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Metro

Ebola vigil spotlights Rhode Islanders’ ties to victims in West Africa

Gov. Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 opens remembrance ceremony hosted by Youth of Liberia Organization

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amidst the peaceful glow of electric candlelight, images of victims of the Ebola epidemic and health care workers in West Africa were projected on a screen outside the Statehouse as a crowd of over 100 people gathered at a vigil last night to commemorate those affected by the disease.

The lights flickered in the night as part of an initiative from the #EbolaBeGone Campaign to draw attention to human suffering from the epidemic. The campaign was organized in August by the Providence-based Youth of Liberia Organization to raise awareness about Ebola and combat the ongoing epidemic. The victims of Ebola were “people who had a bright future in front of them,” said Kormasa Amos, chief coordinator of the “Lights For Africa” vigil.

The initiative is managed by several young adults of Rhode Island’s sizable Liberian community, Amos said. The program sent $10,000 worth of preventative supplies, including bleach and latex gloves, to the area of West Africa where Ebola has broken out, Amos said.

The gathering was attended mostly by immigrants from Liberia and neighboring countries, as well as families of those personally affected by the virus. The crowd held electric candles and faced the Statehouse, which reflected images of victims and relief workers.

The victims of Ebola “aren’t just numbers to us — those are family members,” Amos said.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17, who attended the vigil in traditional Liberian dress, began the program by eliciting a call-and-response chant of “Ebola, be gone!”

Remarks were generally brief and emphasized the human impact behind the global media’s panic surrounding the Ebola epidemic. The victims of the epidemic are “more than just a number,” said event facilitator Randell Dauda, adding that some in attendance have lost close family members to the disease.

“To have everyone here together gives me hope. We are one people. We are one community. We are going to stand up to and resist Ebola together,” said Michael Fine, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. Fine concluded his remarks by repeating the chant initiated by Chafee.

Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance photojournalist from Providence who contracted Ebola in Liberia, also spoke. “Liberia for me was a second home,” he said. “To see this happen to it has broken my heart.” Mukpo said that he was fortunate to have the privilege to leave Liberia for medical treatment and acknowledged that most Liberians do not have the same opportunity. “My heart goes out to them and their families. They stay in my prayers,” he said. “I know that this has hurt so many of you — hurt so many people. I just can’t wait for the day that we can say Liberia is Ebola-free.”

In his remarks, Chafee referred to Liberia’s recent tumultuous history of civil war, adding that the Ebola epidemic struck at a time of new hope in the nation’s political stability. “But this too shall pass,” he said.

Following the statements by political officials and community leaders, several audience members shared their personal ties to the epidemic, recounting stories of close relatives who died in the past months. This was followed by musical performances and a moment of silence while audience members held their candles aloft.

Amos said the continent of Africa is often defined by war, poverty and disease. “We thought it was our obligation to redefine and rewrite Africa’s history and not just stand by and let it be written as Ebola,” she said. “We can be that generation of change and that’s what we want people to realize.”

The Youth of Liberia Organization plans to send a 40-foot container of medical equipment to West Africa in the coming months, which will include beds, wheelchairs and protective gear, Amos said.

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