Sando Ngovo Dogba is a supply chain management technical advisor for the Liberia Ebola Infection Prevention & Control Activity project. Sando came to JSI in November of 2014, in part as a result of a tragedy: the sudden death of his wife, Tetee Mercy Dogba. Sando spoke on the telephone from Liberia about how his return to his native country and work at JSI are helping him cope with his grief.
Before the death of your wife, Tetee Mercy Dogba, in August 2014, where did you work?
I’ve been working in logistics and supply chain management since 2005. I was with Mercy Corps and more recently the Danish Refugee Council, in countries undergoing tremendous conflict: Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Darfur, Sudan. I would come home to visit every couple of months, then return to the field. My life was at times exciting, often dangerous, and almost always exhausting.
“The job I’ve taken at JSI is allowing me to help my country at a time of crisis.”
So this is the first time in many years that you have been living and working in your own country.
Yes. I assumed I’d return to Afghanistan a few weeks after Tetee’s funeral. But her death, on August 11, happened just as the Ebola epidemic was peaking, and travel to and from Liberia became almost impossible. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was for the best; had I left Liberia at that time I would’ve been treated as a pariah, completely stigmatized. But much more importantly than that, I needed and wanted to be home with family and my people during a time of tremendous personal grief and public strife.
What would you tell us about Tetee?
She was a caring and loving person and a social worker at the Catholic Hospital here in Monrovia; it was there that she contracted Ebola, as did a number of her colleagues. She had the option of leaving her work at the hospital but did not because she was committed to her job and the people who needed her all the more so during a time of crisis.
Tetee was a hero. Her selflessness is what motivates and keeps me from giving in to despair.
Are you close to Tetee’s family?
Tetee and I had been together since 1997. I am like a son to her mother, a brother to her siblings, and a father to her daughter. That is another reason I am so glad to be back in Liberia; we need each other in our grief. I also have many professional colleagues, friends, and caring extended family members who support me.
It seems that the tragedy of her death has given you a new purpose.
I think that this whole experience—Tetee’s death, the Ebola epidemic—has been a wake-up call. I spent many years using my logistics skills to help governments and citizens in war-torn countries. That was all well and good. But there is a tremendous need in my own country. Unfortunately, it took the occasion and circumstances of my wife’s death to make me realize that this is where I need to be and what I need to be doing.
The Ebola crisis never should have advanced as far as it did, but Liberia did not have a robust supply chain infrastructure or the professionals to contain a disease of such a great consequence and scale. With people like me away, our home country’s systems have stymied and ultimately failed. At the same time, Ebola spread at such a (unprecedented) rate that even international response systems could not save us. We have so much to repair and rethink if we are to prevent such a crisis from taking Liberia again.
The job I’ve taken at JSI is allowing me to help my country at a time of crisis. It also makes me feel connected to Tetee because I am working to stop the spread of Ebola…it is a continuation, a response to what she did in taking care of those who were suffering from it.
What is the mood like in Liberia now, as compared to when you returned in August?
People are more optimistic. Our country is uniting; some Liberians who were working abroad have come home to help, despite the fact that wages here are far less than what they were paid elsewhere. Health centers are reopening, and things feel increasingly ‘back to normal.’ But ‘normal’ is not good enough: our country’s health system is broken. Fixing it will require tremendous amounts of skill, money, time, and dedication. This might not be what I planned to do, but it is what I am meant to do.