This post was written by Samuel Estabrook, as part of the Words Against Ebola campaign – a Red Cross initiative to promote knowledge, fight stigma, alleviate fear and overcome complacency through the sharing of positive words. The American Red Cross deployed Samuel to Liberia in January. Samuel is tweeting from Liberia @mapping_Sam.
Love is a blessing and a curse in the time of Ebola. Caring for loved ones while they’re suffering puts caretakers’ own health at risk. In West Africa, it is people’s love for family and neighbors that has caused an unprecedented chain of exposure and more than 3,000 confirmed Ebola deaths in Liberia alone. In West Africa, more than 10,000 people have died from the virus.
Life with Ebola has challenged love, too. Many people who have had the disease face painful stigma and isolation from their own friends and communities. At the height of the outbreak, the threat of catching Ebola was so great that love between friends and family became insularly protective — better to ostracize others to protect home and family. The trauma of stigma and isolation pose new challenges to a nation still plagued by memories of war. Red Cross volunteers’ promotion of psychosocial support has been welcomed, and the scars that are still fresh will hopefully fade as the fear and stigma subside.
Over time, better understanding about Ebola promotes love, too. I’ve seen it. When a Liberian Red Cross volunteer survived the disease, she experienced no stigma from her colleagues, friends, or family.
I saw love in a different way, by having the honor to work with the safe and dignified burial teams in the urban capital of Liberia: Monrovia. Day after day these burial teams traveled to welcoming and weary communities alike, stressing the urgency and importance of safety — love for their countrymen and women was their motivation. Their mission was clearly from the heart, as their comradery and responsibility for each other’s safety was only greater strengthened by their shared experiences and concern for fellow Liberians.
Love will prevail through the fear. As we commemorate the Ebola outbreak’s one year mark, Liberia has sadly confirmed a new case. Our love as donors, doctors, nurses, humanitarians, volunteers, researchers, specialists, and the concerned public will be needed as the battle continues in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The American response, alongside the Liberian government and dozens of organizations that labor tirelessly to eradicate Ebola must continue to support those immediately and indirectly affected by the outbreak.
Our love, shipped from abroad in so many forms, pales in comparison to the love and compassion evident within the communities’ hearts and minds in every part of Liberia. I’m humbled by my experience, and only wish for love to triumph above all. Thank you for reading, and may your Words Against Ebola be truer and stronger than ever before.
You can join the #WordsAgainstEbola campaign at wordsagainstebola.org.