Liberia: a sister in need [Commentary]

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Like many Americans, we in Maryland have watched and listened to the graphic daily news stories chronicling Ebola's escalating devastation in Liberia and other West African nations. Our hearts break as we witness the deaths of innocent Liberians and courageous health-care providers. And we wonder: How can one of the world's poorest countries, whose people and infrastructure remain devastated from over a decade of civil war, hold up against the ferocity of the worst Ebola epidemic ever? What can be done to help strengthen and encourage the people, build up the systems and staff and provide equipment necessary to defeat this predator soon, before its appetite grows out of control?

For Marylanders these questions have a very personal resonance. That's because Liberians and Marylanders are vitally connected. Little known to Marylanders today are resilient historical ties: There is a county (equivalent to our states) in Liberia that bears the name "Maryland," because it was settled by African Americans from our state in 1854; and three of Liberia's early presidents were born in the U.S. State of Maryland. More recently, in 1973, Baltimore City established a Sister City relationship with Gbarnga, the capital city of Liberia's Bong County; and in 2007 Liberia became the State of Maryland's first African sister state partner through the Maryland-Liberia Sister State Committee, MLSS (agreements existed with some 10 other jurisdictions in Europe, Latin America and Asia). This Maryland-Liberia agreement is overseen by the Maryland secretary of state and includes two Liberian counties — Bong and Maryland — with the purpose of promoting mutual economic, cultural, educational and health development. In addition, the U.S. State of Maryland is host to one of this country's largest Liberian-American immigrant populations.


Over the years, Marylanders have been there to support Liberia:

•Through the Sister State Program surplus state dump trucks were donated and shipped to Liberia for government use;


•A Bill and Melinda Gates/Sister Cities International Grant enabled the installation of 34 vitally needed water wells and hand pumps in Bong County and restoration of the water system at the J.J. Dossen Memorial Hospital in Maryland County, improving service to the 4,000 patients relying on the hospital monthly;

•A Maryland, U.S. statewide high-school course curriculum on the Maryland-Liberia relationship was developed and is accessible to educate teachers, students and citizens throughout the state.

•And several MLSS missions to Liberia have been made focusing on the health, education and business sectors.

There are many other examples of Marylanders supporting Liberia, from family remittances and ongoing travel by the Liberian Diaspora, to institutional support provided by church missions and medical and health care projects run by the University of Maryland and Jhpiego—a Johns Hopkins University affiliate.

Right now our support is urgently needed. Given the state of Maryland's official relationship with Bong and Maryland Counties, we encourage Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly to share state resources and call on individuals, private organizations, churches, schools, communities, businesses and non-profit organizations to find practical ways to provide urgent assistance during this emergency.

Examples include:

•Enabling hospitals, health care training facilities and medical equipment vendors to provide desperately needed personal protective equipment (infrared thermometers, disposal gowns, masks, boots, chlorine, body bags, etc.);

•Facilitating temporary deployment of trained medical staff and public health professionals;


•Funding of social and behavioral change communications activities through print and electronic media in Liberia;

•Engaging the staff and customers of Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the Port of Baltimore and businesses based in Maryland to procure and transport needed personnel, equipment and foodstuff;

•And using the governor's bully pulpit to raise awareness and appeal to all Marylanders to open their hearts, minds and purses to support our Liberian brothers and sisters at this crucial hour.

We've been there for Liberians in the past, let's be there now. We are all connected.

Sheila Durant is chairperson of the Maryland-Liberia Sister State Committee. Her email is

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