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13 Feb 2015
Josephine Dolley survived Ebola. But it cost her dearly – 29 members of her family died including her husband and three boys, Emmanuel, Augustine and Exodus. She lost her job and now raises six orphans whose parents died in the Emergency Treatment Unit (ETU) along with her family.
“I feared I was not going to reach the age of 32 because I was inflicted with the virus,” she said in an interview, filmed outside her house where she lived with her family.
“I lost my three kids, my husband and everyone in my family was dead, because of that one contamination of Ebola.”
Josephine describes just how swiftly and ferociously the virus spread. It all started when her aunt’s friend died from Ebola.
When her aunt returned home to the full house of Josephine’s family – she denied any contact with the dead friend. Within a week her aunt was sick.
With 30 people living together, her aunt was able to hide the symptoms to a degree and everyone thought she had malaria or a fever, Josephine said. Within another week four more of her family were sick.
Before a week was up the whole house was showing the symptoms of Ebola.
“We sent for the Ebola quick impact team to come and take us. That is when they took us to the Island Clinic and one after the other, everybody died with the exception of me,” she said.
When Josephine was in the ETU she met other sick families brought from other counties, places near the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone. Many of those parents died and Josephine adopted six children who survived and took them home with her when they were all cleared of the virus.
Fighting back the grief Josephine said, “I will tell you just today I was checking on school for these orphans… and my mind ran to my own children. I am not searching for them anymore, I’m not looking for a good school for them anymore. I’m using my funds on another orphan instead of my children. But that is not a regret, but it is very, very sad when I think throughout my life, this wound can never be healed, it will always be there.”
She has nothing – she lost her job as an accountant when she fell sick and relies on support from aid organisations. People point at her and are afraid to sell to her in the market. But she’s not alone – there are more than 100 survivors of Ebola in Josephine’s community in New Kru Town.
But the stigma attached to the virus is starting to abate and little by little people are starting to adjust and even move into her house as renters where her 29 family members once lived.
When asked if Liberia is going to be free of Ebola, she stressed “That is what I pray for everyday because for one person to lose her entire family it is such a trauma for life. So whenever I get on my knees, day and night, I also pray to God, “go, although I am a victim of Ebola, let not another family be a victim, help us that Ebola should get out of this land.””
Through UNDP’s private sector outreach program two organisations have stepped in to do what they can to help people like Josephine. Lifeline Energy is an NGO from South Africa that develops innovative, low cost electronic products including the Polaris radio, which is designed for use in places with limited power and by people who struggle to afford batteries. They have provided 1,240 radios that are powered either by the sun using solar panels, or by winding up the battery with a handle.
Japanese electronics company Panasonic has also worked with UNDP to find a way to help Liberian people affected by Ebola. In communities like New Kru Town electricity is usually connected only twice a week. It’s expensive, and most people can’t afford to connect. There are no street lights, and at night it’s dangerous for women and children to be outside.
Panasonic decided to donate 1000 special solar-powered lanterns to UNDP to distribute to survivors. The lanterns can be charged during the day, and at night they can be used inside or outside. They also have a port to charge mobile phones – something that otherwise people have to pay for. After seeing how useful the lanterns are, they decided to send another 1000.
Josephine was given a lantern and radio by UNDP along with 100 other survivors in New Kru Town. She said that one of the most difficult things is to stay positive, and hearing music and news from around the world reminds her that she can make it, and that she can take care of the six children who rely on her now.
“I wanted to get a radio but I just don’t have money to buy things like that,” she said. “I’m also grateful to have a light – I’ve been using candles but it’s dangerous with the little children, this one is so bright, I use it inside every night.”
UNDP Country Director in Liberia, Kamil Kamaluddeen said that helping people like Josephine was just as important as the work that was done to stop Ebola.
“Helping people get back on their feet is the key to ensuring Liberia recovers from this crisis,” he said. “This is just the beginning – I’m so happy that our private sector partners can help in this way.
“Now UNDP, along with the Government, UN agencies, NGOs and community leaders need to really push to make sure survivors, orphans and others who have lost loved ones or lost their incomes can take care of their basic needs, get back to school, get back to work, and get the psychological help they need.”
UNDP is leading Early Recovery efforts in Liberia which brings together all the international agencies working on projects across the country to bring urgent help to those who are suffering even after Ebola has gone.
To see the full interview with Josephine Dolley click here.