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Letter from Sister Bridget Lacey and the Holy Rosary Sisters working in Voinjama.
Dear Sisters and Friends
I write at this time to bring you up to date on the situation in Liberia with regard to COVID 19. You all know only too well the situation in your own countries and hopefully the curve is being flattened every day so that the world gets through this crisis. But Africa is in a different position.
The country I can give some information on first hand is Liberia. Unfortunately, I am stranded in Ireland as I arrived at the beginning of March for vacation for six weeks; within ten days of my arrival Ireland almost came to a standstill, so now I am like many other people ‘working from home’ but unfortunately this is not home for me! It is possible for me to keep in touch with the sisters and colleagues in Liberia as the mobile network is much improved now compared to 2014 when Ebola struck West Africa.
To give you a picture of the medical situation in Liberia if people contract COVID 19 – there are no ICU beds and no ventilators in the country to help seriously sick people survive this virus. The government has put some measures in place – schools, colleges, churches, mosques etc are closed, the number allowed to travel in a taxi is reduced, no big gatherings are allowed etc. Liberia has only six cases so far and to date there has been no information re a case here in Lofa County where we live. So our main aim is to help people remain safe from the virus.
Our action plan is to engage our literacy facilitators, and all our teams, to educate and motivate the population of the four districts where we work to take seriously the protocols for safety and protection, in light of the fact that there is constant travelling between Monrovia and Lofa. Hence the threat of the virus coming to Lofa is very high. In addition, people have relatives in Monrovia and they believe that they are safer in the interior when unknown sickness appears. The additional barrier to taking seriously the protocols for safety and protection are the “myths” circulating among the people about the virus. Many believe for example that it is the “end time” and that we can only pray to God and that’s adequate!
The facilitators will walk from village to village every day as there is no transport to most of these places; we are hoping to work in 300 villages and 3 cities targeting approximately 30,00 people!! The awareness will address beliefs that inhibit good hygiene. We will meet the villagers in their homes and environment and share formally and informally the reality of the virus and the need to protect ourselves, our children and our neighbours. In addition, we will address the fears that also prevent people from treating ordinary sickness. We will liaise with the county health team and give them relevant information from the villages that we have visited.
Of course, we are hoping that COVID 19 will be contained in Liberia because otherwise it will be a disaster. We are asking you to help us in what ever way you can to continue with our awareness in the villages as there will be many needs to be met when everything is in lockdown. There are no social services available to people in Liberia. This crisis gives us all an opportunity to work together no matter what part of the world we are in. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers as we all struggle to get through these months.
Sister Bridget Lacey (on behalf of the sisters in Voinjama)
(This was sent out a few days ago, since then the number of COVID 19 cases has risen to 20, but probably not accurate)
Background: In 2007, as the Civil Conflict was coming to an end, the Holy Rosary Sisters who had been working in the UN sponsored refugee camp in Guinea, moved back with the people to Voinjama in Liberia. It was not and easy homecoming, and the sisters were helping people to rebuild their lives. Then came Ebola. Nobody knew how it came or how it was transmitted. There was no cure. The painful messages about not shaking hands, not touching the sick,not preparing the bodies of those who had died before burial, were hard to take in. But in village after village the people responded: “You have always told us the truth before. We have to believe you now.” The network of villages and leaders already trained faced the new tragedy heroically, and were able to connect even the remotest villages with Medicin sans Frontiers and other agencies. After many months at last there came a time when no new cases of Ebola were reported. But how great were the losses! So many bereavements. To get a fuller picture go to REGIONS on the website and scroll down to Liberia.