TIME ebola

One Man’s Story of Surviving Ebola

An ambulance team supervisor in the Liberian capital Monrovia describes his ordeal, and how he made it through

Foday Galla’s neighbors have started calling him the Miracle Man. It’s a name he thinks is entirely inappropriate. “Man, I sure as hell don’t feel like a miracle,” he groans, struggling to stand up from the thin mat where he was taking an afternoon nap. But the fact that he is alive at all is enough to merit claims of divine intervention by friends and family. Galla survived Ebola.

There is no cure for the disease—but with early intervention, proper care, and a lot of luck, some people, about 46% in Liberia, make it through. Galla, a 37-year-old medical student and ambulance team supervisor in Monrovia, is one of them. He has finally returned home from two weeks in an Ebola treatment center run by the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). And although it’s likely to be a few weeks more before he is back on his feet, the worst has passed. “My man, I went to hell and back,” he says, launching into a nightmarish tale of wrenching pain and debilitating sickness. “Ebola is a bad guy,” he says. “The pain, it makes you want to give up. I used to be a strong man, and this just broke me down.” His brush with death has made him determined to jump back into his job as soon as he regains his strength. “Now that I know the secret to survival, I want to get out there and help everyone else I can,” he says.

Galla got his start as an ambulance team supervisor in December, when a local politician brought in a pair of donated second-hand ambulances from the city of Chico in California. In the beginning the teams mostly dealt with the Liberian capital’s heart attacks, car accidents and women in labor. But when Ebola spread to the country in June the numbers grew so quickly that Galla was soon dispatching his teams to remote villages. Ambulances designed for the streets of Chico now spend their days navigating mud-slicked roads and flooded potholes so deep that ducks have taken up residence. The pace has been so hectic that one of the ambulances, bearing California ambulance license plate number 5W83046, still hasn’t been registered in Liberia. And the calls keep coming.

Galla, who used to go out with one of the teams every day, knows exactly how he got sick. It was the third time he had been called to the same house to pick up patients. First it was for a mother, her son and a daughter that were sick with symptoms of Ebola. Then, a week later, he came for the father, the grandmother and two other sons. They all died. The last boy of the family, a four-year-old, was taken in by neighbors. But a week after that, he got another call. The boy, Samuel, was throwing up, the neighbors said. Galla rushed back. “I put on my [protective gear] as fast as I could. All I wanted to do was save that little child’s life.” Galla found Samuel in a pool of vomit, and gathered him into his arms. The child vomited again, all over Galla’s protective suit. Ebola is spread by infected bodily fluids; vomit is particularly dangerous. “I didn’t care,” says Galla. “All his family was gone, so I wanted to make sure he kept his life.” Galla was in such a rush to get Samuel to treatment that he didn’t stop to disinfect with a whole-body chlorine spray. Samuel survived. But two days later, Galla started feeling sick.

First he dosed himself with a pharmacy’s worth of prophylactics: vitamin C, Amoxicillin, anti-malarials, just in case it was something else. But the headaches kept getting worse, and his joints were too painful to move. He cautioned his family to stay away, and called his own ambulance to take him to the MSF clinic. Galla didn’t need the test results to know he was positive. He could see it in the face of his colleagues on the clinic’s medical team. For three days he was in a delirium, he says. He took the antibiotics provided by the clinic to ward off secondary infections, and drank juice and electrolytes to stave off dehydration. But he was in too much agony to even answer calls from well-wishers. “I only wanted to talk to the pain.” But the MSF nurses and doctors kept encouraging him, telling him that he would be fine, that he would make it through. “I didn’t want to listen, but I didn’t have a choice.” In the end, he says, that’s what saved him. “It was their compassion and their care. I could tell that they wanted me to survive. So I survived.”

Two weeks later he tested negative for Ebola, and was released from the clinic with a new set of clothes (all his infected clothing had to be incinerated) and a “survivor’s kit,” a bundle of food, chlorine and bedding to help him back on his feet. They also gave him a giant package of condoms, and told him not to have unprotected sex for 90 days. “I can barely stand up,” he says with a laugh. “Sex is the last thing on my mind.”

Galla says that he doesn’t regret for one moment that he rushed in to save Samuel. “Even if God had taken my life in the process, as long as Samuel survived, I don’t regret it.” If anything, he says, he has a newfound mission. “I have superpowers over Ebola,” he says. “Now that I have immunity, I have no fear. I will fight for people with all my might.” As a member of an ambulance crew, or as the doctor he hopes to someday become, he intends to apply the lessons he learned from Ebola to all his patients. “You have to care, you have to give encouraging words, you have to tell them they will survive. Because if you don’t have that [as a patient] you are going to want to die.”

TIME ebola

Ebola’s Orphans Have No Place to Go

Ebola's toll includes children who lose their parents to the disease. One charity is coming up with a solution

Berlinda watched her mother die. The three-year-old may not have understood what exactly was going on as the ambulance team transported her and her grievously ill mother to Redemption Hospital, one of Monrovia’s dedicated Ebola treatment centers, but at least she knew she was with the one person who loved her more than anything else in the world.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the clinic in Liberia’s capital city on September 15, her mother had slipped into silence, then death. Berlinda, dressed in a pink plaid shirt and ruffled shorts, emerged from the ambulance wide eyed and scared. There was no one there to receive her, just a phalanx of faceless health care workers covered head-to-toe in white biohazard suits. She too was a potential Ebola patient, so no one could risk picking her up for a comforting hug. Instead she was escorted into the center, given a bed and left for observation. A day later her Ebola test came out negative, but there was no one to celebrate, no one to take her home. Her father unknown and her mother dead; she had nowhere to go.

In a crisis as overwhelming as the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, it is easy to forget that behind each daily death toll there are people left to live with unimaginable loss. For children who lose their parents to sickness or death, the results can be devastating. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that around 3,700 children have lost at least one parent in an outbreak that has devastated Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Those numbers are likely to double by mid-October. Sometimes relatives can be rounded up to take in the child, but with fears of contagion so strong, Ebola’s stigma is starting to eclipse even close blood ties.

“Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West & Central Africa. “These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned.”

Berlinda was one of the lucky ones. As she peered through the ambulance doors before entering the clinic, she caught the attention of Katie Meyler, the American founder of a Monrovia-based education charity who was at the clinic checking in on one of her Ebola-assistance programs. Meyler snapped a few photos for Instagram (she initially thought her name was Pearlina, until she saw the girl’s paperwork a few days later). In the months before Ebola struck Liberia, Meyler’s charity, More Than Me, had been in the process of setting up a beachside guesthouse designed to earn an income for the organization, which provides schooling for vulnerable Liberian girls. Those plans had been put on hold, but when Meyler saw Berlinda she realized that she had the resources and the housing to be able to do something. “I told the doctors that I could take care of her until they figured out how to find her family,” says Meyler. Two days later, Berlinda was out of the clinic and in a clean, welcoming home full of new toys, staffed with a nurse and a former teacher, and Meyler had a new project on her hands.

For Meyler, whose decade-long, seat-of-the-pants approach to running an NGO in Liberia can be best defined as “give love and the rest will follow,” such a rapid change in objective came easy. (A few weeks ago she brought $500 worth of toys, candy and ice cream to pass out to patients in a treatment center. She admits that giving lollypops to a person afflicted with Ebola may not be sound medical practice, but “if someone is dying, it can’t be bad to bring them some joy.”)

That kind of aid in Liberia has raised eyebrows among the more traditional international NGOs, who prefer to strengthen local institutions instead of providing alternatives. But in the case of Ebola’s orphans, the need has simply become overwhelming. Ebola can take up to 21 days between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms, so anyone who has been in direct contact with a patient must be treated as potentially contagious throughout a three-week quarantine. Few are willing to take in children under those conditions.

“The best place for those children to be quarantined is with family members,” says Amy Richmond, a child protection officer in Liberia for the Save the Children NGO. “But fear and stigma around Ebola is a growing phenomenon here, and relatives are scared to take these kids in.”

Even without the need for quarantine, Ebola’s stigma lingers. Three weeks ago, ten-year-old Esther and her family were admitted to a clinic for treatment. She survived, but her parents and her brother did not. Even though she is now immune from Ebola and cannot pass on the virus, distant relatives refused to take her.

“There was this big celebration for all the survivors at the clinic,” recalls Meyler. “Everyone was laughing and praying, but she was bawling her eyes out,” because she had nowhere to go.

That’s where Meyler’s guesthouse-turned-temporary-orphanage comes in. The cheerful blue and yellow building, dubbed HOPE House (Housing, Observation and Pediatric Evaluation), is now home to four children, including Esther and Berlinda. Once Meyler gets the appropriate registration through the government, she plans to welcome up to some 70 more. All of the city’s Ebola treatment centers are already calling, she says. “Everyone is telling me they have kids . . . I can tell you that as soon as we open our doors, it is going to be flooded.”

HOPE House isn’t limited just to orphans. The parents of the two other residents, 3-year-old twins Praise and Praises, are still alive, undergoing treatment for Ebola at Monrovia’s MSF-run isolation center. The twins’ grandmother, Marthalyne Freeman, would gladly take them in, but she works 12-hour shifts as an Ebola nurse. Letting them stay with their parents in the center, she says, is out of the question.

“The children get infected or they get traumatized because their parents can’t take care of them,” says Freeman. She has been working as a nurse since the start of the ongoing Ebola outbreak, she says, and she has seen a lot difficult cases. “Children are being abandoned, and when they are discharged there is no place to keep them. And I don’t think the government has any plans for that right now. The situation in Liberia is very hard.” It is. But for at least some children separated from their parents, things are about to get slightly less hard.

TIME ebola

Liberia Hopes Ebola Diagnosis in the U.S. Will Lead to More Help

“Now the Americans know Ebola can go there, maybe they will send more doctors to Liberia”

The news that a man who recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas has been diagnosed with Ebola, the first diagnosis on American soil, was met with mixed reaction Wednesday in one of the West African countries struggling to contain the deadly disease.

Government officials in the capital Monrovia said they have no knowledge of the man’s identity, and have privately expressed frustration that the United States, citing patient confidentiality laws, has not revealed his name or even his nationality. Liberians, ever sensitive to the stigma of Ebola, repeatedly point out that just because the man departed from the capital’s international airport on Sept. 19, it does not necessarily mean he is, in fact, Liberian.

That frustration is reflected on the country’s lively call-in radio talk show. Callers want to be able to identify the man, and pinpoint his nationality, because they say they want to “clear Liberia’s name.” Liberians feel they have been unfairly identified with the Ebola outbreak, which, many point out, started in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, even if Liberia now has the majority of cases. Other call-in guests are taking a longer view, expressing hopes that the case, which is already getting around the clock U.S. media attention, may elicit further American support for the Ebola effort in Liberia.

“Now the Americans know Ebola can go there, maybe they will send more doctors to Liberia,” one caller said. Another brought up the case of American-Liberian Patrick Sawyer, who caught Ebola while working in Liberia, and took it to Lagos, Nigeria, on July 20. He died five days later, unleashing a chain of transmission that ultimately infected 20 and killed eight. Nigerian officials are now saying that the outbreak has been contained. Like the Sawyer case, the caller said, this just further “proves to the world that Ebola is real, and a global threat.” The host agreed. “It is good,” he said, that the patient was getting good treatment in Dallas. It was also good, he added, that Americans can now see the reality of Ebola for themselves: “This will raise international attention, this will let Americans know that Ebola is real.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Liberia’s Ministry of Sound

Education is key to stopping Ebola's spread in this West African nation. Monrovia’s musicians are taking up the call

It seems like any typical Friday night in Monrovia. Out on the streets traffic snarls around the intersections, and taxis and buses are crammed with commuters on their way home after a long week. The ubiquitous sidewalk video bars are filing with patrons settling in to watch European club football on open air screens (Chelsea and Barcelona are favorites here), and the base is starting to thump at Code: 146, the Liberian capital’s hottest live music club. Blake, the house DJ, is priming the audience with promises of a new band. Then he opens with an unusual mike check for a bar known best for getting down: “Let’s get started, but let’s respect the rules. So no too much rubbing, no too much hugging, no too much sweating, no too much drinking. You have to be cautious.”

At first glance it’s hard to tell that Monrovia is the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 3,000 people and sickened thousands more in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But a closer look reveals what Ebola has wrought. No one shakes hands any more, and the shared taxis, which used to careen around town with as many as five passengers stuffed in the back, are only allowed three, by a new government decree. Public buses are limited to four passengers per row. The video bars, which used to cram as many as 12 football fans to a bench for the big games, are stopping at eight. And at Code: 146 the smell of old beer and fresh marijuana is nearly masked by the pervasive scent of chlorine emanating from a hand washing station placed prominently near the dance floor. “Ebola is real,” Blake shouts over the microphone, as he launches into a rap about a guy who called it a myth. “And now he’s dead.”

Not exactly the most uplifting way to launch into an evening of dance and revelry, but, says the bar’s owner Takun J, “We have a responsibility as musicians to spread the message about Ebola.” Takun J is one of the country’s most well known singers, his style a reggae-tinged Liberian hip-hop dubbed Hipco. He is working on a new song about Ebola, and hums a few refrains as he gets ready for the evening show. “Musicians have the ear of the people,” he says. “Everyone loves Takun J, so when I talk about Ebola, everyone knows it’s serious.” He pauses for a moment, then grins. “They will listen to me more than to the President.”

Takun’s efforts, along with a widespread education campaign conducted by various NGOs, seem to be having an impact. “When the crisis first started, I would say 30% took Ebola seriously and 70% of the people didn’t believe it was real,” says Matthew G. Slermien, head of a teenage empowerment program in the Monrovia slum of Westpoint. “Now those numbers are reversed.” Slermien’s project, Adolescents Leading Intensive Fight Against Ebola (ALIFE), has trained 142 young women and men to go through the community educating residents about Ebola and how to protect themselves.

“People are starting to listen,” says ALIFE volunteer Hazel Toe. It’s not perfect—the organization doesn’t have the money to distribute chlorine or buckets or gloves to the slum dwellers who can’t buy their own—but it’s a start, she says. “Once people start listening, the rest will follow.” That’s what DJ Blake and Takun J are hoping as well.

TIME Infectious Disease

Meet the Most Feared People in Liberia

The Red Cross Dead Body Management Team in Liberia provides a service essential for stemming the transmission of Ebola but the workers are shunned and despised for doing a job no one else wants

The crowd was waiting — and angry. The minute the Liberian Red Cross convoy pulled in to a tin-roof shantytown huddled at the base of Monrovia’s St. Paul Bridge on the morning of Sept. 24, residents crowded the lead vehicle, clamoring to be heard. The five-vehicle convoy was there to pick up the body of a man who had died the night before with symptoms of Ebola. “Where were you two weeks ago when we called when he had a fever?” demanded one resident. “I’ve been calling every day for an ambulance,” shouted another, brandishing the call log on his mobile phone for proof. He turned to face the crowd: “No one comes when we are sick, only when we are dead.” The residents roared in agreement. One teenager turned his back on the Red Cross team, bent over, and grabbed his buttocks in a sign of contempt. The team supervisor, Friday Kiyee, sighed as he launched into an explanation polished by countless repetitions. “We are the Red Cross Body Management Team. Our job is to pick up dead bodies. We are not responsible for picking up patients and taking them to the hospital. We are only here to pick up the body.” He clapped his hands sharply, a signal for the men on his team to suit up and get to work.

All of the health care workers and other people involved in combatting the Ebola epidemic in Liberia face great risks on the job and the workers on the Red Cross Dead Body Management Team are no exception. The disease is at its most contagious in the hours after death when unprotected contact with the body and its fluids all but guarantees transmission of the deadly virus. Proper disposal of Ebola’s victims is one of the most essential factors in stemming the course of an outbreak that is killing hundreds of people a day in West Africa and threatens to infect up to 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January, according to a worst-case scenario predicted by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But instead of gratitude, the men tasked with handling the dead acting as collectors, coroners and undertakers for the victims of Ebola face fear and revulsion. In the course of their work they are yelled at, spat at and threatened with rocks. At home, after a long day climbing into and out of stifling biohazard suits, hauling bodies, and bathing in pungent chlorine solution, many of them also face isolation from their friends, family members and neighbors. “No one wants to be near me,” says 29-year-old Nelson Sayon, who has been with the Dead Body Management Team since Ebola came to Monrovia, in June. “They are afraid. They refuse even to take our money if we want to buy something in the store, or eat in a restaurant.”

Each team, of which there are six in Liberia, works six days a week, from nine in the morning to around six at night. They rarely have time for lunch. A typical day starts at a Liberian Red Cross center in downtown Monrovia, where the teams are given their assignments for the day. Early in the morning of Sept. 24 the center was bustling with activity. Workers were mixing buckets of chlorine solution to fill up the backpack sprayers used by disinfectant teams. Others were hauling sacks of Tyvek biohazard suits, rubber gloves, goggles and masks — the foundation of a Body Management Team member’s wardrobe. One man walked by with a cardboard box labeled bodybags.com balanced on his head. Kiyee gathered his team and read out the assignment for the day: district 16, one of the most Ebola-impacted areas of Montserrado County, home to the capital Monrovia, and the epicenter of the outbreak. Before starting their rounds “we pray,” said Sayon, a member of Kiyee’s team. “We pray for guidance, protection, and for God to make Ebola go away.” He also prays for the bodies he is about to collect, he said, because once he starts, he won’t have time to be thinking about the dead. He will be too busy trying to stay alive, making sure that he, and his teammates, are properly covered and routinely disinfected.

The first stop was Babama Junction, where a man named Paul Taylor had succumbed to a high fever the night before. Taylor’s wife, fearful for her own health and terrified of the Ebola stigma, swore that her husband had only been sick a day, and that he couldn’t possibly have had the virus. There was no vomit, she said, when describing his symptoms to Kiyee. No diarrhea, no blood in the mouth — typical signs of Ebola. She begged the team not to take her husband away. She wanted to bury him herself. But there is no rapid test for Ebola, and with every dead body a potential viral bomb, the team can’t take any chances. “We can’t say for sure if a person has Ebola or not,” said Kiyee. “Any person who dies right now is considered a suspected Ebola case, and we have to take the body.” Even if they don’t have proof, the teams have enough experience by now to know the signs. “The people don’t want to accept that their father or mother or wife has Ebola, so they lie [about the symptoms],” said Sayon. “But when we come back again and again to the same house, the same community, we know it’s Ebola, and not asthma or malaria.”

In the early days of the outbreak, the Dead Body Management Teams would help families bury their dead – laying the body six feet deep, under layers of dirt soaked with chlorine spray. But as the numbers of dead increased exponentially, fearful communities began to reject the burials, and the government mandated that all bodies, no matter the cause of death, be cremated.

There were 10 members of Kiyee’s team at the Taylor family home: four men to handle the body, two to disinfect the house before and after the pickup, one to oversee the proper protective gear, and three to run interference with the community. Even as the moon-suited and chlorine-drenched collectors wrestled Taylor’s body into a body bag, Kiyee was out in front of the house, placating the gathered crowd and explaining, once again, his responsibilities. The collectors heaved the body bag into the back of a navy blue pick up while the crowd erupted into a collective howl of grief. The collectors disrobed in ritualized steps: the first layer of gloves, then the hood, the goggles, the face mask, the body suit, and finally the last layer of gloves, all interspersed by liberal sprays of chlorine solution. The convoy reassembled and sped through the community’s mud-slicked roads, chased by residents alternately bidding the body farewell, and cursing the team that had taken a beloved father, brother and husband away.

