This Saturday, Liberian Americans living in the Northwest are hosting a fundraiser for Ebola relief efforts in West Africa.
The proceeds will pay for essential supplies. But for the Liberian community in the Puget Sound region, the event is a way to stay involved from thousands of miles away.
Jasper Kinnay is one of the organizers. He says ticket sales to the dinner fundraiser will help, but they’re also accepting things like non-perishable foods, medical supplies, and money. Proceeds will go to UNICEF to help people in remote areas, specifically small towns and villages in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, he says.
“And the reason is that for most of these communities, it's hard for the bigger NGOs to get there -- whether it’s because of transportation, logistics, and things like that,” Kinnay says.
Kinnay grew up in Liberia and moved to Seattle 15 years ago. He still has friends and family in Liberia. For him, the event has personal significance.
“I can’t be on the ground, I don’t have a medical background, so I really can’t do nothing,” he says. “So what can I do to allow me to feel their pain, and not just feel it, but to also be able to help them? That’s why this fundraiser is important to me personally, to do something about what is happening.”
The news from West Africa about Ebola has focused mainly on the exposures, quarantines and deaths. But the epidemic has also taken a financial toll. Kinnay says families are struggling to put food on their tables.
That affects more people than the number who have Ebola, says Mark Ferdig of Mercy Corps.
“In Liberia, the population is about 4.5 million," Ferdig says. “There’s been just over 7,000 confirmed cases of Ebola, so we’re talking about less than .02 percent of the population.”
Ferdig recently returned from Liberia after two months directing the organization’s response efforts. "Of course it’s tragic, and the stories behind it and it’s scary. But when it comes economically, every household has been affected by it.”
Ferdig and his team surveyed residents to find out Ebola’s economic impact. They found that food prices were going up and people’s incomes were going down.
“We found households were skipping meals," he says. "We’ve also found that 75 percent of the households surveyed are also borrowing money because of the Ebola impact.”
Ferdig says the priority right now is to contain Ebola and to treat patients. But the economic stress from the epidemic will take years in recovery.
That worries Kinnay. He looks forward to when the crisis is over. But what happens next is full of uncertainties.
"Once Ebola ends, all these NGOs will go away," he says. "That’s just how it is. The crisis may be over, but the aftermath of the crisis is where it’s worst.”
The fundraiser will be held Saturday, Dec.6 at the Ethiopian Community Mutual in Rainier Valley. For more information, go to liberiancommunity.org.