Today is Blog Action Day around the world and the theme is inequality. In my opinion, no other country aligns with this theme more than Liberia. It is currently in a national state of inequality. It has suffered war and corruption. Ebola has the country in a stranglehold. Inequality in medical care for those afflicted with Ebola is a sad and troubling reality.
Yet there are glimmers of hope. Champions of awareness and compassion who are working tirelessly to give comfort and aid to the people of Liberia. People like young Ive Jones, from Apex, North Carolina (http://www.wncn.com/story/26761379/apex-11-year-old-raising-funds-for-kids-orphaned-by-ebola) I read a post about her efforts to raise funds for children orphaned by Ebola on my son’s Facebook page (thank you Sami Brown and Graham Hill). Moved by Ive’s story, I contacted her mother, Catherine, who put me in touch with Christine. All photos are hers.
Christine lives in Monrovia, Liberia where she works as a property management assistant with the United Nations Mission in Liberia. Her job involves management of the mission’s logistical support for civilian and military contingents. Her work with Citizens Organized for the Promotion of Transparency and Accountability (COPTA) — a team of young Liberian professionals formed as a civil society organization – focuses on holding Liberian public officials’ “feet to the fire.” As Ebola began to rage the country, COPTA redirected its focus to join the fight against Ebola.
My Conversation with Christine
Look out a window in your home and tell me what you see.
Looking out my living room window, first thing I see is one of the tallest Christmas trees I’ve seen. I look at it and silently wish it’s Christmas (my birthday). In my garden, I have roses and hibiscus and sweet blossom. But that Christmas tree…. there’s just something about Christmas. Today, if I look out, I would wonder what Christmas would be like this year if Ebola is still around (and I’m positive something about Ebola will still be around).
Describe how Ebola has impacted Liberia.
Ebola has impacted each and every Liberian and every corner of the nation. The uncertainty of Ebola has caused some companies to suspend activities in Liberia. Even the government has reduced its staff by asking non-essential workers to stay home. Initially it was to keep public gatherings down, but now some workers might not be called back. Also, expats who have left since the Ebola crisis had to lay off their workers. President Obama has said the U.S. will blunt the economic effects of Ebola on the Liberian economy. I would hope such an effort is well targeted.
Liberia is a country lacking in basic social services; a country where the health sector is “on one leg” and now Ebola has “amputated” that leg. This makes it very difficult for people who need care to readily obtain it. I know that some children have died from the illness. But those who survive their parents are in a particularly difficult life situation. Most Liberian families are living at or below the poverty line, so to take on additional responsibilities of raising these children would present a challenge. Also, there is a stigma associated with Ebola that makes difficult the reintegration of adults. Now imagine how it must be for orphaned children.
Ebola surfaced at a time when kids were on vacation. In Liberia, the months of school vacation are absolutely wonderful. You can hang out with your friends, and have a kind of leeway from your parents that you won’t dare ask for during times when school is in session. Imagine now that children have been under a kind of restriction they are not used to. They have to stay in, not play games with their friends, and not go to video clubs to watch their favorite football teams. The situation has not been easy for them. So planning for the next school year is still something to do. With nothing else to do with school while Ebola rages, for most children, playing is with a lot less freedom and helping their parents to sell their goods is what’s keeping them busy. Before Ebola, there was almost a complete absence of parks and green spaces where children could play, after all that is their right. Playing! In addition, the lack of public electricity means even when most kids are home they won’t be able to watch TV.
Also, there is really only one public library, and that is at the U.S. Embassy. Most people won’t take their kids there because of scheduling conflicts with their work to keep food on the table and keep the family alive as well.
Tell me more about COPTA
COPTA is presently involved in social mobilization carrying out campaigns of awareness and/sensitization in the communities. We have also donated preventive kits to communities and supplies to the ETUs (Ebola Treatment Units). Our awareness and/sensitization campaigns involve discussions on prevention, community response, home-based care, de-stigmatization of those infected, and reintegration of survivors, among other things. We raise funds for the provision of survival kits to survivors of EVD in Liberia. Survivors are those who contracted the virus, received treatment at an ETU and recovered, and are certificated by the Ministry of Health as “Ebola-free”.
