Liberia has had a trying past couple of decades. Most recently, it was plagued by the Ebola virus, which killed thousands of people. Before this, it had suffered through a 14-year-long civil war, which had taken place just a few years after yet another civil war ended. Both wars killed hundreds of thousands of people, leaving many homeless and destitute. Lacking housing or money, many poverty-stricken Liberians have turned to living in cemeteries, many of which are in Monrovia, its capital.

Most go to the Palm Grove Cemetery. Many of these dwellers arrived when they were just children and after their parents had been killed. Some had been child soldiers. They were taken there by friends from the street who used the relative peace and security of the cemetery to indulge in marijuana, cocaine and heroin. They used tombs for shelter after smashing them open and throwing out their long-dead inhabitants.

Monrovians look upon the cemetery dwellers with distaste and fear. They are viewed as criminals and drug addicts who disrespect the graves of their families and are deprecatorily called “friends of the dead.” On Decoration Day, a public holiday when Liberians paint and adorn tombs, conflict always erupts between the tomb dwellers and the families of the tombs’ rightful owners.

Rather than provide an area for the homeless to live in, President Johnson Sirleaf simply put up walls around the cemetery in 2007 to keep them out. Just a few months later, however, people had already breached the walls to live in the cemetery once again. Now the walls serve to better hide the dwellers and their activities rather than keep them out.

Prostitution has also become commonplace behind the cemetery’s walls. Some women and girls are only able to survive through sex work. They are afforded no protection from the police, who often rape them themselves. Unwanted births are commonplace.

Many diseases also run rampant. Ebola was just another problem to add to a list of illnesses that included ones such as tuberculosis and diarrhea.

Hope may yet be around the corner for these cemetery residents. Last year, the British charity organization, Street Child, began to work with them, setting up counseling sessions, schools and rehab centers. However, many roadblocks stand in the way of their progress. It is extremely difficult for many residents to even consider weaning themselves off their dependency on drugs. Sometimes, drugs make them aggressive and hostile, which makes it hard for people from Street Child to engage with them.

The outbreak of Ebola also set back efforts. Schools were banned, as were public gatherings. Street Children also started redirecting efforts to the 2,000 children orphaned because of Ebola. Officials have been hostile to Street Children’s efforts in cemeteries, calling their residents a “lost cause.”

Now that Ebola has largely disappeared in Liberia, Street Children is ready to make a renewed effort to help the cemetery dwellers. To the charity organization, small successes have boosted their belief that these people can be saved from a lifetime of poverty and dependency.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: Independent, BBC 1, BBC 2
Photo: Independent

ebola treatment unitThe Ebola epidemic has been a main topic of discussion for months now, and while the U.S. did briefly face a couple of cases, the center of the diseases is taking place primarily in Central Africa.

There are numerous reasons why Ebola has continued to spread and defy all attempts at containment. With widespread lack of vaccinations paired with unsanitary living conditions, it is no surprise that the disease has continued to thrive for most of 2014. At the beginning of 2015, new ideas for combating the Ebola spread are being implemented.

While U.S. advocates are providing as many vaccinations as possible right now, a new solution may offer a decline in mortality rates by changing one line of defense that may be a bit easier to control: clinic conditions.

African temperatures average in the upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit each day, and the intense heat is detrimental to patients losing precious body fluids from lying in the suffocating heat. Tents and tarps are set up in the typical Ebola clinic center, attempting to shield patients, volunteers and doctors from the intense heat. But as sweat, bugs and more people gather under the tents, patients and volunteers alike become quickly dehydrated and exhausted from the relentless sun.

A new Ebola treatment unit, or ETU, opened in Zwerdu — about 300 miles from Liberia’s capital of Monrovia — and is the first of its kind to feature bamboo-lined walls and a thin, tarp-like roof.

Thomas ten Boer of the German non-governmental organization Welthungerhilfe raves about the new structures. “I used bamboo because it is hollow and helps absorb the heat … Feel the plastic on the inside of the tent, it is cool to the touch,” he said. American aid organizations are excited about the new ETUs as well and USAID is set to build four ETUs in Liberia this year.

All construction materials, including the bamboo, are purchased locally, which also stimulates the economy while keeping costs down for the buyers. Local workers turned out to aid volunteers in the construction of the ETU. “You include the community and it helps them accept your project and gives them hope,” said ten Boer. For head engineer Daniel Dined, this project hit home. A Liberian native himself, Dined explained, “I have been working for humanitarian organizations … but to work for the Liberian people, that’s my dream and I love it.”

USAID hopes to have all four clinics open by Christmas, but as Dr. Elsie Karmbor of the Zwedru County Health Office said, “we pray that no patient will [have to go there].”

– Alaina Grote

Sources: Doctors Without Borders, USAID, YouTube, World Health Organization
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense