“I am still young but all the sorrow made my soul grow too old.”

Published: 27 November 2015 6:52 CET

By Mirva Helenius, IFRC

Before Ebola reached her home town, Yonkor Gayflor was like any other young Liberian. She was quite recently married, attended school, and had big plans for the future.

“I dreamed about studying more after graduating from high school. My husband and I were thinking about moving to Monrovia, but for now were living next to my mother and my small siblings in my home village,” the 24-year-old explains.

Yonkor’s father was away for most of the year, working in Guinea and sending money to support his family back home. Every year he came back to visit, but last year the joy of reunion soon turned into horror, when he fell ill and very quickly died. At the time, the family had not even heard about Ebola, so they prepared the body the traditional way, touching and washing it. There was no time to grieve over the devastating loss, however, because very soon after, Yonkor’s mother also got sick, followed by her brother, his wife and their little child, and then one of Yonkor’s younger sisters.

“I took care of them, but I could not save them. They were all just slowly dying in front of me. And then my husband decided he only wanted to save himself, so he left me, he left the village. I have not heard from him since,” says Yonkor.

Yonkor’s relatives were all taken to a treatment unit. None of them came back. Suddenly she was the only adult left, with four small siblings to take care of. She could not stop thinking that soon they would all become sick. The once happy and cheerful young woman became quiet and reserved. She would sit alone, talk to no one, not caring about anything.

“I did not even have that deadly disease myself, but still I feel like Ebola almost killed me too. I saw nothing in the future, just the death around me. I started to consider taking my own life,” Yonkor says quietly.

It was not only Yonkor’s family which was affected by the deadly virus. The tiny community they lived in was also hit hard.

“At some point it felt like everybody was dying. The whole town woke up every morning, terrified. Others were afraid of us, so we were left isolated from the world. The Red Cross was the first organization to come to us, to explain that Ebola is real, and to support the survivors and their families,” says David Jallah, the town chief.

Red Cross delivers hope

Red Cross volunteers distributed survivor kits and provided psychosocial support to the survivors and families of the victims. The survivor kits contain mattresses, clothes, food, household items and other necessities. Yonkor also received a kit and accepted it, but did not want to interact with the Red Cross volunteers. However, they did not give up, and continued to come and talk to her, even when she did not interact with them. 

“I don’t even remember what they said in the beginning, but they always had some words of encouragement for me. At some point I started to listen and believe that I have a future ahead of me, that I can still be happy. But most importantly, they made me realize that I’m alive for a reason, and that reason is to take care of my little sisters and brothers. They kept me alive, and they keep hope alive.”

This newfound optimism helped Yonkor cope with the horrific ordeals she had gone through, and she became determined to find a way to provide for her little family. Fortunately, in her community, people are committed to taking care of each other.

“We have tried to help one another but especially the most affected ones, like Yonkor and her siblings. We gave her a little piece of land and helped her to plant some rice, so she can provide for her sisters and brothers. She is all they have now. She is their mother, father, and sister all at the same time,” says Jallah.

Yonkor dropped out of school and is now concentrating on making sure her siblings have food, shelter and love.

“I know I’m still young, but all the sorrow made my soul grow too old. I do see the future again, for my sisters’ and brothers’ sake at least. I will help them to grow older and stronger, and when my body becomes as old as I feel inside, they will take care of me.”