(GIN) – A Philadelphia church is calling the outpouring of support for the Liberian community “overwhelming” in light of the deaths of three 4 year olds and an infant during a fast-moving fire Saturday.
The fatalities included twin sisters Maria and Marialla Bowah, and Patrick Sanyeah – and Taj Jacque, who was not quite 7 weeks old. Eight row houses were totally incinerated in the blaze.
A large number of Liberian emigres live in the neighborhood in the Mount Moriah section of Southwest Philadelphia that saw the deadly fire.
At the church on the corner at Gesner and South 65th Streets, bags of clothes, crates of water, stacks of canned goods and other supplies have been piled high in the basement amidst Spider-Man and Ironman balloons and stuffed animals.
“Did we image the response? No, we did not. It was overwhelming,” the Rev. Napolean L. Divine,
Pastor of Christ International Baptist Church told an interviewer atPhilly.com. The church has been in the neighborhood since 2001.
The neighborhood is made up of first- and second generation West African immigrant families, many of them from Liberia. Divine came to the U.S. from Liberia more than 30 years ago. The children who died came from families of Liberian immigrants.
Since the late 1990s, more refugees have arrived in Philadelphia from Liberia than from any other country—about 3,300 in total, escaping the civil wars that raged in the West African country from 1989 until 2003.
The city could provide a moral lesson to the heated national debate on immigration. While some refugees have encountered problems achieving upward mobility and dealing with neighborhood crime, settlers coming from countries in conflict are accustomed to overcoming hardships and finding ways to get by. In fact, refugee populations fighting to secure their own prosperity have been a driving force behind the economic resurgence of decaying cities and neighborhoods.
This isn’t just a case of “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” said University of Pennsylvania’s Associate Chair of City and Regional Planning Domenic Vitiello. Under the right conditions, adult refugees contribute to economic growth, fill specialized labor niches and help revitalize commercial corridors.
A link to donate to the fire survivors can be found at The Liberian Association of Pennsylvania http://liblap.org/ Other chapters of Liberians can be found at the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americashttp://ulaalib.org/chapters