Church institutions continue to aid post-Ebola Liberia

Ernest Tokpah recalls the toll Ebola took on his family during 2015 and 2016 in Ganta, Liberia. "Ganta was on fire because of the Ebola," he said. "We stopped eating together, we stopped shaking hands, and people practically stopped talking to each other.” Tokpah, a faculty member at Ganta United Methodist School, is raising four children left orphaned when his sister and her husband died of the disease. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
Ernest Tokpah recalls the toll Ebola took on his family during 2015 and 2016 in Ganta, Liberia. "Ganta was on fire because of the Ebola," he said. "We stopped eating together, we stopped shaking hands, and people practically stopped talking to each other.” Tokpah, a faculty member at Ganta United Methodist School, is raising four children left orphaned when his sister and her husband died of the disease. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Reports of a recent outbreak of Ebola leading to 25 deaths in the DemocraticRepublic of Congo has brought the disease back into international headlines, just twoyears after the epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia andSierra Leone.

Liberians continue to recover from that crisis even though thecountry was declared Ebola-free in January 2016. The road back to“normal” has been a long one.

Students work together on spelling words in the combined kindergarten and first grade classroom at the Bishop Judith Craig Children's Village in Duahzon, Liberia, some two years after the country was declared “Ebola-free.” One of the areas hardest hit by the crisis was education, with many students missing most of the 2015-2016 school year. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Students work together on spelling words in the combined kindergarten andfirst grade classroom at the Bishop Judith Craig Children's Village in Duahzon,Liberia, some two years after the country was declared “Ebola-free.”One of the areas hardest hit by the crisis was education, with many studentsmissing most of the 2015-2016 school year.

 

One of the areas hardest hit by the crisis was education. Withthe entire country seemingly at a standstill while trying to halt spread of thedisease, schools were closed from August 2015 until February 2016. Theloss of most of a school year put students behind, and when schools reopened, manystudents lacked the fees to return because their parents had been out of work duringthat time or may have succumbed to the disease.

“At first, it was hard bringing the childrenback,” said the Rev. Charles Fiske, principal of the school at the Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Village in Duahzon.“Many were traumatized in the same way as if there were a war in the country.Bringing things back to a sense of normality takes a lot of effort.”

Students enjoy a few moments in the schoolyard before classes begin at the Ganta United Methodist School. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Students enjoy a few moments in the schoolyard before classes begin at theGanta United Methodist School.

 

When Ganta United Methodist School reopened after thefive-month closure, fees for students were waived, which resulted in a shortfall of$2 million LRD (about $14,500 USD), said James Y. Koroloroblee, the school’sinterim acting principal.

“We had to find a means for people to pay so we offeredjobs cleaning the campus during vacation time in exchange for fees. We had to keepthem in school,” he said.

Interim principal James Y. Koroloroblee presides over the morning assembly at Ganta United Methodist School. The school was closed for five months during the 2015-2016 school year due to an outbreak of Ebola. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Interim principal James Y. Koroloroblee presides over the morning assemblyat Ganta United Methodist School. The school was closed for five months during the2015-2016 school year due to an outbreak of Ebola.

 

Abullah Buhmean, a 17-year-old student at the school whenUnited Methodist News Service interviewed him in June 2017, was one of the studentswho benefited from a work grant.

“My uncle was sponsoring (my school fees) and when hedied because of the Ebola, there was no way for me to continue school, so the schoolput me on work grant scholarship,” Buhmean said. “As a work grantstudent, I am responsible for cutting the grass around campus.”

Abullah Buhmean, 17, was able to continue his education at Ganta United Methodist School after his uncle died of Ebola thanks to a work grant from the school. “We were quarantined for 21 days when it was confirmed by the hospital that my uncle had Ebola,” Buhmean said. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Abullah Buhmean, 17, was able to continue his education at Ganta UnitedMethodist School after his uncle died of Ebola thanks to a work grant from theschool. “We were quarantined for 21 days when it was confirmed by thehospital that my uncle had Ebola,” Buhmean said.

 
View Photos, Read more
John Farr displays carvings and baskets that he makes to help support himself at the Ganta Leprosy and TB Rehab Center. The center is part of the United Methodist Ganta Mission Station in Ganta, Liberia. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.John Farr displays carvings andbaskets that he makes to help support himself at the Ganta Leprosy and TBRehab Center in Liberia. 
 

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See photos from United Methodist News Service's trip to Liberiaon our Flickr page.

While teachers and faculty were trying to help students regaintheir lost lesson time, many of them were also coping with personal difficultiesbrought on by the Ebola epidemic.

Ernest Tokpah, an agriculture field supervisor at the school,told UMNS in June 2017 that he had adopted his sister’s four children afterboth she and her husband died from the disease. Stigma about Ebola made an alreadydifficult situation even harder to deal with.

“When my sister and her husband died and I brought thechildren home, the entire community shunned me and the children, and we were left todo things on our own,” he said.

Tokpah said that fear and lack of credible health informationled people to alter almost every facet of daily life.

“Ganta was on fire because of the Ebola,” he said.“We stopped eating together, we stopped shaking hands, and people practicallystopped talking to each other.”

