Letter from Liberia

My friend, Dr. Kathryn Challoner, is currently in Liberia helping to fight the Ebola epidemic. Dr. Benedict Kolee is a Liberian physician (trained at USC under Dr. Challoner), who has been one of the key physicians on the ground during the entire epidemic. Here is the most recent letter from Kathryn and you will see when you read it why I felt compelled to share it.

Let me just add that Dr. Challoner and Dr. Kolee are saints walking among us. Read what Kathryn wrote recently and you’ll have just a glimpse into the good works these two people dedicate themselves to every day of their lives.

Kathryn wrote:

Ground Zero.
That is what the Liberians call the northern part of Lofa County .
This is where the Ebola virus killed 2/3 of the villages and left hundreds of orphans.
And this is where Benedict and I travelled this week.
We crossed the St Paul river and drove to Bolahun where Benedict was born.

There at Ground Zero, Benedict and his group (Baffa) are building a huge new school, and a dormitory (orphanage) for the Ebola orphans.

The school is close to completion. Classrooms have blackboards but no desks or seats yet. We have a computer room almost assembled. We have just installed a generator so adults can attend night classes.
We have a new Library and we are installing shelving.
All school supplies are free and the minimal tuition for all Ebola orphans has now been paid (thanks to several donations from members of my parish, Bishop Breidenthal of Southern Ohio and the generous work and gifts of the Third Order). I wish you could see it !

We already have 320 students enrolled.
Benedict and I attended the opening day Eucharist with the students in the old packed St Mary’s church (once used by the Anglican Order of the Holy Cross).
And suddenly the children began to sing and to dance in their places.

A girl would lead off then the whole congregation would join in-then the percussion drums played by one of the boys would begin to beat and then one of the girls would chime in with the shekere ( a percussion hand drum from Africa, consisting of a dried gourd with beads woven into a net).

All I could of was “Dear Lord, with all these children have been through and they can still sing like this”.

Benedict, of course had to make a speech as the President of Baffa and he stated I was his American Mom.

The Priest then- not to be outdone- stated that since Benedict was everyone’s Father, it followed that I was everyone’s Grandmother. Here I had been hoping for grandchildren and suddenly I had 320 of them.

We also travelled to the Anglican Leper Colony just up the hill -the oldest in Liberia.

The WHO provides the boxes of medicines but we have developed shortage problems with food and dressings . Benedict and I made hasty arrangements for immediate deliveries-along the way scooping up “Uncle” a frail emaciated old man to drive him to the nearest hospital for a chest XR. In Liberia, sputum for AFBs are 85 % unreliable but there are so few places where a Liberian can get CXR. His CXR, when he got it, cost $20 US dollars which of course is prohibitive for the average Liberian and so was covered by the medical mission fund of the Third Order.

In the leper village, babies clung to Benedict’s and my clothing whimpering to be picked up. I was trying to follow the no contact rule Ebola rules but I sure felt sympathetic then Benedict suddenly scooped up several in his arms.

Then an even more gut wrenching point of the day – we travelled to the Ebola villages. Benedict’s truck was loaded with rice, school books, hand sanitizer, crayons, pencils and pens.

As we made the deliveries, we faced the devastation this virus had caused.

One village had an Ebola memorial- 27 names out of one small village were painted on a simple stone.
The children in the village wandered with hurt lost eyes and clenched fists -signs Benedict told me of severe depression.

We told them that we loved them, that these gifts were from others who loved them and a new school had just opened where they were welcomed and which was free to them.

The village leaders -Christian and Muslim- encouraged the little ones to try and go.

One day they would have a story to tell of what had been lost in their villages- a story to be remembered when there was no one left to tell – of this horror that had destroyed their families and lives. I met the wife of the first nurse who died of Ebola while trying to care for his patients. She had 5 children and who was destitute. Benedict spoke to her promising rice, food, a free schooling for her children, that we would always be there for her.

How right was this place for this new community . “Ketobaye” – it is the Liberian word for Hope.

I awoke the next morning with a song in my mind. Now before you think I am writing poetry or something, this song was actually composed by the Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary (which probably dates me big time).

For the Love of it all
I would go anywhere.
To the ends of the earth,
What is it worth if Love would be there?
Walking the thin line between fear and the call
One learns to bend and finally depend
On the Love of it all.

For the Love of it all
We are gathered by grace
We have followed our hearts
To take up our parts
In this time and place.
Hands for the harvest,
Hear the centuries call:
It is still not too late to come celebrate
The Love of it all





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4 thoughts on “Letter from Liberia”

  1. I am truly moved by this letter. Thank you for sharing, Len. Such an uphill challenge remains: all those orphaned children… ❤ ❤ ❤

    Ebola is not big news anymore. Does this mean progress and success? I have no idea anymore.

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