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[Note: this article appears in Bread's 2015 November-December newsletter]
Across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis affected hundreds of thousands of families. Husbands lost wives, children lost parents, and communities lost entire families to the deadly disease. While Ebola brought an unprecedented health epidemic, it also gave rise to a less visible crisis — a food crisis.
“We were stigmatized as ‘the Ebola people,’” said Respect*, a 28-year-old living in Montserrado County, Liberia. “I was unable to sell anything I grew in the market.”
Respect described how Ebola hit her community during the early summer of 2014, and how it was one of the first to be affected by what would soon take thousands of lives throughout the region. In Respect’s village, after a pregnant woman died from what was thought to be complications from an abortion, and after her family performed a traditional burial ceremony, it was discovered that she had in fact died from Ebola. The virus spread rapidly through Respect’s community, taking 18 lives.
Over the course of the Ebola crisis, Respect’s village was quarantined more than 10 times. Moreover, Respect, along with the rest of her community, was stigmatized and unable to sell anything in the market. As time went on, borders closed, food prices rose, markets were further disrupted, and food became less accessible to the most vulnerable households. Some families were forced to eat seeds normally used for planting or sell their tools to buy food.
Thanks to a USAID Office of Food for Peace project implemented by Mercy Corps, thousands of Ebola-affected communities received much-needed assistance. Families received cash transfers to purchase food, and agricultural input vouchers to replace seeds and tools to restart planting.
Respect used the cash to buy basic food items and the vouchers to plant peppers in her home garden. Grateful for USAID’s assistance, Respect said she is excited to start her own business and sell her peppers to provide for herself and her household.
The one-year, $9 million project, which began in January 2015, aims to help more than 150,000 people in Liberia recover from the economic impacts of the Ebola outbreak. Across the region, USAID and its partners are boosting household purchasing power to help vulnerable families buy food and other essential items they need to get back on their feet.
After months of uncertainty and despair due to Ebola, families are restarting their livelihoods, children are back in school, and communities are rebuilding to be stronger than before.
*Last name withheld to protect privacy. This article first appeared on the USAID website.
Photo: Respect shows off her newly grown peppers planted with seeds provided through USAID. Mette Karlsen/USAID.
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