Johnson N. Gwaikolo, former president of United MethodistUniversity in Monrovia and now a member of Liberia’s Legislature, told UMNS inJune 2017 that Ebola set the school back, and reported losing three or four studentsto the disease.

“Every academic semester we project our estimatedenrollment,” Gwaikolo said. “Approaching the start of school, we had halfour estimate, so it delayed our calendar year.”

The university added several hours to class time to catch up,and offered payment plans to students struggling to come up with funds fortuition.

A motorcyclist rides past the entrance to the former United Methodist College of Health Sciences in Ganta, Liberia. Although the nursing school moved to a new campus nearby in February, the Ganta United Methodist Hospital continues to offer medical care at its facilities on the church’s mission station. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

A motorcyclist rides past the entrance to the former United MethodistCollege of Health Sciences in Ganta, Liberia. Although the nursing school moved toa new campus nearby in February, the Ganta United Methodist Hospital continues tooffer medical care at its facilities on the church’s missionstation.

 

The church also played a role on the medical front line of theoutbreak. During a June 2017 visit, staff at Ganta United Methodist Hospital sharedtheir experience with United Methodist News Service.

David N. Vulu, human resources director at Ganta UnitedMethodist Hospital, said, “There came a point where some areas were no-gobecause of the intensity of the Ebola crisis.”

Vulu said one person affected by the situation got on theradio, frustrated that he was kept in his home with no support.

A van donated by the United Nations to help fight Ebola rests on flattened tires at a former containment facility near the airstrip at the United Methodist Ganta Mission Station in Ganta, Liberia. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

A van donated by the United Nations to help fight Ebola rests on flattenedtires at a former containment facility near the airstrip at the United MethodistGanta Mission Station in Ganta, Liberia.

 

“The district superintendent of the church here took ateam to talk to this guy and provide support,” he said. “The churchhelped with witness and helping health facilities to carry supplies.”

Ganta Hospital is in a fairly remote area. The next hospitalto the north is 26 miles away; a specialized hospital is about 60 miles away. Whenthe breakout occurred, hospital staff mobilized to address the crisis.

An Ebola containment facility constructed by the Nimba County Health team and Project Concern International lies unused at the Ganta Mission Station. Ganta Hospital staff assisted the medical team running the facility during the Ebola crisis. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

An Ebola containment facility constructed by the Nimba County Health teamand Project Concern International lies unused at the Ganta Mission Station. GantaHospital staff assisted the medical team running the facility during the Ebolacrisis.

 
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When the number of Ebola patients rose dramatically and therewas no Ebola Treatment Unit set up yet, the hospital allowed the local government touse its eye clinic. Later, the Nimba County Health team and Project ConcernInternational constructed a large containment facility on a nearby rural airstrip.Ganta Hospital staff assisted the medical team running the facility.

Eye and vision problems have surfaced in Ebola survivors, butGanta’s eye clinic tends to refer anyone with such issues to a facility inMonrovia.

“Their treatment is a specialized process andwe’re not equipped to provide services for them,” said Clarence Menleh,supervisor of the eye clinic.

Protective clothing is scattered about at a former Ebola containment facility at the Ganta Mission Station. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Protective clothing is scattered about at a former Ebola containmentfacility at the Ganta Mission Station.

 

As the hospital lacks a facility to fully isolate patients,its role is often one of referring patients elsewhere. There have been no confirmedcases of Ebola since the outbreak was declared over, but staff now have procedures inplace, said Agatha Neufville, the hospital’s director of nursing.

“Before Ebola, patients could just walk in. After, wedecided to do screening and triage.”

Ganta United Methodist Hospital is among the church's health and education facilities that are helping the country recover from the Ebola crisis of 2015-2016. The hospital, which serves a fairly remote area, has instated new isolation procedures following the crisis. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Ganta United Methodist Hospital is among the church's health and educationfacilities that are helping the country recover from the Ebola crisis of 2015-2016.The hospital, which serves a fairly remote area, has instated new isolationprocedures following the crisis.

 

They take everyone’s vitals and temperatures. Evenvisitors have their temperature taken before being allowed in. Patients with feverare placed in a separate area and staff are required to don preventative materialsbefore seeing those patients. If symptoms don’t get better after a few days,patients are transferred to clinics better suited to issues like hemorrhagicfever.

“It was a challenge, not knowing facts about Ebola andyou have to keep working with minimal supplies,” Neufville said. “It wasnot easy but at the end, God was with us and we worked.”

Agatha Neufville recalls that when the first Ebola patient arrived at the United Methodist hospital in Ganta, the staff did not know what they were facing. Neufville, director of nursing at the facility, said none of her staff contracted the disease through their work. "God has been with Ganta hospital," she said. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Agatha Neufville recalls that when the first Ebola patient arrived at theUnited Methodist hospital in Ganta, the staff did not know what they were facing.Neufville, director of nursing at the facility, said none of her staff contractedthe disease through their work. "God has been with Ganta hospital," shesaid.

 

Butler is a multimedia producer/editor and MikeDuBose is staff photographer for United Methodist News Service. JuluSwen, a communicator in Liberia, contributed to this report. News mediacontact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or WeeklyDigests. 

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