President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday visited the slum community of West Point, now under quarantine after suspected Ebola patients fled a treatment center a week ago Saturday. On Wednesday, during protests over the quarantine, 15-year-old Shakie Kamara was shot in the legs by security forces. He died the next day of blood loss and hypothermic shock.
Sirleaf went to talk with the angry residents, who have complained that the quarantine is unfair, that they can't lead their normal lives, that there isn't enough food for them.
And she went to apologize to Eva Kamara, mother of Shakie.
Freelance photographer Tommy Trenchard, covering the visit for NPR, spoke to Eva Kamara afterward.
"She said it made her very proud that the president would come and talk to a poor woman like herself," Trenchard reports.
Kamara was in tears for part of the conversation with the president.
The overall reaction to the president's visit among West Pointers was mixed, Trenchard adds. People wanted to let Sirleaf know the hardships they are facing because of the quarantine. "A lot of people were saying we're hungry, we don't have food to eat," he says.
But he didn't sense a lot of anger directed toward Sirleaf: "It's important to remember that people here, even those who would vote for the opposition, have a strong respect for the office of the president."
West Point residents want Sirleaf to lift the quarantine so they can resume their normal lives. But the government is unlikely to lift a quarantine until three weeks have passed since the West Point treatment center was attacked — that's the time it takes for Ebola to emerge after contact.
During the visit of roughly 40 minutes, Sirleaf was surrounded by her entourage. One member occasionally handed out cash as the president made her way down the main road.
"At one point," Trenchard says, "she commented to two guys who had just received a thousand Liberian dollars [about $12 U.S.]. She said, 'Don't spend it on drink.' "