But she said she understands that people are grieving. “They are just processing in their own way,” she said.
She said she does take issue with Liberian government officials’ criticizing her husband when they failed to manage the epidemic by waiting until it reached crisis proportions to close borders.
“What would you do if that was you and you absolutely didn’t trust the health care system where you were, and you felt [if] you could get to this other location they could help you?” she asked.
The instinct to help
Many families in Minnesota in addition to Kwennah’s have heard that family members, friends and neighbors in West Africa have fallen ill, said Wynfred Russell, executive director of the nonprofit African Career, Education and Resource Inc. in Brooklyn Park.
“These are extended families. You have several generations living in the same household,” she said. “The propensity is to want to help.”
And for many residents of the afflicted areas, the protective measures required to care for the sick safely appear foreign and shocking, she said. “Even in America, it would be strange — these guys dressed up in biocontainment suits come and pick up your sick relatives. They hide their sick relatives thinking they are doing something good, but they are infecting more people.”
Fear about the disease recently led a Minnesota woman returning from Liberia to check into a hotel in a self-imposed quarantine, Russell said.
She repeatedly demanded to be tested for Ebola even though she showed no symptoms.
Such anxiety has led many Minnesotans with West African ties to curtail overseas travel plans to see family or conduct business in the affected regions.
Even though Kwennah fears for her lone surviving sister, who is in Monrovia with a sick 16-year-old daughter and a 3-month-old baby, she said she will not travel to the region until “everything is under control.”
She said her sister is no longer comfortable staying in the family home where so many have died but is being shunned by acquaintances.
“Everywhere she has been driven away,” said Kwennah, who has been unable to contact her for two days. “I’ve been so scared.”
Her husband, Andrew Kwennah, called the situation “a hard reality.”
So far, his side of the family has avoided illness, even though they, too, had visited Cynthia Kwennah’s sick parents.
“My family took a lot of risks. They didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “They are good so far.”
Russell said the goal now is to provide accurate information Minnesotans can share with family members in the impact zones, to address the psychological effect felt by families in the Twin Cities area and to mobilize relief and fundraising efforts.
“Folks here send a lot of resources back home,” Russell said. “They do have a lot of influence over people back in Liberia.”