So it went, a relentless cycle of dressing up, collecting a corpse and undressing, until the pickup was weighed down with 20 bodies in all. So full was the truck that it could not even stop to pick up the body of a man who had died in a roadside market. “We will come back tomorrow,” one of the drivers yelled to the crowd. Then, accompanied by a police escort, the convoy tore down the highway towards a crematorium on the outskirts of town. There, the collected bodies would be burned, unmarked and unmourned, along with the scores of other corpses collected by the Red Cross that day.

TIME ebola

The Liberian Church Stopping Ebola With Gospel and Chlorine

Dr. Mosoka Fallah, an epidemiologist and immunologist, speaks with residents during a neighborhood Ebola training session in Monrovia, Liberia.
Dr. Mosoka Fallah, an epidemiologist and immunologist, speaks with residents during a neighborhood Ebola training session in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

The Free Pentecostal Global Mission Church in the Chickensoup Factory district of Monrovia uses the pulpit to teach about the deadly virus, one sermon at a time

“Lord,” shouts the Reverend Joseph T.S. Menjor into a microphone. “We are tired of this situation. We are calling on you to cast this abomination from our country. Jesus, we want our land to be free of Ebola. Cast out this disease!”

The pastor is leading his people in prayer, but it is not a moment of quiet reflection. No, his congregation is on its feet, swaying to a gospel hymn, eyes closed and hands raised in supplication. At Menjor’s call, the 600 or so congregants of the Free Pentecostal Global Mission Church in the Chickensoup Factory district of Monrovia, Liberia chant a chorus of amens and launch into a cacophony of individual prayers, symbolically casting the evil of Ebola to the ground with repeated downward thrusts of their hands.

Menjor is not just trusting in God to solve the Ebola problem. The minister is taking concrete steps to protect his people, and his community, from an outbreak of a deadly virus that has already claimed 2,800 lives and sickened thousands more across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Over 1,500 of those fatalities occurred in Liberia, with the densely packed seaside capital of Monrovia the worst affected. The disease, which is transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, has no vaccine, and there is no cure.

Preventing Ebola’s spread is the only solution, says Menjor. As with most establishments across the capital, large plastic vessels fitted with spigots and filled with a diluted chlorine solution flank the church doors. Ushers remind churchgoers to wash their hands thoroughly before entering. No one shakes hands anymore. Newcomers are greeted with broad smiles instead of the reverend’s personal embrace. While the church has grown in numbers since the outbreak — “When people are scared of dying, they flock to God,” chuckles Menjor — the pews are no longer tightly packed. The church offers two Sunday services instead, and broadcasts its sermons over the radio.

The Chickensoup Factory church branch, named after a powder soup manufacturing plant that used to be in the area, has also pioneered an Ebola Task Force designed to push the message of prevention into the homes of congregants and community members. Each Sunday, Rebecca Scotland, a founding member of the task force and a nursing instructor at a nearby teaching hospital, delivers her own talk before the sermon.

Combining drama with call and response, Scotland mimes Ebola symptoms for the congregation to identify. She fans her face and mimes taking her temperature. “Fever!” the congregation shouts. She feigns weakness, swaying on her feet. She clutches her stomach and bends over a pretend bucket. “Vomiting!” calls out a member of the choir. She squats in front of the pulpit and blows a raspberry into the microphone. “Diarrhea!” laughs the congregation.

The game of symptoms charades over, Scotland collapses in front of the pulpit, pretending to be sick. One of the prayer leaders, playing the part of a concerned relative, rushes to her side to offer comfort. Scotland jumps up with a stern “No!” The easiest way to get Ebola, she explains, is by touching infected people. “If you think you are sick, or someone in your family is sick, call 4455,” the national emergency hotline number. “The good news about Ebola is that there are survivors. It is not a death sentence. If you can get to the hospital, you have a chance.”

But knowing how difficult it is to find care in a city with more Ebola patients than room to treat them, she instructs the congregation on how to wear long sleeves and gloves before tending sickened family members. She explains how to mix a chlorine and water solution for cleaning hands and skin, and a stronger one for cleaning up vomit, blood and diarrhea. “Most Ebola infections happen at the bedside, when family members are caring for their loved ones,” she explains to TIME after the sermon. “If we can teach our members how to take care of themselves while taking care of their family members, we can go a long way towards stopping this disease.”

Scotland’s now weekly sermon was inspired by the illness of a beloved member of the church leadership, choir director Deborah Kamanda, who contracted Ebola caring for her younger sister and died Aug. 23. It was the first time Ebola had come to the congregation, and spurred the leadership into action. “We couldn’t save Deborah, but we knew we could stop that from happening again.” The task force, which was launched a week after Kamanda took sick, bore fruit immediately. Scotland’s guidance helped save Kamanda’s husband, Alex T. J. Kamanda, a science teacher who nursed his wife for eight days before a bed opened up in one of the city’s overcrowded treatment facilities.

