Nyamah Dunbar’s calling to feed the people in her native land of Liberia collided with the worst outbreak of Ebola in history.
“Ebola, for me, has been the gift that came wrapped as a plague,” she said.
Since the first case was reported in Guinea in March 2014, more than 11,000 people have died of the disease and 27,000 cases were reported. Liberia had the most deaths at 4,806 but was declared Ebola-free in May 2015. However, a 17-year-old boy died of Ebola in June and two other cases were reported in the same village.
But the country that was shut-down for almost a year is struggling to find a way to come back to life. Dunbar wants to be one of the seeds that will grow Liberia back stronger than before.
Dunbar worked for the United Methodist Committee on Relief for six years doing health and relief work. Two weeks after she resigned from a job she really loved and flew to Liberia, suddenly she was living with quarantines and panic. Airports were closed. Hospitals were shutting down.
“My mother said, ‘We’re only here in the hands of God.’”
Dunbar was born in Liberia while her mother was a missionary for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Wilma Dunbar took her five children back to the U.S. after her husband died when Nyamah was 11.
Heeding God’s call
Despite the fear and panic of Ebola, the younger Dunbar never thought of giving up her dream.
“There was a moment when I had that, ‘Why did you let me come now?’ conversation with God. I said, ‘You could have either allowed me to stay an extra year, but you explicitly said go now.’ And so I came.”
God’s answer was, “If you had been sitting there watching what was happening, you would never come after that. I wanted you to come and watch and see and know that I am God.”
Dunbar’s years with UMCOR also prepared her because the church works in far-reaching areas and many of the conditions she was seeing in Liberia were not that unfamiliar to her.
“If I had actually left corporate America and gone there, I would have been scared out of my wits.”
She named her business Sankofa, which is a West African icon of a bird looking backward with an egg in its mouth. In Dunbar’s logo, the bird has a grain of rice in its mouth.
“In a nutshell, what it means is you must always remember the lessons of the past as you plan for the future. I just love that because I feel like it is so applicable to Liberia,” she said.
Less need for food imports
Several factors have been plaguing Liberia’s development for many years, she said. “At the crux is this reliance on importing and not producing our own food.”
She said up to 97 percent of food is imported for daily consumption. Part of the reason the country never concentrated on growing its own food is because it is so rich in resources such as diamonds, iron ore and timber. It was easy to buy food.
Ebola taught Liberians that cash is no good if ports are closed shut and people are too scared to come into the country, she added.
Dunbar wants to grow rice — the primary staple crop for Liberians the primary staple crop for Liberians — on a large scale.
“They could eat it three times a day and then have it for dessert,” she said, laughing.
But her plans also include growing other vegetables and some animal components. She wants to go through the whole production process to ensure quality. She wants Liberians to see the process from start to finish — grow it, package it and sell it.
She is exploring options of working with local farmers but she also wants a core of technical people who are trained agronomists.
Ebola has and will continue to change her life, she said.
“In some ways this was my road to Damascus journey. It fortified me spiritually.”
Dunbar met regularly with a group of other missioners also in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. Together, they found encouragement and comfort in Psalm 91.
To this day, she starts and ends her day with Psalm 91.
The psalm talks about God as the protector in the midst of evil, in the midst of plagues, in the midst of whatever trauma … that God is walking every step along with us, she explains.
“That was just very important to know.”
Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5471 or [email protected].