When she was 18 years old, Christal Da-Thong moved from Liberia to the UK to study in London. Twelve years later, and now a UK citizen, she has moved back to Liberia to work for ActionAid on our Ebola emergency response. Here she tells us what life is like in Liberia right now, how her friends and family are coping and what she's doing in communities to help stop the spread of the virus.
ActionAid’s Christal Da-Thong talks to a five-year-old orphan in Liberia. His parents died of Ebola
In August this year I decided to return to Liberia, the country of my birth, from the UK. I just had to do something to help stop the Ebola crisis that is sweeping my country.
When I made the decision many people - me included - questioned my sanity. Liberia, along with Guinea and Sierra Leone was descending into chaos. I read and heard daily accounts of people being infected with Ebola virus and of others dying. But my mum, dad and extended family are in Liberia, and I wanted to help in any way I could. So in mid-August I got a job with ActionAid and boarded a flight to Monrovia.
Helping people protect themselves from Ebola
My job is to communicate with the Liberian media and communications colleagues and press worldwide, what is happening here. I am the eyes and ears of ActionAid Liberia’s country programme.
Working closely with colleagues in London, I help ActionAid feed back to supporters on how their money is being spent and what the up to the minute needs of our emergency response are. When ActionAid is carrying out emergency response, whether that’s training communities how to protect themselves from Ebola, or giving much needed medical supplies to Ebola holding centres, I travel with the team. I document what is happening and tell people’s stories to the world.
My sister can't hug me because of Ebola
When I arrived in Liberia, the first thing my little sister, who is four-years-old, said to me was: “I’m not going to hug you because Ebola is here.”
In many ways here life continues as normal. But of course some things are very strange. Everywhere I go I see hand washing buckets outside every building and people read your temperature wherever you go.
It’s exhausting and tiring and I have to be so aware of my surroundings and protect myself so that my family and friends and colleagues are not in danger of getting Ebola.
I'm proud to be part of ActionAid's work
But I feel so proud when we see the impact ActionAid’s work is having – when we go out to teach people how to protect themselves from catching the virus and when we help people who are quarantined with food aid or supplies like chlorine, bleach and soap.
Also our work empowering women is important to me. During the civil war in Liberia, my mum fled with me and my brother to the Ivory Coast. She struggled, working long hours for little pay, to keep us fed, clothed and in school. So to now work for an organisation that supports women like my mum means the world to me.
What will happen to children orphaned by Ebola?
What is very hard to see are the orphans. I know of two little boys whose parents have died of Ebola. I worry about what is going to happen to them now that they have recovered from Ebola but have lost their parents so they will be put in orphanages. Are they going to be supported emotionally to help them cope with the trauma they have gone through?
These orphaned children will need financial support. Orphanages are going to need to be equipped to cope with the number of orphans we are going to be left with. The need on every level is going to be huge.
What will happen to my country?
Right now I’m living with my dad in Monrovia, but I talk to my mum every day and see her every other day. Understandably she is worried about the work that I'm doing. But my parents are proud. Whenever I get back from doing emergency outreach in the field, there are always so many questions. People come to me as a source of information about what’s happening with Ebola, including what the government is going to do next.
I don’t know how long I will stay in Liberia. It depends how long the country needs my help. There are days when I would give anything to be drinking a cold pint beside the River Thames with my friends and then there is of course my husband. I miss him so much. But we talk every day and he fully supports my decision to be here.
How you can help me stop the spread of Ebola
We're doing everything we can to stop the Ebola virus in its tracks. You can help by donating to our Ebola Crisis Appeal. Together we can reach more people and save lives.
- £25 will pay for cleaning and disinfectant materials
- £50 will buy three sets of personal protective equipment for the most exposed health workers
- £125 will provide medical lab supplies for an Ebola care unit for one month