Local Liberians feel impact of Ebola

Local Liberians feel impact of Ebola
October 30
00:00 2014
(pictured above: Fire Chief Antony Farmer assures local press conference that the city’s ready to respond.)
Messa Hunder

Messa Hunder

Messa Hunder was looking forward to seeing Thelma Allen next month. The sisters haven’t been face-to-face since 1994.

But their reunion is on hold for the time being. Hunder, a native Liberian, says the Ebola outbreak in the West African country has made it difficult for her to secure a flight home.

“I haven’t seen her for a long time, and it hurts me to know that if she has that disease, I won’t see her anymore,” she said. “I went to British Airways to get my ticket, and they told me I wouldn’t be able to fly in.” (The Chronicle could not independently verify that British Airways has implemented West Africa flight restrictions.)

Winston-Salem has a large and vibrant Liberian-American community; they have been affected in myriad ways by Ebola and the worldwide hysteria surrounding it. Hunder and other local Liberians were at City Hall last week when Mayor Allen Joines announced plans to send aid to Liberia, one of several African countries that have become Ground Zero in the battle to tame the virulent sickness.

Mayor Allen Joines opens last week’s press conference.

Mayor Allen Joines opens last week’s press conference.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Ebola has claimed the lives of roughly 2,705 Liberians in recent months. Hunder says her sister is Ebola free, but Allen’s health is a source of constant worry.

“They are feeling scared,” Hunder said of her sister and other family. “I told them not to go anywhere like the marketplace or churches where many people are. I admonish her to not shake any hands. When I call her, she’s home but it is scary for me because I have other friends in Liberia. I fear for them having to go through the (decade-long civil) war and now this.”

The City of Winston-Salem, Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and Wake Forest Baptist Health are sending medical supplies to the country through the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse.

The Liberian Organization of the Piedmont, which is led by Messa’s husband, James Hunder, had implored local leaders to take action. Medical gowns, syringes, surgical masks and shields, catheters, gloves and shoe covers valued at between $10,000 to $15,000 are being sent.

According to Kendall Kauffeldt, director of Liberia and West Africa donations for Samaritan’s Purse, much of the equipment will be used in homes.

“It is something unprecedented and it is something that needs our attention,” he said. “The numbers are overwhelming, and people are being turned away (from hospitals), so we are focusing on providing protection and equipment in the homes, where they take care of each other. It’s these type of gifts that bring hope to Liberians and Liberia.”

Dr. Bret Nicks, associate dean of Global Health and an emergency physician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said a health crisis of this magnitude deserves the world’s attention.

Dr. Bret Nicks

Dr. Bret Nicks

“What can happen in West Africa, we know can come to the United States. There is nothing to prevent it to coming to Winston-Salem. The caveat is that it is not about fear but hope, preparedness and education on a going forward basis,” he said.

Fire Chief Antony Farmer and county Health Director Marlon Hunter were also on hand to reassure the public that city and county are ready to respond should a case of Ebola arise locally.

“I feel confident today that, based on the current guidelines that we have in place, that we are ready,” Hunter said.



Olu Browne is pleased that more help is on the way to his native Liberia. He has already witnessed the kindness of local residents. Members of his Galilee Missionary Baptist Church family have opened their hearts and wallets.

“The pastor and parishioners have donated quite a bit, and we have worked to provide aid and support to Liberia and Liberians,” he said.

Browne came to the U.S. in 1987 and has returned home often to visit friends and family. While he can’t visit now, he makes it a habit to stay in touch.

“I call to get reports on how well they are doing and to also offer suggestions on how to keep their well-being, update them with news and information that we receive on this side of the world to enable them to have adequate information to carry on,” he said.

Fear of Ebola has led to outright acts of discrimination against West Africans. This week in Bronx, N.Y., two boys who had just recently immigrated from Senegal were beaten by a crowd that reportedly called them “Ebola.” Syracuse University has been roundly criticized for disinviting acclaimed photojournalist Michel du Cille to a workshop because he had covered the Ebola outbreak in Liberia for the Washington Post. Navarro College in Corsiana, Texas sent a Nigerian student a rejection letter that stated the school was not accepting applicants from West Africa because of Ebola. Local Liberians who spoke with The Chronicle said they have not encountered such bias.

Ralph Pearson, who has called Winston-Salem home for decades, said he understands the fears, even if they are unfounded.



“When you don’t know, sometimes you come up with the wrong information, and fear creates a lot of problems. I don’t blame them for being afraid, but, at the same token, we need to take the initiative to educate ourselves about Ebola or any other viruses that may come up,” he said.

For more information on Ebola and who to contact in the event of an emergency, residents can contact the city’s Ebola hotline at 1-800-222-1222. To donate funds visit

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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