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Interview with Eric Aka, a priest of the African Missions, native of the Ivory Coast and working in Liberia, more precisely in the diocese of Banga, Foya District, in the north-western Liberia, on the border of Guinea and Sierra-Leone.

eric aka

Gérard Sagnol – Liberia has experienced the terrible epidemic of Ebola, how did you live this time of crisis?.
E.A.- The crisis happened in two phases: there was the beginning of the epidemic, and the second phase was its expansion. In the beginning, I was there with the population. I already had a knowledge of Ebola, because, the disease had previously developed in Congo, and our Congolese confreres had already informed us about this disease. We have made the awareness to our population, inviting them to follow the instructions of the Health Ministry, and reminding them that it is a real and devastating disease. We had conducted awareness campaigns in our Christian communities as well as in the villages. In May, I traveled and upon my return, I could not reach back to Liberia because the borders of the country were closed. When finally I could reach my area, we had contributed to the "food support" program to different orphans we had. We could not support more than 104 orphans..

eric enfants

G.S.- Where did this support for orphans come from?
E.A.- We provided food to the orphans. They were accommodated in the enlarged African family, with their aunts or uncles. We helped these families to take care of these children.

G.S.- After the Ebola crisis, what was the condition of the country?
E.A.- The country was in great economic difficulty, the epidemic lasted almost a year and therefore productive activity had stopped. It was necessary to revive economic activity and resume even social relationships, while having in mind the essential sanitary precautions, since it is through touch and various contacts that the disease spreads.

G.S.- What are the actions that you have undertaken with the Christian community?
E.A.- After Ebola, it was necessary to visit all the communities, be reassured that everyone was in place and give hope to the people and teach them new habits. We had gathered the Christians to give them information with the help of Caritas. We have helped the population to have a different look at Ebola victims who have managed to get healed, not to stigmatize the entire family but to try to have compassion towards them.

G.S.- You'll soon go back to Liberia, what are your future projects?
E.A.- We must now find the funds for the education of the orphans. As they have no parents, they are not educated because the welcoming family cannot afford to pay for the studies of their children and for the children welcomed. Our goal is to assist these families. This is the biggest project that is in our heart for now. The food support during the epidemic was scheduled for ten months, and soon it will expire, but we must continue to support some of these families who are really in complete destitution. We do it discreetly. There are single women who are taking care of these children and they does not have any resources, we will help them start a small business that will allow them to meet their own needs. It is during our Parish Council meeting that we have developed this project; a special team was formed and was named "Ebola task force". And it is with the help of this team that we seek to meet the current challenge. The parishioners inform us about those who are in need and support us in our actions with the sharing of food and help to orphans and widows.

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G.S.- This epidemic has probably undermined your initial project. How is it today?
E.A.- My initial project was, following our founder, to install the catholic communities that are committed to the development of the region, and this project still continues. However, we had to reduce the number of people for training, we had to first respond to the present emergency caused by Ebola. In our reflection on this crisis, we saw that there is a need to build a clinic that can meet the health infrastructure in the region. We are still in search of partners who can help us to realize this project. Ebola has shown us our deficiency in infrastructure, it will be necessary that the Church also participates in this form of development.
G.S.- As a priest, are you alone in this region?
E.A.- Yes, I am alone, because this project was initiated by the African Missions since 2013. I arrived here on 21 December, 2013. The SMA project was to install it’s communities of priests throughout the Boffa region. It is a region that has seen Catholicism and which suffered civil war for fourteen years, and since then there were no priests. The christians were guided by catechists, but certainly the presence of a priest is an essential support to feed these communities.

G.S.- What is your wish?
E.A.- First, it is to have a community of SMA priests, since the parish was entrusted to us for at least 25 years. . One of the conditions to have a community is to have a presbytery. My wish would be that we build a presbytery for at least two or three priests. For now, in the old building, which was damaged during the war, I was able to rearrange for a bedroom, a lounge and an office. Thus we are searching for funds to build a new presbytery that can accommodate priests.