Liberian government officials and residents of the New Georgia Community gathered together to celebrate Christ Kingdom Harvest Church’s enormous efforts to fight Ebola. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf chose to kick off her “Ebola Must Go!” campaign in the community because the people took proper protocols to defeat the disease.
“I heard someone say to go from hundred to ninety is hard, but to go from ten to zero is even harder,” said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, according to The Liberian Observer. She added:
Through our efforts, the disease has retreated into places that are hard to reach. This is why I’m joining this community that has been such a strong group in fighting Ebola. We are launching it in a place that has made the difference. So the banner says stopping Ebola is everybody’s business.
The disease struck in August, but the church’s actions brought the community together:
A community taskforce was formed; people began to move from house to house with the message and identifying and getting out the sick, consoling and caring the infected. These things (community residents) did with their own resources and efforts.
The community chairman, J. B. Walker Dennis, said the community was hard hit in August, as twelve people died, though five were actually confirmed Ebola cases. It was for this reason that the community decided to take action to ensure its safety.
He said since the formation of the taskforce and the rigorous exercises of awareness and identifying the sick, when the family of 17 was also quarantined, the infection rate began to decline. Mr. Dennis said presently the community has eight survivors.
New Georgia Community has significantly improved situations on the ground for survivors, as well, who often face stigma upon returning from hospitals. In Guinea, for example, a teacher was fired from her job even though she received a certificate of health. Another survivor lost her boyfriend despite the fact that she recovered.
In New Georgia, residents shunned survivors at first, but it was Pastor John P. Ghartay, the church’s leader, who changed the community’s mind. The Kaifa family in New Georgia suffered from Ebola after a relative from another town brought the disease; the family was properly quarantined after church officials intervened. The mother passed away and left behind six infected children.
“All of the sick, living children were lying on the porch vomiting, toileting on themselves,” said Ophelia Ghartay. “We should not touch anyone that is sick. But we knew we could still do something.”
Living relatives refused to take in the now-healthy children. The church took in the children until they could find a home. After two landlords kicked them out, Ghartay finally found a permanent home for the children.
The church’s participation in helping quarantine homes made villagers significantly more likely to trust officials. Throughout West Africa, lack of trust in Western medical workers has triggered behaviors that facilitate the spread of Ebola, a reaction to distrust of those who come from outside the community. One village told the medical volunteers they would be “cut into pieces” if they did not leave the communities alone. Liberian town Jene-Wonde is the new epicenter of the country because it refuses to quarantine the ill or bury the dead in the correct bags.