The immigrant community of Buffalo is looking homeward these days, full of worry for their loved ones in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
That is the area where an outbreak of Ebola fever is spreading, claiming the lives of more than half of those who are infected.
“We are concerned,” said Abu Boima Musa, head of the Buffalo chapter of the United Liberia Association. “Every Liberian here is directly or indirectly affected. Even though we are not on the front, and we don’t have to worry and are not getting sick, this disease is on our minds always.”
Musa said the desire of Liberians here to help conflicts with the need to safeguard the well-being of themselves and their families.
“People who have tickets, who planned visits, do not want to go back home now,” he said.
But they do want to help. West African groups here are planning a public march and rally Aug. 23 from City Hall to La Salle Park to raise money to send aid to those in the stricken countries.
“We want to raise support from the community at large, from our brothers and sisters in our host community,” Musa said. “We cannot send medicine, that is up to the doctors, but we would like to raise money for other necessities.”
Martin Kohn, a Liberian who has lived in Buffalo for 14 years, said the group is working with the World Health Organization in its efforts to send supplies.
“Back home in Africa, they say the government is telling them to get protective equipment, to keep gloves on and to keep sanitizing their hands,” he said.
“In the African community, shaking hands is traditional, and it is very important,” Kohn said. “They try to avoid it, but not all people understand why, and then they get upset, they think you aren’t treating them properly.”
Poor education is helping the virus spread, too, said Mimie Sho-Sawyer, who lived in Sierra Leone before coming to Buffalo 10 years ago.
“Sierra Leone is a very, very poor country. People are uneducated, and they are not aware of the illnesses out there,” Sho-Sawyer said. “Many seem to be in denial.”
She stays in regular telephone contact with her relatives, including her grandmother, who runs a school in Africa.
“Some of them are doing good, and some of them are devastated,” she said. “I’ve had an uncle die of the virus. He had gone up to the provinces for business, and that is probably how he got it.”
So far the outbreak has killed 1,013 people in the four West African nations, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and a total of 1,848 cases care confirmed or suspected. The illness is only contagious when people are showing symptoms, which are similar to a severe case of the flu in addition to bleeding. A significant number of people were infected while attended funerals of Ebola victims and coming in contact with the bodies.
As a health care worker in Buffalo, Sho-Sawyer is acutely aware of the needs back home, which is why she is helping with the rally and a T-shirt sale to go along with it. The red shirts with the slogan “END EBOLA” are for sale online for $20 each at www.booster.com/ebolavirus.