Tamba Hali Helping To Build Ebola Clinic In Liberia
Before Tamba Hali ever set foot on the field at Penn State, he had already faced the biggest challenge of his life: escaping Liberia at the age of 10 in the midst of a bloody civil war that claimed over 200,000 lives.
After overcoming incredible odds just to stay alive, Hali starred as a defensive lineman at Penn State from 2002-2005 and was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, where he became one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. Now that his home country is in the midst of another crisis due to the outbreak of Ebola, Hali has decided to lend a helping hand in support.
The Kansas City Chiefs linebacker teamed up with officials from Heart to Heart International, based in Kansas City, to announce the construction of a clinic near the capital of Monrovia, Liberia that will offer 70 beds for patients stricken by the Ebola virus. According to the World Health Organization, there have been 3,834 confirmed Ebola cases and 2,069 deaths in Liberia to date.
“I’ve been blessed to be in this country and get an education and play a wonderful sport, but there’s a crisis going on in Liberia,” Hali said at a news conference in Lenexa, Kansas. “It’s hard to talk about it. But people are dying, and they’re dying at a rapid rate.”
Hali’s story is well-documented, but it bears repeating. Born in Gbarnga, Liberia in 1983, he was barely six years old when the country plunged into its first civil war, and he was just nine when the fighting around his town became so dangerous that his mother, Rachel Keita, gathered him and his three siblings and fled into the countryside.
His father, Henry, left Liberia in 1985 and used his degrees in chemistry and math from Cuttington College near Gbarnga to find work as a teacher and part-time professor in Teaneck, New Jersey. After achieving citizenship, he was able to acquire visas for Tamba and his three other children to join him in the United States.
Hali’s mother was not able to flee, but the two were finally reunited after 12 years in 2006 after the former Nittany Lion was granted full citizenship. After initially receiving a one-year visa, Rachel Keita is now a full-time resident of Kansas City, where she can watch her son play for the Chiefs.
He still has family members in Liberia, spread out in the capital of Monrovia, the Pacific Coast, and Lofa County.
“They’ve been fortunate,” Hali said. “My family that’s there hasn’t contracted Ebola.”
According to the AP, the clinic will cost close to $1 million to operate, making it the most complex humanitarian effort the Heart to Heart organization has ever attempted. Hali knows his country needs help, and one clinic will not be enough to end the epidemic. However, he understands better than most how crucial a helping hand can be in a time of need for people with nowhere else to turn.
“Liberians are smart people, strident people. It was a beautiful country at one point, when I was very young,” Hali said. “These are good people, God-fearing people, but this is a third-world country. They need help.”