Ebola has killed more than 2,700 people in Liberia, making it the hardest hit of the the three West Africa countries most severely affected by the worst ever outbreak of the unrelenting virus.
Many Liberians have fled the country and some Liberian immigrants, especially those living in the United States, have become victims of what many are calling “a stigma based on fear of the unknown.”
They say people from Sierra Leone and Guinea, the other two countries at Ebola’s epicentre, are facing the same.
Two weeks ago, Shoana Solomon and three other Liberian women started the “I am a Liberian, not a virus” campaign, which quickly went viral. Their aim was to end the discrimination and make an important point:
That Liberians, and those from the other countries affected by the disease, are humans first.
Al Jazeera spoke to Shoana about the campaign and the deeply personal story behind it.
There are people who say 'you guys brought this virus here. I say, we didn’t even bring this virus to ourselves.'
Al Jazeera: What personally made you join the campaign?
Shoana: It was the first day of school for my daughter. She came home and I asked her, “How was your first day.” She told me, “There was one girl came up to me and said you are from Liberia. You have that disease.”
That was the beginning of it.
Parents needs to be sensitive around their children when they are talking about Ebola. It is a scary, scary virus but we need to be alert about what our children are hearing from us.
Yes, we are from Liberia, from Sierra Leone but we are humans first. The other thing is education. You won’t find someone sitting next to you in a mall smiling and laughing with Ebola. If the person is contagious he will be very, very sick.
Al Jazeera: What impact do you think it had on your child and yourself?
Shoana: I think it brought awareness to the forefront. My daughter and I talked about this. Some children here have never been to Liberia but are born to Liberian parents who have had this experience as well, where they have been stigmatised.
This stigmatisation is happening all over the world – it’s even Africans against Africans.
There are many Liberians who have left their country because of Ebola and have no homes. They are staying with relatives, sleeping in someone else’s house, on someone else’s floor.
Al Jazeera: What kind of a discrimination do you think it is?
Shoana: It’s stigmatisation based on fear and fear of the unknown. It’s like, “I don’t want to be associated with you or anyone from your country.”
There are people who say: You guys brought this virus here. I say: We didn’t even bring this virus to ourselves.
Al Jazeera: What do you think is the cause of this fear or paranoia?
Shoana: I place no blame on anyone for the stigma. It’s bound to happen, especially when people don’t take the time to learn the facts. Radio and television are bombarding our homes with news about Ebola every minute. It’s accompanied by dramatic music and scary images. People are hearing about all the deaths and not paying attention to how you actually get the virus.
Follow Priyanka Gupta on Twitter: @PriyankagIND