Staff, dignitaries, and families participated in the dedication
Foya, Liberia, is a large, rural community nestled between the borders of Guinea and Sierra Leone. It is the place where Ebola (EVD) first came to Liberia in March 2014. As the epicenter for the Liberian Ebola outbreak, the people of Foya intimately experienced the horrors of the disease, which infected 10,675 people and killed 4,809 in just a few months.
Samaritan’s Purse worked in Foya long before the EVD outbreak. We had been running agriculture, water and sanitation, livelihood, nutrition, literacy, and child protection projects in many of the smaller rural communities and churches in and around Foya. When Samaritan’s Purse staff heard of the first Ebola case in the Foya hospital, they embarked on a massive Ebola education campaign, visiting every community in the district to convey the message of how Ebola spreads and what to do to remain safe.
Unfortunately, the situation worsened, and as more individuals became sick, Samaritan’s Purse temporarily took over the management the Foya Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU), originally built and run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders). From June to October 2014, hundreds of people lost their lives. A piece of land was donated by the district for burials, and over the course of six months, specially trained burial teams brought the victims of Ebola to this site. Wearing full protective gear, team members had to carry bodies by hand for half of a mile through the tall grass.
By late October—with the situation somewhat improved—the graveyard was no longer needed for burials. The site was left alone and unattended. Fear, grief and stigma kept all visitors away.
Not to Be Forgotten
In August 2015—almost a year after the site had been active—Kendell Kauffeldt, Samaritan’s Purse Liberia Country Director, paid a visit to the graveyard and was surprised at how quickly the jungle had covered the 251 graves. The site was completely engulfed by the forest—tall grass concealed the road, and other vegetation had swallowed up the painted wooden grave markers. In conjunction with the Foya District leadership, it was agreed that this place should not be lost to the jungle. Samaritan’s Purse was commissioned to transform this lonely and forgotten place into the Ebola Memorial Cemetery.
For the next two months, Samaritan’s Purse cleared the bush, constructed a fence and gate, and placed permanent, marble headstones at each grave. A large marble stone sits at the entrance, engraved with this dedication:
“In honor of the Liberians who lost their lives to Ebola. To the families who lost loved ones, we remember your loss. To the health workers buried here, we remember their dedication to their field of work and calling in the midst of this dangerous disease. Those laid to rest here will never be forgotten. Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. —Psalm 41:1.”
On January 16, 2016, a memorial service and dedication ceremony was held at the newly completed Ebola Memorial Cemetery, graced by family and friends of those buried there; religious leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities; local and national government, including the Vice President of Liberia; a delegation from the U.S. Embassy; and Samaritan’s Purse staff.
“Thank you for coming and honoring this occasion,” Kendell Kauffeldt said in greeting. “I would like to begin by expressing my deep sympathy and sadness to the families over those who lost their lives. … I wish we could have done more. We also want to recognize today, so many brave and courageous Liberians, healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, PAs, who courageously cared for their brothers and sisters without knowledge and for the fight that they accomplished, costing many of them their lives.
“I pray that in honor of those that we see behind us, that we will continue to work harder, and work together, to insure that this never happens again.”Liberia’s Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai, said: “It truly brings me deep personal pride and fulfillment to be associated with such a gesture in humanity that uplifts the spirit. Thank you Samaritan’s Purse! You are indeed contributing to reshaping and refining the moral, psychological, spiritual, and emotional makeup of our society.
“The health workers who paid the ultimate price in the war against Ebola are our heroes,” Boakai continued. “This fact needs to be etched on our minds indelibly, for they deserve to be honored and remembered, as well as the ordinary citizens who succumbed to the disease.”
Taya Raine, a Samaritan’s Purse staff member who worked at the Foya ETU, spoke at the ceremony.
“In July 2014, I was one of those who came here to bury the dead,” she said. “At that time, Foya was upside down – people were afraid and in denial, and among those of us who understood what Ebola was capable of doing, there was an overwhelming sense of dread. In those days we didn’t have any idea what the future would hold. Praise God that as we stand here today, in this beautiful and peaceful place of commemoration, Liberia is Ebola-free. We give God the glory.”
On January 14, Liberia was declared Ebola free for the third time since the beginning of the crisis.
George Tengbeh, Senator of Lofa County, said during the ceremony, “We knew having this program would take us back to the sad memories. We were ignorant, that is why we lost so many people to this disease. But thank God for where we find ourselves today.”
Every Name, Every Face
Samaritan’s Purse staff member Darlington Jallah worked at the Foya ETU and currently serves as coordinator for the Ebola community protection program. He was so dedicated in caring for his Liberian brothers and sisters that he can name by memory all patients who were treated at the Foya ETU, as well as the 251 persons buried in the Foya Ebola Memorial Cemetery.
Standing by the wall surrounding the cemetery Darlington looked over the graves and said, “I see the names on the gravesites, and I can see each of their faces—even the way they were lying in their beds.”For the majority of the families present, it was their first visit to the gravesite—most never even knew where their family members were buried. They only knew that the body had been carried away.
Our staff is hopeful that the work done at the Ebola Memorial Cemetery will honor the memory of those who have perished and will play a small part in the healing process for those local family members left behind.