Ebola response diaries: Morris

December 12, 2014

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  • Operations Manger Morris Saysay demonstrates the hand-washing protocol that he and our team follow at the office. Stations like this are now a familiar site at public places and in communities throughout Liberia as part of the nationwide effort to stop the spread of Ebola. Photo: Mercy Corps

Our team in Liberia is working hard to equip two million people with the information they need to protect themselves from Ebola. These team members are more than response workers — they are members of the same communities they're helping.

Forty-two of our 47 staff on the ground are Liberian. Their courageous and determined efforts to end this outbreak and help their country recover are at the heart of our response.

As the team's Operations Manager, Morris is responsible for overseeing transportation, office technology, security and the procurement of supplies. His work is critical to making sure our Ebola response, including the public health education campaign, efficiently and effectively reaches as many people as possible.

A friend of mine who works for Samaritan’s Purse, another international organization who was working on the early Ebola response, first told me about the outbreak. Then I heard it confirmed on the state radio and television. Being aware of the poor health care system in our country, I knew we had a serious problem and feared that things were going to get out of hand.

At first, when I didn’t have much information about the virus, my life was full of fear. I was worried about everything and very suspicious about people I interacted with. If my family member gets sick, which hospital do I go to? If they are showing symptoms of Ebola, what do I do?

The sound of ambulances and seeing the burial teams carrying the bodies of Ebola victims was very troubling for me. Seeing dead bodies in the streets and on television and hearing the stories of how the virus had taken the lives of entire families was so upsetting and had me fearing for my own life.

Our Country Director was instrumental in providing the entire team with regular updates and health tips to protect ourselves from the deadly virus, and put safety measures into place at our offices immediately. This brought relief to me and the rest of the team, and I think it helped save many lives.

Liberians are warm and friendly people. We normally greet with a handshake and a hug, but cannot do that anymore as a preventative measure. We usually welcome friends and family into our homes anytime, but that is unacceptable now. In sickness or death, large groups of family members, friends and well-wishers come around to provide support. It is our custom to share one another’s burdens. That is the most painful of the Ebola outbreak — that we cannot bury our dead or even care for the sick.

Even though we cannot be as friendly as we used to be, I have noticed that my community is getting more united during the Ebola outbreak and we are learning to work together more. We share preventive messages, hand-washing stations are set up at major points in the community and residents are encouraged to set up hand-washing stations at home.

Initially, there were some people in the communities that we work with who denied that the virus was real because they didn’t trust the government. That’s not so much the case anymore — communities are believing the messages, but one of the challenges is that not everyone has the right information.

Stigmatization is another serious challenge. Survivors of Ebola who are returning home are not easily accepted by their community.

READ MORE: Quick facts about stopping Ebola ▸

A cousin of mine, who was like a brother to me, lost is life to Ebola in October, leaving his wife and three children — one of them just a three-month-old baby. He was a military man, so his wife and children were quarantined at their residence in the military barrack, where they were taken care of by the Army. His wife suffered from high blood pressure and had a stroke two weeks later. When she died, the children were left all alone.

There was no way we could get to them them to help — because their father died of Ebola, no family members were allowed to see them during their quarantine period and they were taken to an orphanage that cares for children who lost their parents to Ebola.

While I am very aware of the danger of Ebola, my focus is on how I can help people overcome this crisis. That’s why I’m motivated to work on our nationwide campaign to educate people how to protect themselves against Ebola. The local communities trust Mercy Corps and respond to us positively.

I love my country, and it is painful to see Ebola affecting every part of Liberia. The outbreak has derailed the progress and gains made in the 10 years since the end of the civil wars here and further slows the pace of development. The health system is struggling even more. Agriculture and education are having serious problems. The entire economy is declining.

Ebola is the worst enemy I have ever seen in my life. And it is a war that Liberians and West Africans cannot fight on their own. It needs the collective efforts of the global community. And I am so grateful to those who are standing by us in this difficult time.

How you can help

Ebola can be beat. You can help people survive this outbreak and give communities the tools needed to contain the disease. Send emergency relief and long-term solutions to families struggling with Ebola and other hardships around the world. Give now ▸