While Kamanda, 39, stayed by his wife’s side, church members kept him in a steady supply of gloves, extra clothes and chlorine powder. “For me it was traumatic, seeing someone you love suffering so much, and not even being able to touch her without gloves, ” says Kamanda, sitting in front of the empty porch where his wife spent her last listless days before going to the treatment center. “But I didn’t get sick.” It’s a double blessing: his four-year-old son, who was staying with his grandparents at the time, still has a family, unlike the country’s hundreds of Ebola orphans.

The guidance of Monrovia’s churches is spreading beyond their congregations. When one of his neighbors got sick, Kamanda’s example inspired the victim’s son, Victor T. Bumbeh, to use the same protective measures. He didn’t get sick either. “It’s a fearful disease,” says the jobless 27-year-old. “I understand why people are afraid. But with the right protections, not everyone who touches it dies.” To members of the Chickensoup Factory church, casting Ebola from Liberia may start with God, but education, counseling and a good dose of chlorine are just as important.

TIME ebola

Why the U.S. Has a Special Responsibility to Help Liberia with Ebola

Residents look on as the body of a man suspected of dying from Ebola lies in a busy street, after it was reportedly dragged there to draw attention of burial teams following days of failed attempts by his family to have his body picked up, in Monrovia, Liberia, Sept. 15, 2014.
Residents look on as the body of a man suspected of dying from Ebola lies in a busy street, after it was reportedly dragged there to draw attention of burial teams following days of failed attempts by his family to have his body picked up, in Monrovia, Liberia, Sept. 15, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

In committing troops and cash to fighting Ebola in Liberia first, the U.S. is drawing on old historical ties

When U.S. President Barack Obama announced a dramatic expansion of American aid and military personnel to help combat Ebola in Liberia on Sept. 16, it wasn’t just because the country was suffering the worst of a devastating outbreak that has claimed nearly 2,500 lives and sickened at least twice as many more in West Africa. Though the rapidly rising death toll—the number of cases in Liberia nearly doubled over the past three weeks—is enough to more than enough to merit international concern, there are also deep historical links between Liberia and the U.S. Liberia is the closest thing America ever had as a colony in Africa, and the two countries share a unique history, strong ties—and a certain responsibility to each other.

Dubbed “Another America” by American historian James Ciment in his recent book on the country, Liberia was founded by American statesmen in 1820 and populated, forcibly by some accounts, with former slaves. According to Ciment’s account, it was an attempt to rid the United States of its burgeoning population of freed blacks, which Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, then speaker of the House, called in 1816 “useless and pernicious, if not dangerous.” It was a kind of “ethnic cleansing” for a country uncomfortable with the idea of slavery yet not prepared to accept blacks as full members of society, Ciment said in a recent interview.

By the the time of the Civil War, Clay’s American Colonization Society, founded with fellow Congressmen John Randolph and Daniel Webster to purchase land in West Africa, had sent more than 10,000 American blacks to the new country, which they called Liberia. They named the capital Monrovia, after James Monroe, who was the U.S. President when the capital was established.

The new immigrants, who came to be known as “Americoes,” set up a society largely modeled on that of the antebellum South, taking local natives as servants, and, eventually, as slaves who could be ‘leased’ out to work on the country’s lucrative rubber plantations. That early legacy of inequality laid the foundations for the revolutionary foment that eventually led to a sequence of brutal civil wars beginning in 1989 that ended only in 2003.

Liberia has only just emerged from the ravages of those conflicts, and its economy, infrastructure and leadership are not yet prepared to take on a crisis as big as the current Ebola outbreak. Sierra Leone, of course, suffers a similar post-conflict situation due to its own recent civil war, but there Ebola is not as widespread.

Still, there has been some grumbling from residents of both Sierra Leone and Guinea, the two other countries most affected by the outbreak, that they are not getting as much American largesse. American officials say that the assitance at the epicenter of the outbreak will help all afflicted countries. But each of those countries is getting additional assistance from former colonial masters as well: France is sending 20 health and medical disaster specialists to Guinea and has donated $200,000 to the French Red Cross’s operations there, in addition to a $1 million grant to the European Union’s humanitarian agency’s work on Ebola in the region. And Britain has announced that it will be sending troops to its former colony, Sierra Leone, to set up a 62-bed facility there. It has also committed $40 million to battle the outbreak region wide.

But even nations with no historical connection to the region are pitching in, not least would-be soft power China, which pledged to dispatch 174 epidemiologists, nurses and doctors to Sierra Leone. Considering China’s huge investments in the region, however, it has been criticized for its paltry economic assistance in the crisis.

