Ebola survivor helps give others dignity in death

“I wish my sister would have followed in my footsteps when she got sick,” said Maseray Kamara, 53, who has just joined World Vision’s burial team in Bo, Sierra Leone’s second largest city.

Maseray went to visit her sister in the nation’s capital, Freetown, in early November, when the Ebola outbreak was at its height there. Her sister, Jebbeh, aged 35, became ill but was reluctant to call for help as she believed false rumours that people were being injected with the virus in local hospitals.

Maseray had been living in Bo, where World Vision has been running a campaign to educate people about how Ebola is spread.

Around the same time, Maseray’s husband, who was living at the same house in Freetown, also became ill, but he too was reluctant to seek treatment.

Maseray herself had been living in Bo, where World Vision staff and partners have been running a public campaign to educate people about how the virus is spread and encourage them to call the national hotline and seek early treatment if they show symptoms.

So when she started to feel pain around her waist, was vomiting and had difficulty walking, Maseray immediately called the 117 hotline and was taken to Lumley Hospital in Freetown. Soon after the test came back positive she was transferred to the Bandajuma treatment centre near Bo.

By her third day in Bandajuma, she was able to stand up again. After two weeks, she was able to return home, cured.

By her third day in Bandajuma treatment centre, she was able to stand up again. After two weeks, she was able to return home, cured.

Meanwhile, while Maseray was getting better, her husband and sister, as well as her aunt, all died at the house in Freetown.

“For me, surviving is a miracle of God,” said Maseray, “I’m happy to join the burial team now to give thanks to God.”

It has not been easy coming home though. “People are pointing fingers at me. All the goods I bought in Freetown to sell in the local market here were burned when I tested positive. I cannot afford to buy more.”

Her landlord threatened to throw her out, but she let him know that local by-laws prevented anyone losing their home because of Ebola and he relented.

As part of the World Vision burial team, Maseray receives two hearty meals a day as well as $200 every two weeks as an ‘incentive’ payment. This money will enable her to feed her children.

Maseray also wants to help honour the dead. When she was at the Lumley Centre in Freetown, 15 people died and were wrapped in plastic bags and taken away without any ceremony or ritual to mark their passing.

“We need to treat these people who have died with honour,” says Maseray. She also wants to help preserve the dignity of the women who have died. Most of the burial team members are men and in cases where a woman has died Maseray wants to be able to go in first and cover the body.

“We need to treat these people who have died with honour.” 

World Vision burial teams are committed to ‘safe and dignified burials’ which means that not only do the teams carefully don Personal Protective Equipment to protect themselves and disinfect the homes to protect other family members, they also encourage families to call a local religious leader, either an Imam or a Pastor, to perform a ceremony as the body is removed from the home or at the graveside, whichever the family prefers.

You can donate to the work World Vision is doing to help fight Ebola here.