Ebola virus hits home for local Liberians living in Charlotte - | WBTV Charlotte

Ebola virus hits home for local Liberians living in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

When the year started - Saah Kanda had 10 relatives living in rural Liberia. He only has three family members now. The Ebola virus took hold and showed the family no mercy.

"When it comes to talking about my parents -my mother and my siblings that passed away - it hurts me" Kanda said. "Because there was a lot of denial in my family in the first place. They didn't believe it will happen."

Kanda hasn't been home to Liberia in 20 years. He lives in Charlotte and talks to his family daily.

The last few months devastated him.

"I get emotional when I talk about it" he said.

According to Kanda, the Ebola outbreak hit his family when an in law became sick in May.

"My brother's mother-in-law happened to be sick. His wife went to see her mother. I said don't let anyone go to see that woman. It's likely that she might be suffering from what we are talking about" Kanda said. "And they were like - oh no - we don't see it. And she went there. The mother passed."

Kanda said his sister-in-law became ill.

"My brother went and took his sons from that house and brought them back home and obviously he brought the virus back home."

The Ebola virus was unrelenting.

"A couple of weeks after his wife died, he got sick and died. A couple of weeks after he died, his 2 sons died" Kanda said.

As one relative tried to care for another, the virus spread.

"When my brother was sick, I told my mother don't touch him. If you touch him, you're going to get sick and she told me this is my son and if anything should happen it will happen to me - but I can't let him suffer."

His 86 year old mother's maternal instincts couldn't match the virus' tenacity.

"Then my mother died, and my sister was the last to die."

Kanda believes the outbreak worsened because people were in denial, and the Liberian government didn't properly communicate with residents.

"In Africa where I'm from - the people respect their elders. And when their elders tell them anything that is what they respect" he said. "They don't want to hear from strangers. So I was expecting that our leaders would have gone into the community and tell the chiefs to tell the people, instead of somebody coming from outside and telling them - so it became a battle of politics."

From Kanda's perspective - far away in Charlotte - people in Liberia didn't believe the government's warnings about the virus.

"Why we were seeing the truth and the reality, and they were saying it is not true" Kanda said. "And then it started to hit and people started to die. Then the reality started to come out and there is nothing we can do right now."

According to the Liberian Community Association of Charlotte, there are more than 5000 Liberians living in North Carolina, and approximately 3000 in Charlotte.

"We are calling our families back home. We try to collect supplies to make sure they can get to the right hands in Liberia" said Francis Sio of the Liberian Community Association.

He said people first started hearing about the virus in March when it was reported in Guinea - which borders Liberia. According to Sio, cases then started popping up in rural Liberia.

An uncontrollable outbreak followed.

Sio said he's online constantly checking for news about the outbreak.

"If you listen to the news in Liberia you will hear that most of the hospitals are closing because they don't have doctors on board to take care of the Ebola patients" Sio said. "Everybody in Liberia is very concerned and we're hoping sooner rather than later things will come under control."

Sio said the Liberian government has passed measures to try to control the spread. People are being told to avoid large gatherings, sporting events have been canceled, and schools are closed.

Two Americans stricken by Ebola while working in Liberia - a doctor with Samaritan's Purse, and a missionary from Charlotte - are now being treated in Atlanta.

"Our hearts go out to the families. We thank them for their dedication to humanity, to service and everything" Sio said. "But the fact that they are here is a blessing in disguise because a lot of international attention has been drawn to the issue."

Local Liberians are counting on the experimental drug the Atlanta hospital is administering to the two patients.

"We're hoping that the very same experimental drug that's been used on these two can be extended to the people of Africa as well."

Sio and his wife were supposed to travel to Liberia in September to open a school, Annie Doe Memorial Academy, that they've been building.

"As a result of the school closures  - we don't know when schools are going to be open again - so we are postponing the trip to a later date."

Meanwhile, Saah Kanda has a wish for the Liberian government.

"If we have information to disseminate, respect the culture that is set."

He's a man who can vividly recall his relatives' deaths from the Ebola outbreak even though he wasn't there in Liberia.

"I was on the phone with them when my brother died" Kanda said, as he wiped away a tear.

The Saturday morning his phone rang in Charlotte with news of his mother's passing - Kanda was about to take an exam for his doctorate.

It's only August but a six week span between May 16th and July 2nd has already made it a long year for him.

The Ebola virus has claimed Kanda's mother, his 55 year old sister, his 52 year old brother, his sister-in-law, his two nephews, and an unborn child.  

To date, Kanda has only his father, a brother and a sister left in Liberia - while he grieves in Charlotte.

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