In your opinion, what is the greatest inequality regarding the situation?
Most children will remain here waiting for school to open, but some parents have taken their children away from here. And we cannot say that that was unfair especially when the situation is so frightening. But Liberia, with an already weak educational system, is not preparing for the day when kids return to school, as every focus is now on Ebola. That is unfair.
What do you want the world to know about Liberia and its people?
Liberia is a very beautiful country, one rich in culture. The arts, the beaches, the forests, the food, the people, the Liberian colloquial …they all make Liberia a great place. There are many wonderful places to see. Lake Piso, Kpatawee Water Falls, and vistas of verdant landscapes… if you like fishing, Liberian waters are a weekend playground for many who live here, even as it provided a living for seaside communities. People might be surprised to know that Robertsport is a hotspot for surfers from around the world. Liberia is just spectacular. Liberians are very strong people who know how to adapt and adjust to situations rather quickly. Although we are – and have been – going through hardships of creating a fair and inclusive society for the past 167 years, we have always found ways to survive and keep the faith because of our beliefs in society, the principles of our founding and The Almighty God.
Describe a perfect time of year and day in Liberia.
I’m a huge fan of the rainy season, when the trees are green and their fruits tempt you. The quiet of Sundays gets me. With the hustle and bustle of weekdays ahead of you, Sundays we just hang out. During the dry season, when it is hot enough to melt your shoes, people plan all week for beach parties. And they can go from Saturday to Sunday. That’s when traffic snarls and we wish we had more roads. But these beach gatherings are like one party, because you can find people you know – in Liberia we don’t have six degrees of separation, we have one degree of separation. So small a society we have. And you can get food and drink offered you just by walking by.
If I came to house for dinner, what would you cook?
Potato greens most definitely (smile) and a second choice (if I don’t cook both) would be seafood palm butter.
What myths or stereotypes about Liberia would you like to dispel?
One of the myths that I would like to dispel about Liberia is that Liberia is a “high risk’ country as far as safety is concerned. Liberians are people who love foreigners. Most Liberians have come from some place other than here, but we don’t consider ourselves hyphenated Liberians. We are just simply Liberians. When foreigners arrive in Liberia, they are treated as special guests and honored in ways that they remember. Anyone is free to go where they please without fears of having bad things happen to them. I am not saying this is a perfect place. It is not. Unlike other places in the world, anyone can come here and become part of the society.
What do you love most about Liberia? There are too many things to love about Liberia but LIBERIANS are what I love most. We are a family. We fight and make up (laugh). We are resilient.
What gives you hope/inspiration?
I draw inspiration from God first. I put Him first. And then when I wake up every morning, my family is around me and that makes me feel great and keeps me hopeful and fighting through everything that is happening in Liberia. Then there are those children hopping to school (probably without breakfast), but so hopeful that what they are going to learn today will make them doctors or presidents tomorrow. In their eyes, lie hope and optimism.
What is your impression of the United States? Chicago?
I’ve not been to the U.S., but it’s no secret that is an important country that struggles like other countries to create an inclusive society, and build an economy to benefit as many as possible. The U.S. isn’t perfect, but it keeps trying. That is why it inspires people, because most people want a chance to succeed, and you can only do so by trying.
Chicago is cold, but they say it’s nice in the summers. I just might be at your doorsteps soon, Laura.
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Tags: #BAD2014 #Blogaction14, #COPTA, #Ebola, #Inequality, #Liberia, #Oct16, @iamivejones, Blog Action Day, Catherine Jones, Ebola orphans, Graham Hill, Ive Jones, Life Beyond Ebola, Monrovia, Sami Brown, U.S. Embassy in Liberia, United Nations, United Nations Mission