This is long, but I would love it if you read it:
I woke up this morning to a phone call from my friend Cyrus, who works with More Than Me in West Point, Liberia (West Point = about a square mile of land, surrounded on 3 sides by salt water, home to ~80,000 people - effectively NO two story buildings, no running water, no flush toilets — in the news a lot lately for many of the very worst ebola stories.)
I spent the summer of 2012 in and around West Point with friends, running a summer arts program with More Than Me, and taking family photographs of in West Point - It was a wonderful experience, made possible by many of you.
The ebola crises, which grows worse by the day has effected me in a very powerful and personal way — to the point where I haven’t even been able to talk about it really. I haven’t known how or where to begin, but every hour of every day, even in my dreams, I am thinking about these folks. I am sick with worry, sadness, and anxiety for all for all of the wonderful, lively, loving people I met in West Point, particularly the young girls I spent all summer getting to know and their kind, welcoming families.
They are trapped there by poverty and by ebola, which has been surrounding them, and mercilessly been taking the lives of their family, friends and neighbors. They haven’t been able to work, earn money, or go to school. The markets are closed and they can’t get near any hospital or medical treatment for any reason, ebola or no.
I am heartbroken. I am overwhelmed. I wish I could be of some use.
But, today, when I talked to Cyrus, who is scared but also crazy-brave and full of hope, he put me on the phone with this little bugger, Mamawa, who was about 6 years old when she was in our summer program, but is now in Year 2 at the MTM academy (!!). Mamawa lives in West Point, right in the heart of everything.
I asked her about how tall she had gotten since I saw her last, she told me that she was doing fine, but not supposed to touch anyone, and that she missed going to school. I asked her what she had been doing instead, and she said “Learning lots of new songs.” When I asked her to sing one for me, she started giggling and laughing, like an 8 year old, and I tried not to cry.
It’s amazing that I am the one needing reassuring and cheering up, while Mamawa is singing, laughing, and learning how to play without touching people.
The adults in Liberia I’ve been talking to lately all say it feels like wartime all over again. It’s an enemy that is hard to know exactly how to fight.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about if or how I can help in any way, and I realized that one thing I DO have that not everybody else has, are hundreds of photographs of the people of Westpoint WITHOUT the hazmat suits and body bags and sickness. Photos of people standing up on their feet, laughing, playing, making things, being with their families.
With that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie peice about The Danger of a Single Story in mind, I have decided to start posting one photograph a day of a person or family who lives in West Point - just being a regular person living life, and link of where you can help.
Prints will be available for purchase with 100% of proceeds going to More Than Me, which has formed The Ebola-Free West Point Coalition - a group of government, community, and NGO partners that aim to stop the spread of the Ebola by supplying the West Point community with information and health supplies and coaching them on prevention, identifying the sick, treating the ill, burying the dead, reintegrating survivors, and supporting the families of the affected.
My goal here is NOT to cram your news feeds with depressing reminders about how completely messed up things are, but to share true stories and hopefully help give humanizing look at the people who are in the center of this storm. It’s not much, but it’s the only thing I can think of to do.
I am inspired by the courage of the people of West Point, especially those volunteering with the Ebola-Free West Point Coalition and I want to share what I know about how amazing they are.