Bringing Resiliency and Normalcy to Ebola-Free Liberia

It's been a year since the height of the Ebola epidemic, and we're finally seeing Liberia get back on its feet. But there is a new normal -- learning to live with the possibility of Ebola while strengthening a severely impacted economy and health system.

Tragedies are often seen most clearly through the eyes of a child, and I saw it firsthand in a 14-year-old boy named Elijah. His story provided hope during a bleak time.

Elijah was living with his aunt when she and other family members became sick and died of what was suspected as being Ebola. As a result, his father refused to let him in the house and told him to sleep at school. The principal of his school wouldn't let him in either, and Elijah was forced to lie on the side of the road near a health clinic.

Luckily, we found Elijah, and we were able to get him to an Ebola Treatment Unit. Today Elijah is healthy and Ebola-free. With counseling, he was accepted and supported by his family and community when many feared survivors of Ebola.

Today Elijah is a typical teenager, starting back at school, playing football and working on the family farm. His father says he doesn't laugh as much as he once did and he seems lost in thought sometimes -- but he survived. And for that, we are very grateful.

A recent "flare up" of Ebola showed the response system is better -- but not perfect. Vigilance is still needed. And in the long-term, building a resilient health system is crucial. Resilience is a word that is often used post-Ebola.

Even with the significant achievements made to date, Liberia needs more health workers, supplies, resources, and infrastructure to protect against future outbreaks.

Chaos has ended but rebuilding a country's structure takes time, patience, and support. Surveillance, rapid response and a referral system must be in place for an effective transition, as well as an Ebola isolation, care, and treatment system.

Normalcy means children like Elijah are returning to classrooms, and farmers are planting their fields to combat hunger within their families and communities. It means those affected by the outbreak coming together to heal.

My colleagues and I often discuss that we thought the daily activities would subside once the Ebola crisis passed, but that's just not the case. We have shared some very dark days, and our job is to make sure we are healing and rebuilding lives -- one day at a time.

That requires not only a resilient health system, but a resilient economy.

Growing up, I often heard a person's life could be changed for the price of a cup of coffee. I'll admit I was skeptical with this comparison, but not anymore. Two months ago through USAID, PCI began distributing $50 per month in cash to the most vulnerable households impacted by Ebola.

When we first distributed these small amounts to families, I asked myself, "How much can a relatively small amount of cash impact an entire household?"

Well, actually, a lot. We have had a chance to "follow" the money after the first distribution and have found that more than half is going for food, and that helps to stimulate the local economy and improve overall household nutritional status. It is being used to purchase rice, oil, salt, and meat or fish. A number of women are investing a portion of the money into small businesses. Extra cash in these households means that there are resources in case a family member is sick and there will be funds available to support children in school.

This temporary "hand up" can change a family's future and the direction of a country. I'm seeing it first-hand. Liberians are resilient people, and our investment in them will lead to a strengthened nation and region. And when, God forbid, the next crisis comes, Liberia and West Africa will be prepared to stop it in its tracks.

Jolene Mullins is the Liberia country director for PCI (Project Concern International). You can learn more here.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction around World Humanitarian Day, August 19. This series highlights the inspiring and heroic stories behind the Ebola crisis response in West Africa. Click here for more posts from the series, follow along on Twitter with #WHD2015 and #ShareHumanity.