Sitting under a large tree, Randall Varnie and his fellow National Ebola Survivor Network of Liberia (NESNL) leaders take a respite from the heat. They joke and tease each other about their fashion choices as they pose for pictures. They’ve just returned from an event sponsored by the USAID-funded Ebola Transmission and Survivor Services program which is implemented by Advancing Partners & Communities through the JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI). At the event, they spoke on behalf of all Ebola survivors to representatives of the Ministry of Health, USAID, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak killed over 11,000 people and affected many more. Between 7,000 and 10,000 people survived the virus.
In Liberia, Ebola survivors come from every county, background, and profession. They are both prosperous and poor. While they have all lived through trauma and loss, they have much more than Ebola in common. They are proud, resilient, and like many citizens of the country, hopeful about the future. They want the world to hear their needs but not define them by a virus.
Ebola survivors were previously dispersed throughout Liberia and didn’t have a unified voice. Now some of the leaders of NESNL sit outside their new office, where they meet weekly with the president of the Network, Patrick Faley, and the rest of the leadership, to discuss issues relevant to survivors across the country.
JSI convened survivors in the 11 affected counties of Liberia in December 2016 to elect the Network’s leaders. We also helped them organize by providing an office space and supporting the establishment of a constitution and bylaws to guide the Network’s activities.
Despite these efforts, Varnie says that times are still tough for Ebola survivors. They continue to face stigma and discrimination in their communities. Many have been unable to return to their professions or find new jobs because of this. The Network is disseminating positive information about Ebola survivors so that they can reintegrate into their communities.
Pastor Lafayette Vinton – “We are not the virus; we were only affected by it.”
“Survivors are very important people. We are people with great potential, people with skills, people who will make an impact in our generation. We are not the virus; we were only affected by it. And now, we have been pronounced free from the virus.”
“To those of our survivors that are out there, you should not feel alienated. Do not feel that you are nobody. You have a destiny to fulfill, a very bright and promising future. Once you survive the deadly Ebola virus, it is a clear indication that what God has started, He will bring to completion in your life.”
Amadu Konneh- “You should be proud to have an Ebola survivor in your midst.”
“There has been huge progress, but we hope and pray more will come. Ebola survivors are good people in the society. They all have different skills. They can make society better. You should be proud to have an Ebola survivor in your midst. Even though I did not prefer the virus, the virus came and I survived. For this reason, I’m happy. And we are very much grateful to the JSI family for helping us thus far.”
Bendu Lasana- “The survivors should know that we are doing work on behalf of them.”
“I feel proud because God brought me this far to be on the leadership team. Even though I am the only woman on the team, my colleagues listen to me. I want our people to see us taking action. The survivors should know that we are doing work on behalf of them.”
“I don’t want [the county-based women leaders] to feel like only the male leaders should lead all discussions. The women should give their input and advice on things that they want to see done. If you see your input put into action, you will know that you are making an impact. One person can’t solve everything – if we come together, we can share better ideas, and resolve problems.”
Joseph Diggs – “We are not different.”
“We are not different. The same people that were in [your] community and went [to the Ebola treatment unit] are the same people that came back. We still have the knowledge we had before Ebola; those who were working as accountants still have [accounting] knowledge. Discrimination doesn’t help. [Instead], encourage us so we can all work together.”
T. Randall Varnie – “The one goal we hope to achieve is to see all survivors happy.”
“Survivors are really going through a tough time in Liberia. Many of our survivors are not working and they look to the national leadership to advocate for them to see how their needs can be met. It’s difficult for us, but we’re striving to achieve them. We took an oath to serve in this position and to serve the people.”
“It’s not easy but we still try to restore hope. The one goal we hope to achieve is to see all survivors happy.”