Global Communities Team Leaders Honored at Disco Hill Safe Burial Site

Global Communities Team Leaders Honored at Disco Hill Safe Burial Site

By Stephen Farshing, Global Communities

Disco Hill burial siteMARGIBI COUNTY, LIBERIA – More than one year ago, during the height of the 2014 Ebola epidemic, a small group of staff from Global Communities Liberia identified a plot of land approximately 30 miles outside of Monrovia, overgrown with vegetation, known simply as “Disco Hill.” In response to Montserrado County’s controversial cremation policy that had been instituted at the time, Global Communities, along with traditional community leaders, had been searching for a site that could provide an alternative to cremation.

“The site perfectly met our criteria,” said Josh Balser, Global Communities’ Acting Country Director. “It was a large space and it was very accessible to the road. Most importantly the community was accepting and welcoming of our idea to use it as a burial site.”

Negotiations between community leaders and the Government of Liberia soon ensued and construction rapidly began at the site. In just two months, Disco Hill opened its doors and thus began a pivotal time of the response as the practice of cremation ceased. Since its opening in late 2014, more than 2,200 deceased – both Ebola and non-Ebola cases – have received safe, dignified burials at Disco Hill.

Matt WardOn November 22, Disco Hill staff organized a ceremony to honor all team leaders at the site, namely Site Manager Matt Ward. Ward joined Global Communities in the fall of 2014 and has been instrumental in leading the development, management and operations of the site.

Balser added that initially, Matt was supposed to come to Liberia to do health messaging and promotion. “He was going to travel around teaching communities about Ebola transmission and prevention. I called him one night and said ‘Matt, there’s been a change of plans. We need you to come out here and build a burial site.’ Matt’s immediate response was ‘When is the next plane?’ Matt has been an extremely dedicated member of the team, working weekends and late nights. He deserves to be congratulated,” said Balser.

Chief Zanzan Kawar, head of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia, attended the celebration and expressed his gratitude and satisfaction with the site and what Global Communities has helped the Government of Liberia achieve through the USAID OFDA-funded Assisting Liberians with Education to Reduce Transmission (ALERT) Program.

Global Communities' Matt Ward explains the importance of safe and dignified burials in combating the Ebola crisis.

When asked about his thoughts looking back on the site and his experiences in Liberia, Ward responded, “I have a lot of memories of this place but the most rewarding times were when families would personally thank my team and me for providing their loved ones with a burial. I will always be proud to have been part of an operation that allowed victims of this virus to be laid to rest safely and with dignity. I also would add that my team has been amazing here. I am proud that now the Disco Hill team has taken full ownership of the site and can successfully run it without my supervision.”

After nearly one year of intensive support for construction and burials at Disco Hill, Global Communities is now working to hand over the site, as well as the management and operations responsibilities, to the Government of Liberia by the end of January, 2016. Chief Zanzan Kawar ended the ceremony with a statement to Global Communities: “We have greatly appreciated Global Communities’ work and collaboration with us. We wish you could stay and work with us forever. During the fight against Ebola, this place [Disco Hill] brought us together and gave us strength. This is something we cannot forget and the Traditional Leadership looks forward to continued work with Global Communities in the future.”