When Esther Jeh, a 36 year-old donut seller in Monrovia, sent her children to visit their aunt in late August 2014, little did she know the heartache that would follow.
At the time, Ebola cases were on the rise and schools were ordered to remain shut. The children had been home for more than two months and they were growing restless from being cooped-up all of the time. Esther thought that spending some time at their aunt’s in Logan Town would offer them a nice, safe break away from their home environment.
Unfortunately, while the children were at their aunt’s house, her husband, a health care worker, came home from work one day ill and vomiting. Instantly, fears arose about his illness and when his condition did not improve over the next couple of days, the aunt decided to send the children home.
By then it was too late. Esther’s son, J-Boy, became ill not long after returning home. The family tried to seek treatment for him at several local clinics, but all of them were closed Then Esther’s husband, Nyanti, and her younger sister, Betty, fell ill. She desperately tried to care for them but they continued to get sicker. .
Unable to get any medical help for her family because all the clinics were closed, Esther tried to call her sister-in-law, whom the children had gone to spend time with, thinking that she might be able to get some medical advice from her sister-in-law’s husband. But she was unable to reach her. She kept trying to contact her until one fateful day when the mobile phone was answered. It was a nurse at an Ebola treatment center. She told Esther that her sister-in-law had been admitted to the center after becoming ill with Ebola.
Esther felt her whole world come crumbling down as the nurse, after finding out that the children had spent time at the aunt’s house, told her to bring them to the treatment center straightaway.
When they arrived at the treatment center, they were all tested. J-boy, Betty and Nyanti all tested positive for Ebola. By this time, their illnesses had progressed to critical stages. Sadly, they all succumbed to the virus.
Esther was quarantined along with her remaining son, Daniel. Miraculously they both had not contracted the virus. They completed the quarantine and were eventually sent home.
Since then, Esther and Daniel have experienced great difficulty and sadness. They have faced discrimination, stigma, and neglect in and by their community. Because of Esther’s experience with Ebola, people are afraid to buy her donuts, so her source of income has been destroyed and she is struggling to support what remains of her family.
ActionAid hear about Esther’s story on one of our Ebola response field trips to the Bushrod Island community in Monrovia at the beginning of this year. A few days later, ActionAid staff returned to bring Esther some much-needed food supplies. When we arrived at her home and told her why we were there, Esther burst into tears. For a woman who had lost nearly everything in a cruel twist of fate, the donation, she said, offered her a ray of hope.