The driving issue with all this assistance, is not how much is being offered, but how quickly it can get there. Even America’s proposed treatment wards, about ten of which will be built across the country, only offer enough places for 1,700 Ebola patients. The best solution for stopping Ebola in its tracks is quickly identifying and isolating victims. But 1,700 places for Ebola patients is barely adequate for the number of suspected cases in Liberia at the moment. With numbers doubling every three weeks, the longer it takes to get the treatment wards in place, the more beds—and graves—there will need to be.

TIME isis

How ISIS Is Recruiting Women From Around the World

Mideast Syria Rebel Attrition
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria marching in Raqqa, Syria, on Jan. 14, 2014 AP

How the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria recruits female converts, and why

Even as the world expressed its horror at the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the radical militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), there were those who exulted on social media. Self-proclaimed Western jihadists and ISIS supporters in Syria, these people proclaimed victory and promised more killings to come. “I wish I did it,” noted one on a Tumblr blog. Another asked for links to any videos of Foley’s execution and cackled, in a slang-filled Twitter post, that the “UK must b shaking up ha ha.”

They were both women. The Twitter personality, Khadijah Dare, whose handle Muhajirah fi Sham means “female immigrant to Syria,” declared her desire to replicate the execution: “I wna b da 1st UK woman 2 kill a UK or US terorrist!” Her statement may be pure jingoism, but as ISIS attracts more female adherents, the likelihood of seeing a woman brandishing a knife in the terrorist group’s name only increases.

Women have always played a role in war, if not in actual combat then in the vital areas of intelligence gathering, medical care, food preparation and support. ISIS’s vicious campaign to carve out a state ruled by a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law is no different, though its strict laws prohibiting mixing between genders has limited women’s presence on the front lines. Instead, women are drawn — or recruited — into vital support roles through effective social-media campaigns that promise devout jihadist husbands, a home in a true Islamic state and the opportunity to devote their lives to their religion and their God.

The exact number of women who have joined jihadist groups in Syria is impossible to ascertain, but terrorism analysts at London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation estimate there are some 30 European women in Iraq and Syria who either accompanied their jihadist husbands or have gone with the intention to marry members of ISIS and other militant groups. That may be less than 10% of the number of Western men currently estimated to be fighting in Syria and Iraq, but the fear is that the number of women involved may grow more quickly. A recently established French hotline for reporting signs of jihadist radicalization has seen 45% of its inquiries involve women, according to the Interior Ministry, and there have been several cases of women, one as young as 16, arrested at France’s airports under suspicion of trying to travel Syria to join Islamist rebels.

Two Austrian girls, ages 15 and 16, went to Syria in April, and in May, 16-year-old British twin sisters followed their older brother to Syria so they could marry jihadists, according to Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. Nineteen-year-old American convert to Islam Shannon Maureen Conley was arrested by the FBI in April as she prepared to fly to Turkey with Syria as her ultimate destination. She has been charged with conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization. At least one Canadian woman and two teenage Somalis from Norway are known to have joined jihadist groups in Syria as well. Most of the women are drawn to ISIS, which actively seeks out Western recruits as part of its strategy to expand internationally.

At the beginning, ISIS actively discouraged women from joining. Members active on social media urged their female followers to support jihad with fundraising and by asking their menfolk to join the fight. Women had no place in war, they said. But as the group came closer to its goal of establishing an Islamic state, exceptions were made. Women are necessary for a state to function, says Shiraz Maher of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. Calls went out for female doctors, nurses and engineers. When ISIS took over the Syrian city of Raqqa in 2013, it required a female security force to ensure that local women complied with Islamic laws of dress and conduct. It needed female police to check women passing through checkpoints, in case they were carrying arms for the opposition. Most of all, the Islamic State needed families to grow.

ISIS’s social-media campaign to recruit women isn’t nearly as developed as the one that calls for fighters, but it doesn’t have to be. Western women inspired by fighters’ postings can find like-minded women among the followers, and build a community. From there they easily find the Twitter pages and Tumblr accounts of women who have already made it to Syria — women like al-Khanssa, whose Tumblr photo blog is full of guidance for would-be female jihadists. She offers advice on what to bring (warm clothes, a hair dryer) and what not to bring (coffee and tea — easy to find) interspersed with Quranic verses, religious instructions culled from Islamic websites and photos of Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam.

Umm Layth, another Westerner in Syria with a large social-media following, tells her followers that the most difficult part about joining the fight is opposition from family back home. “The first phone call you make once you cross the borders is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do … when you hear them sob and beg like crazy on the phone for you to come back it’s so hard,” she writes on her Tumblr blog. British authorities believe that she is 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood, who was reported missing from her Glasgow home by her family in November.

But for any woman who thinks coming to Syria and joining ISIS might bring new opportunities or equal rights, al-Khanssa is clear. “The main role of the muhajirah [female migrant] here is to support her husband and his jihad and [God willing] to increase this ummah [Islamic community].” She follows with a quote culled from a Salafist website: “The best of women are those who do not see the men, and who are not seen by men.” ISIS’s recruitment may take place with 21st century technology, but when it comes to women, its ethos is firmly ground in the seventh.

