As we head towards the one-year anniversary of Ebola’s attack on Liberia’s terrain, bearing in mind brave people and their contribution towards the fight is essential.
A young female journalist who says she endured the reality of Ebola, its destruction and how it turned citizens of Liberia into paranoid and cautious individuals wants her story told.
In the early part of March 2014, Yewa Sandy, a multi-media journalist says she awoke to the death news of two popular doctors in the Caldwell community – doctor’s whose names she says should not be mentioned.
“Mainly because I get flash backs of what happened to me the day I tried to do my job as a reporter, I don’t want that to happen again,” she says.
“First thing that came to my mind the day I heard that the two doctors had passed away days apart, was that Ebola was definitely real and ready to kill. And with the instinct of any journalist, I went to find out details,” she recalled.
According to the single mother of two, she ran to the scene of where the two late doctors had lived. Unaware that the homes of both doctors had been quarantined, she says, she leaped head on into a danger zone.
“I never knew what Ebola was and how dangerous it could be if I was exposed to it. The only thing on my mind at that moment was getting details of how the doctors passed away,” she admitted.
Upon arriving on the scene, Yewa says she met dozens of people standing in and around the premises of the late doctors. And like any journalist would have done in her situation, she began to gather her information.
“People started yelling at me that Ebola was not real and that both doctors hadn’t died from it. It became so intense for me that within a split second, I was jumped on, assaulted and aggressively handled by men and women of all ages,” she recalls.
Yewa and the group of people who held her under arrest for “doing her job” were taken to Zone 7 Base police station in Caldwell. It was there that the officer of the zone explained to the angry crowd that Yewa was a journalist.
“Thanks to the police, I was released and walked out of the police station with my feelings hurt and my body in pain. I continued with my story and it was published,” she said.
From that moment she says, everyday became a day of running up and down trying to figure out what Ebola was and why it had come with so much force.
“I started seeing people in my community dropping dead like flies. But there was no news about it and how our community had become a hot zone. Out of fear, I stayed clear of reporting Ebola activities in Caldwell and I think that’s how it spread so badly there,” she admitted.
Within weeks, Yewa says she returned home one evening to find an Ebola task force spraying the house where she normally left her children.
“When I tried asking for my children at their babysitter, they kept telling me to go home and how they were being quarantined. I fainted. I immediately thought that I had someway or another brought Ebola into their home,” she thought.
Hiding her situation from relatives, her work vicinity and telling people that she had allergies whenever she was seen crying, Yewa remembers it was a nightmare.
“For a complete 21 days, my kids were stuck and so was I. I stood on the sidewalk near the house and watched people being taken away from where they spent their quarantined days. Some were already dead while some died in the various ETU’s,” she remembers.
Again she says, she had to do her duty and publish her experience.
“I wrote about what was happening to me by sharing parts of my dairy that I was writing as each horrible day passed on. I thank God my kids made it, but feel so bad that so many people that they knew lost their lives,” she added.
Yewa says that her ambition heightened during the period her children were being quarantined. It inspired her to cover orphans and survivors of Ebola and remembers having to quarantine herself on numerous occasions.
“Sometimes when I would go to cover situations and stories, I’d find myself being physically touched, stepping in vomit and forgetting the no touching rule,” she said.
For instance, the late Shaki Kamara who was gunned down in the WestPoint community in August of 2014 is Yewa’s most memorable moment.
“That day I ran to him while he lay bleeding on the ground and tried to console him. He begged me for help and water and asked me not to leave his side. I also had to help remind my counterparts to avoid stepping in the dying teens blood,” she recalled.
“I was with him up until the next day when I went to redemption hospital and met his dead body on the ground in front of the hospital bed in which he had lain before his death. Unfortunately for me, I walked in on the Defense officials taking his body. I was able to get footage of the scenery but was apprehended by Defense Ministry Deputy for Operations, St. Jerome Larbelee. He took my camera and threatened to arrest me for being on the premises, all this happening while I watched with tears in my eyes the body of the late Shaki Kamara being taken away,” she added.
Yewa’s camera was returned but she says not long afterwards, her safety and freedom were in jeopardy because of her findings.
“I did a story on the situation of Shaki Kamara’s death up until his burial. It put a lot of pressure on me by people I can’t name, but it also taught me a strong lesson: Ebola.”
Meanwhile, Yewa, since the Ebola outbreak, has not only saved lives but has made necessary links between survivors and orphans.
“I have done nothing but put myself and my health on the line to help see to it that all the necessary information surrounding the outbreak got published. I only regret not being able to save the lives of some of those who I followed throughout it all,” she added.
Now that the one year anniversary is just around the corner, it is appropriate that journalist like Yewa and other courageous women be highlighted. Leaving their families, safety and crossing boundaries to keep the public informed not only saved many lives, but it also shows what being courageous is all about.
“I lost my cousin and uncle to Ebola, my kids are afraid to leave my side now and through it all I am still fighting the battle.
Presently I sponsor orphans, check on survivors and also try my best to share my stories with the world so everyone can understand the mistakes that were made that caused so many people’s lives and how we have been battling it out while staying Ebola free,” she said.