2014-09-25 / Front Page

Bridges joins campaign to rid Africa of Ebola

By Ken Shane

Liberian-born Al Bing, above with former roommate and close friend Frank Toscano, fled Africa for the United States with his mother after his father was killed. Liberian-born Al Bing, above with former roommate and close friend Frank Toscano, fled Africa for the United States with his mother after his father was killed. President Barack Obama last week informed the American public that the Ebola virus is a global crisis that requires a global solution. The U.S. government will send 400,000 response kits and 3,000 troops to the West African nation of Liberia, which is at the heart of the epidemic. Obama hopes the United States can help stop the spread of the disease that has killed 2,600 people so far. Another 5,000 people are infected.

The staff at Bridges Inc. in Jamestown has decided to pay tribute to former resident Al Bing by collecting items that can be used to combat Ebola. The supplies will be donated to a local grassroots movement and shipped to Liberia. The campaign, founded by Rhode Island’s Liberian community, is called Ebola Be Gone. Organizers are looking for hand sanitizers, antimicrobial hand soap, chlorine tablets, plastic gloves, spray bottles, face masks, goggles, blankets and sheets.

Bing, who was born in December 1962, grew up as a diplomat’s son in Liberia. He lived a life of privilege, attending school in England. When Liberia became torn by civil war in the late 1980s, Bing’s life was upended. His mother, a university teacher, was sent to jail on several occasions. Since Bing had a developmental disability, he couldn’t be left alone, so he went to jail with his mother. After his father was shot to death before his eyes, Bing and his mother fled Liberia for the United States, arriving in the early 1990s.

The Bings lived in Florida before moving to Providence. When his mother became ill and was put in a nursing home, Bing was placed in Eleanor Slater Hospital, a state-operated facility in Cranston. After four years at the hospital he was sent to live in a Bridges home in Middletown. The group home was managed by Katherine Redlich.

“Al had a very tough life,” said Redlich, who was there in 1997 when Bing arrived. “He went from a life of privilege to being persecuted. He witnessed fighting and shooting, and had shrapnel in his own body. He certainly had PTSD. But he was a very charming man.”

Since Bing lived his life on the run, he was protective of his possessions. He would carry around his cherished items in a bag, and it took him a long time to begin to trust people, said Redlich. Once he did, however, Bing became a favorite among the home’s staff and residents.

Bing remained in Middletown for eight years. After having surgery on his neck, he became unsteady on his feet and needed a smaller, less active home. He moved to a Bridges residence near the University of Rhode Island before arriving in Jamestown.

Redlich kept in touch with Bing until his death in 2011.

“It was a privilege to know Al. He was a very cool guy,” Redlich said. “He was a survivor. He loved children, and was kind and loving. I really miss him.”

Darlene Faust, a service coordinator at Jamestown Bridges, worked beside Bing. She advises a self-advocacy group that promotes equality and independence for disabled individuals. Bing was a member of the group. According to Faust, he defined the human spirit.

“You could walk into a room and be having a really bad day, and the minute you saw Al Bing, everything changed,” Faust said. “He had such a love for life. He loved Jamestown.”

Anthony Anson, a member of the support staff at Bridges, is a Liberian who’s active with the local campaign to eradicate Ebola. Anson originally brought the idea to Lisa Rafferty, Bridges executive director.

“We are young and energetic, and we have to do something about this cause,” he said.

Anson has lost several people who were close to him to Ebola. He wants his family and friends back in Africa to know that they haven’t been forgotten. The group has identified a Liberian-owned shipping line that will transport the donations to Africa at no cost.

Faust, in turn, had the idea of honoring Bing.

“It’s really important to show that people with disabilities give back to various communities,” Faust said. “What a great thing to do in his memory.”

Faust said members of the community can donate to the campaign by emailing her at dfaust@bridg esinc.com. Donations can also be dropped off at the Bridges office on Clinton Avenue.

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