebola Treatment Unit. When she emerged from it, she found that everything had changed. One of her four children died from Ebola. No one would buy her goods in the market. Although she no longer had Ebola, she had lasting symptoms. And shortly after her discharge from the unit, her husband left her. Eventually, she left her community.
“I can’t go back,” she said.
Yawah took her three living children to her mother’s house, and, two years later, she’s still there. When Samaritan’s Purse opened a clinic for Ebola survivors, Yawah went to receive help for her lingering health issues and to be counseled. As a part of the clinic programme, Yawah also enrolled in a class to learn tie-dye. She’ll use the skills she’s learning to support her family.
When Harrison Sakilla’s mother got Ebola, they didn’t even know whether the virus was real. No one took precautions, and, soon, Harrison had the virus too. At the time, no one in Liberia had survived Ebola. His mother, father, brother, sister, and cousin had died. Samaritan’s Purse found him and took him to the Ebola Treatment Unit in Foya. Around him, 32 people died. But then, something miraculous happened. Harrison started to get better.
“I was not fearful,” Harrison said about his time in the Ebola Treatment Unit. “I was looking up to God.”
He became the first Ebola survivor in Liberia. After he left the Ebola Treatment Unit, he began working with Samaritan’s Purse in the fight against Ebola. First he became a security guard, and then he became a hygienist, spraying doctors with chlorine as they exited the unit.
Currently, Harrison is participating in a beekeeping project with Samaritan’s Purse. He hopes to sell the honey to make income for his family. Since his time in the unit, he has married and now has a daughter.