After 38 members of his family died, he founded a soccer team to heal his community. It's working.

Survivors lead lonely lives in the face of stigma.

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.


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Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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Have you ever watched a movie that's so abysmally bad that you wonder how it ever even got made? Where you think, "Hundreds and hundreds of people had to have been directly involved in the production of this film. Did any of them ever think to say, 'Hey, maybe we should just scrap this idea altogether?"

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