The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace has double significance for a Liberian community football team because April 6 is also the day they remember a terrible and bloody fracas.
Millennium Stars FC from Gbangaye Town, Monrovia, is organising a football match today that will commemorate both anniversaries – and their recent delivery from the devastation of Ebola.
Moses Barcon: “We are still in a vaccuum.”
Back in 1999, April 6 was the day a skirmish between fighters of rival factions turned into a ruthless and bloodstained season of terror for the ordinary people of Monrovia. Pictures of fighters with guns and machetes, fighting in nothing but their shoes, many high or drunk, and wearing or waving juju artefacts to make themselves bulletproof, swamped the international media. Ordinary people fled in all directions, no longer trusting any side to give them protection. Estimates place the number of deaths at around 1,000.
This year, in April 6, 2015, the population of Liberia’s capital city Monrovia is emerging from another terrifying ordeal – the Ebola virus – which has killed more than 4,000 people in the country, a large proportion of those in and around Monrovia.
While the April 6 reign of terror lasted three months in 1996, everyone knew from experience that it would end. The Ebola outbreak has been much more sinister and frightening because it has been a silent killer and no-one knew where it would strike next. Ebola did what war never could and stopped people playing football. You couldn’t shake hands. Children couldn’t go outside to play with other children. Your family and friends could bring death into your house unawares.
While the Ebola outbreak was at its height – and while all competitive sport, including football, was banned – Millennium Stars used their networks to pass out information about how to stay free of the virus, and even supplied cleaning products to enable the small, poor, local communities to stay safe. Miraculously, none of them contracted the virus. But you didn’t need to contract the virus to be damaged by it.
Moses Barcon, Millennium Stars organiser and right back, lost eight family members to Ebola last August and September. His brother – a pastor – contracted the virus when he went to pray with a sick person. He died, then his mother died, and then six more of the family succumbed.
Then Moses lost his job at a Monrovia gas station because, even though he had quarantined himself, he was suspected of being a carrier. That job has gone to someone else now and there’s no way he can get it back.
Facing a journey to a neighbouring city to attend the memorial service for his lost family members this coming weekend, Moses is also expected – according to Liberian tradition – to pay for a tribute to the dead. He hasn’t worked since September and is trying to support his son and his mother. He said: “It is terrible. We are still in a vaccuum. Presently everything is closed down.”
Before today’s match celebrating the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace between the teams of young footballers that Millennium Stars train, they will say a prayer.
The prayer will be in thanksgiving for escaping the tragedies of the past but also of hope to build a better future.