ActionAid Liberia holds a candlelight memorial vigil to honor the victims, survivors and women affected by Ebola
Every year, Liberia recognizes the second Wednesday in March as Decoration Day, a day when people across the country pay their respects to family, friends and loved ones who have passed away. Families go to grave sites to clean up and decorate the graves with paint, flowers, and wreaths. This is a very significant and emotional event for Liberians.
But for thousands of Liberians, Wednesday March 11, 2015 was a sad one.
As some families headed to tend to the graves of their loved ones, many others who lost loved ones during the Ebola outbreak had no proper burial or grave site to visit. Due to the mass burial and cremation of Ebola victims, they had no place to honor their loved ones, no headstone to clean, paint or decorate. They had no landmark to lay a wreath on. It was heartbreaking.
More than 4,000 lives were lost to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. The outbreak also wreaked havoc our culture, especially the way we mourn our dead.
As ActionAid Liberia joined the rest of the world to celebrate International Women’s Day 2015 throughout the month of March, we held a candlelight memorial vigil to honor the memory of all those, especially women, who passed away during the outbreak.
Beforehand, we held a solidarity walk with women survivors, doctors, nurses, AAL partners and ambassadors and guests from Fish Market to the JFK Medical Center in Sinkor, Monrovia where the vigil was held.
At the vigil, we also honored women who were affected by and survived the virus. The women survivors spoke of losing their family members. Some of them had lost their entire family - husband, parents, siblings, and children.
The women got a chance to honor their loved ones through the candlelight vigil. They lit candles in their memories, and some even spoke about their experiences.
As the candles were being lit, the sounds of sobbing broke out around the memorial site. The affected women, longing for an outlet to release the pain they felt on this significant day, took turns helping each other light memorial candles and comforted each other as they mourned their families and friends. It was a very emotional evening.
ActionAid Liberia, our partners, and our Activista members were on hand support the women and the guests, which included some doctors and nurses who led the fight against the virus.
Dr. Jerry Brown, one of the doctors who cared for Ebola patients at the ELWA II treatment center, spoke about the heartbreaking experiences he had during the crisis. He spoke about people who died and how he wished he could have saved them. He also told the gathering about the hope that gave him strength to keep on caring for patients and of the joy at seeing people survive the illness.
A survivor, Shirley, told us all how she contracted the virus from her daughter, a treatment center nurse. She lost her daughter and her son to the virus. As she ended her speech, she broke down and was helped away by other women.
In a few weeks, Liberia may be declared Ebola-free and we will welcome this. But the memories of outbreak - the devastation, the loss, the sorrow will stay with many forever.
Yesterday, we got a chance to honor the departed and the amazing women who survived what may be one of the toughest tests of their lives. For ActionAid Liberia, guests and participants, this is an experience that we will cherish for a lifetime.