Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Visit to homeland a wake-up call

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SIXTEEN years after leaving his homeland of Liberia, Bernard Kumeh had a long bucket list of people and places to see.

Instead, because of the Ebola outbreak there, Kumeh, who lives in Winnipeg, cut his month-long vacation short by a week and the only buckets he saw there were filled with water and chlorine at the doorways of residences so people can sterilize their hands.

"It started at the airport when I got there. My family said 'Don't even shake our hands -- not even with us, even though you're our relative,' " Kumeh, 51, said Tuesday.

"That's the rule they said... I couldn't even go to my mom's grave. Everybody knows me (in the community in which she is buried) so people wouldn't understand if I told them to stay away from me."

Today, members of the local Liberian community will be walking from city hall to the Manitoba legislature to raise awareness of the plight of their homeland and what is urgently needed there.

Kumeh travelled to Liberia July 23 and left for Winnipeg Aug. 15.

He said he had been planning to spend time in each of his four brothers' homes and at his sister's, but that changed because of the Ebola outbreak.

"We met at my sister's place because I couldn't go to their homes," he said.

"There was no social life, no activity. Everybody suspects everyone of being infected. You don't go to crowded places, and you don't rub against people. You don't wear short sleeves. There's a bucket of water with chlorine in it outside doors where you wash your hands in it. I took a lot of hand sanitizer with me.

"I would have liked to see my old school and my old church, but because of Ebola I couldn't.

Kumeh said the hardest thing was when he saw his granddaughter for the first time.

"My own grandkid, I had to bathe in sanitizer to even put my hand on her shoulder," he said. "It wasn't the trip I thought I'd have."

Kumeh said he saw wrapped bodies left alongside streets, bodies he was told were moved from where they died because of the fear government authorities would seize relatives of the deceased.

And when Kumeh went to the airport to return home, medical officials took his temperature before they would allow him on the plane.

"They stopped people if they had a fever," he said.

"If you miss a flight, you miss a flight. People are dying there, and we all need to help. We need to stand together."

Othello Wesee, another Winnipegger originally from Liberia, said the walk he is organizing will start at city hall at 11 a.m., and he expects they will reach the legislature about 12:30 p.m.

Wesee said he hopes to speak with Premier Greg Selinger, and they will sell T-shirts for $10 with proceeds going to the Ebola fundraising campaign. He said cheques can also be sent to Knox United Church, 400 Edmonton St., R3B 2M2, in care of the campaign in order to get a tax receipt.

Wesee said they are asking the province to send supplies, including medical drugs and equipment, blankets, tents and protective gear, as well as send a team of medical professionals to the country and give medical training to Liberians.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2014 A3

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