After 38 members of his family died, he founded a soccer team to heal his community. It's working.
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Like many in Sierra Leone, Erison Turay plays soccer. What's unique is the reason why.

Last year, Erison was infected with Ebola. During the summer months of 2014, he lost 38 family members to the Ebola outbreak. He was infected while trying to shuttle sick relatives to safety. He and his mother survived, but their lives were forever changed.

Pulitzer Prize-winning video journalist Ben Solomon traveled to Sierra Leone to document Erison's survival story.

This powerful New York Times documentary is a visually stunning look inside the lives of a group of Ebola survivors led by Erison and how they battle stigma by forming a soccer team.


Life as an Ebola survivor is lonely and filled with stigma.

Having witnessed so much sickness and death, residents of Ebola-stricken communities find themselves wary of getting too close to anyone who has been infected. Many refuse to accept or employ Ebola survivors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, trace amounts of the virus may linger in someone's body for some time after recovery. But because Ebola spreads only through direct contact, there's no reason to avoid normal interaction with those who've recovered.

GIFs via New York Times.

To combat stigma, Erison helped form the Kenema Ebola Survivors Football Club, where he and others could be accepted without shame.

The team is made up entirely of survivors, split into men's and women's teams. The club gave them a place to bond with one another, to escape the stigma that surrounds them, and to have some fun.

In Solomon's words, Erison's soccer club is "one of the most powerful ways to bring people together to try and understand where the country goes from here."

The men's and women's teams played against teams made up of medical personnel tasked with treating and fighting the virus. Survivors and fighters came together in competition. And in the process, they helped fight the stigma of survival.

During the Ebola outbreak of 2014, more than 27,000 people were infected with the deadly virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 11,000 people, primarily in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, lost their lives. 10,000 children were orphaned.

While somewhere around 16,000 people infected with the virus survived, it's clear from Erison's story that all isn't well in their world.

We may not be far from ending Ebola once and for all. For now, however, it's still a very real threat.

We have the opportunity to eradicate Ebola. In July, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that the U.S. government plans to spend upward of an additional $266 million to help West African relief efforts. This comes on top of the more than $2 billion it devoted to the cause last year.

"Now is an important time to help support these countries in the battle against Ebola. While an Ebola epidemic causes a lot of fear, it could cause much more damage if left to become endemic."
— Ben Solomon

WHO hopes that by the end of this year, a viable large-scale Ebola vaccine will be identified and put into production. Currently, there are two vaccines in late-stage clinical trials in Guinea and Sierra Leone. In the meantime, more than a dozen other vaccines have been proposed, but those are all fairly early in development and testing stages.


Solomon says long-term solutions still need attention.

"The virus isn't gone yet. Small pockets of these affected countries still deal with aftermath. The economies have faltered, the governments have lost the trust of the people and the medical systems have all been pushed to places they never thought they'd go. Now is an important time to help support these countries in the battle against Ebola. While an Ebola epidemic causes a lot of fear, it could cause much more damage if left to become endemic."
— Ben Solomon

But in the meantime, we must remember that for survivors like Erison, the fight goes on long after recovery.

And if it takes forming a soccer club to do that, then that's what they'll do.

Because they are, in so many ways, survivors.


Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."