Immigrant Stories: Benaggie Toukolon, Liberian immigrant and Caretaker, is Ahead of the COVID-19 CurveDec 30, 2020 08:00AM ● By Nana Ama Addo
COVID-19 cases continue to rise exponentially in the United States. During this time, healthcare workers combine sacrifice, caution and selflessness to brace themselves. On November, 23th, the total coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania reached 313,358, with more than 7,000 new cases recorded in Philadelphia on Thursday, November 20th. Benaggie Toukolon, a Liberian immigrant and caretaker, is ahead of the COVID curve; she leaves little to no room for error as she works to feed her family, fighting fiercely to protect them from economic hardship and the virus.
Benaggie, a Pele woman, was drawn to nursing both by personal experience and her caring disposition. She says “Once upon a time I was really sick, and I didn’t like the way I was treated in the hospital…Also, I love to take care of people and see people happy.”
Being a caretaker during COVID is challenging, but Benaggie has come to see her patient as somewhat of an extended family member. “It’s hard. Leaving my kids every day and going to work is scary. I don’t want to bring anything back home, but also, I love this lady. She looks forward to me coming to work every day. If I don’t go there she doesn’t feel okay. So that also motivates me to get up every morning to go to work.”
Focusing on what she can do to prevent the virus from infiltrating her home has helped Benaggie stay empowered. As a pillar of a family of five, she works hard to ensure that she is protecting herself and her family to the best of her ability. “What concerns me most about COVID is taking the best preventive measures possible by wearing masks and washing my hands, because my oldest son is asthmatic so I can’t bring that to him.”
She is meticulous because multiple of her children are especially vulnerable: “My middle son had heart surgery, so I am very careful. When I come home I don’t hug them or anything until I take a shower. They don’t go out at all. They stay home. Since they haven’t had school, they haven’t gone outside…I try to find something for them to do to not make them too frustrated at home.”
The City of Philadelphia certainly agrees with Benaggie’s ideas and encourages communities to stay indoors. On November 16th, the City and Department of Public Health of Philadelphia rolled out a “Safer at Home” restriction to battle the worsening state of the coronavirus in the area. The order went into effect on November 20th. This restricts certain non-essential businesses, forces schools to commence only online, bans certain gatherings and more. Benaggie is ahead of the curve, as this is something she has been doing with her family throughout the pandemic.
As an immigrant, Benaggie’s thoughts are always in two countries--her home country and her country of residence. She has been proactive in shielding her family in Liberia from the dangers of COVID. “When the president of Liberia announced that they had a certain amount of cases in the country, I took my parents to the village to stay, because the village was safer than the city, and that was okay for them.”
This strong resilient woman is a manifestation of the strength women in the African Diaspora evoke. Benaggie has advice for others like her who are simultaneously struggling with racism, COVID and inequality: “I know some people are out of jobs. My advice is to keep pushing, keep praying and do what you need to do. I know this is not easy, but this will pass. Stay home if you need to. If you don’t need to go anywhere, then stay home and try to avoid parties, large crowds and things that will make you get infected. When you go out, wear your mask and make sure you wear your gloves. When you get home, sanitize as much as you can. I keep sanitizer on my keys. If I touch my car door, I try to sanitize my car door. Take as much prevention as you can and be careful. Wash your hands as often as you can.”
Visit the City of Philadelphia’s COVID website here (https://www.phila.gov/programs/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/) to learn about free testing resources.
This article has been made possible by the Independence Public Media Foundation.
Photo and Video credit: Laura Elam
Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Visit her storytelling brand at www.asieduasimprint.blog, and connect with her creative agency on Instagram: @chitheagency.