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'You Have to Pray': Liberians in Texas Worry About Family, Stigma

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The news that one of its own is the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. spread like wildfire through the Liberian community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area this week, where members have been worried for months about the health of relatives living thousands of miles away.

"I personally feel this is not an issue we need to be private or secretive about."

John Vawar, 37, who works as an IT engineer for an airline and has been living in the U.S. for 18 years, said he is concerned about his brother in Liberia. He and other relatives try to communicate with him as much as possible to make sure he and his family are healthy. Vawar added that fear about the spread of the disease in Texas is "unfounded."

"I don't think there's a reason to be fearful," he said. "I understand the fears and concerns of the larger community, but even though I am a Liberian, I am an American, too, and I have a family here. We all have families, and we are concerned for our children and our spouses."

Echoing his thoughts, Yhenpu Boayue McCauley, 58, senior pastor at House of Prayer Tabernacle, urged people in the community not to place a stigma on Liberians or Liberian-Americans after a citizen of that country became the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. Thomas Eric Duncan is being kept in isolation at a Dallas hospital.

"You don't want the telephone to ring at nighttime because it will be bad news."

"I personally feel this is not an issue we need to be private or secretive about," McCauley said. "With Ebola, this can't be kept private. This is something that if you heard of anyone or been in contact with anyone in an infected area, we need to talk about it." She added that she plans to address the topic in her Sunday sermon.

Stephen Joe, 57, who owns two African grocery stores in the Dallas area, said the threat of Ebola had been a "constant struggle" for him and his family even before the disease was diagnosed in the U.S.

"I am deeply worried about my family in Liberia. It's a concern. Every time you go to bed you have to pray," he said. "You don't want the telephone to ring at nighttime because it will be bad news."

But he added that he is not nervous about the disease spreading in America.

"People [Liberian-Americans] are depressed, but the thing about this country [is] you have to get up every day and go to work, and that puts something on your mind other than just worrying what's going on," Joe said.

—Tracy Jarrett and Becky Bratu

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