TIME Syria

Murdered Journalist Sought to Give Voice to the Voiceless

American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip in Manama, Bahrain, Oct. 26, 2010.
American freelance journalist Steven Sotloff during a work trip in Manama, Bahrain, Oct. 26, 2010. Mazen Mahdi—EPA

People who knew American reporter Steven Sotloff say he was evenhanded and driven to report on the humanitarian dimensions of the conflicts in the Middle East

Right from the start of the Syrian civil war, in March 2011, reporting from inside the country meant facing an unusually high level of danger. And as the country’s Arab Spring–inspired uprising morphed into a bloody, sectarian-tinged stalemate, the risks to journalists working there grew. That didn’t stop reporters like Steven Sotloff, who is believed to have been beheaded by the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Syria after spending more than a year in captivity, from risking their lives to tell the stories of Syrians trapped in the middle.

Sotloff leaped into the tumult of the Middle East with a passion for reporting the details of daily life in the middle of momentous change. He referred to himself on Twitter as a “Stand-up philosopher from Miami” and was known as an “easy-going, jovial and kind-hearted guy,” according to one of his closest friends, Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the New America Foundation. Barfi says he and Sotloff shared a love for U.S. sports teams as well as the Middle East, and often worked together as the Arab Spring took off in 2011. Sotloff, says Barfi, was drawn to the Middle East not by the wars and the battles, but by the opportunity to “give a voice to the people who didn’t have one. He always wanted to bring out the humanitarian aspect of a story.” That desire led Sotloff to Yemen, where he studied Arabic, and to Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Turkey and eventually Syria. His stories focused on small human details rather than epic battles. And he was never content to take the obvious tack, notes Barfi. “He always said there were two sides to every story, and he was not ready to condemn a person without hearing what he had to say.” Sotloff, says Barfi, wasn’t just interested in getting a big interview: “He wanted to understand what made a man tick.” That desire took him to places few journalists would visit, and turned into powerful stories that brought distant conflict to life.

Sotloff grew up in Florida and attended boarding school in New Hampshire, where he got his start as a journalist while working for the school newspaper. He returned to Florida to go to university, where he continued with journalism at one of the University of Central Florida’s student newspapers. He left in 2005 to pursue journalism full time, moving to the Middle East to learn Arabic. Dedicated as he was to the events buffeting the region, he never lost touch with his favorite hometown team, tweeting frequently about the Miami Heat. At one point he wondered out loud on Twitter: “Is it bad that I want to focus on #syria, but all I can think of is a #HEATFinals repeat?”

Sotloff was a committed reporter, eager to get to the source of stories. He was careful but was rarely frightened of the dangers of reporting in the Middle East. He knew where the red lines were, says Barfi, who also served as the Sotloff family spokesman while Sotloff was in captivity. Sotloff knew militants who had gone on to join ISIS, says Barfi, and he had heard enough about the group to avoid them. It was one of the few subjects he wrote about from a distance. “He knew about ISIS and the dangers they posed for Westerners and Syrians, that was one of the few topics he wouldn’t touch in person.”

Sotloff’s parents and supporters elected to keep his kidnapping out of the news in the hopes it would aid his release. But on Aug. 19, ISIS released a video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley; the video showed Sotloff kneeling in the desert and the ISIS member who appeared to have executed Foley said that Sotloff could be ISIS’s next victim. A week later, Shirley Sotloff, his mother, issued a video plea to ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to “grant amnesty” to her son.

Her request went unmet. In the video of Sotloff’s beheading, Sotloff describes himself as “paying the price” for the U.S.’s decision to strike ISIS targets in Iraq. It was most likely a statement made under duress, says Barfi. “Steve would never subjugate himself to making such a statement against the United States if he weren’t coerced into it.” Referring to reports that Foley may have been waterboarded while in captivity, Barfi suggests that Sotloff likely received the same treatment. “We know the torture these guys were subjected to.”

Sotloff and I reported together briefly in Bahrain in February 2011, as Bahraini citizens first rose up in protest against their government. He was generous with his contacts and was eager to share stories of people he had encountered while reporting. Proficient in Arabic, he even helped translate for reporters with rival organizations. We stayed in touch via email over the years, especially once he started writing pieces for TIME, but we never met in person again. The last time I heard from Sotloff, he had just returned from Libya, where he had managed to interview seven of the Libyan security guards who had been on duty at the U.S. mission in Benghazi on the night of the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. It was a journalistic coup, and he produced an excellent account of the events of that night that contributed to the national conversation about the events in Benghazi. But Sotloff fretted that the politics of the issue had taken away from the personal accounts. “I should have written a feature piece about one of the guards and his emotions,” he told me in an email. For Sotloff, getting those personal stories was what journalism was all about. And, as for any reporter, the only way he could get them was by being on the ground.

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