Updates on Ebola Relief Fund

I won’t go in depth in this post about the severity of the Ebola outbreak.

It’s all over the news.

What is disturbing me is not the U.S. cases of Ebola, but the shift of focus in media coverage.

Our nation has been enveloped in a cloud of paranoia, blinding us of the realities. African communities in the U.S. are being shunned, sent home from work, stigmatized. Groups of people are stock-piling face masks, preparing for an end of all ends. Calls to cease flights in and out of the affected countries are gaining more traction. And all the while, people continue to die in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Source: Andre Carrilho

Source: Andre Carrilho

Let us not forget the reality of the on-going outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

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Let us step up to help end the suffering of humans, because we are humans and that is what we do.

Several weeks ago I introduced you all to the National Peace Corp Association’s Ebola relief fund. I am a member of the fund steering committee and have spent the past few weeks connecting with non-governmental organizations in Guinea to encourage their applications. We have received 32 project requests from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — 16 from Guinea alone! And they are still coming in! These project requests all combat Ebola and directly-related issues.

Today, I get to announce the release of a microsite that I have been working on for the past two weeks along with the staff at NPCA. Please check it out and pass it along!

http://www.NPCAebolarelief.org

Since the launch of the fund last month we have passed the $10,000 mark in contributions, which continue to come in steadily. But demand for project funding is far outstripping the amount we’ve raised.  The 32 requests already received have a need totaling close to $95,000. We have planned to distribute available funding by November 1st.

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Source: John Moore/Getty Images

Ebola isn’t waiting, so why are you? Every day, every moment, this gets worse.

“The people who come help: we need them yesterday. So let them come tomorrow!” – President Ernest Bai Koroma, Republic of Sierra Leone

Can you help? Donate today.

Connections in the Cab

The other day I hailed a cab from my hotel to Union Station. I struck up conversation with my driver, an Ethiopian man named Biruk. When he inevitably asked me what happened to my leg, I began to talk about the Peace Corps and his face lit up. In the 1960’s, Biruk’s 7th grade math and science teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer named Mr. Brown.

As I asked more about his life, I discovered that Biruk was an agriculturalist in Ethiopia and worked with the World Food Program and studied drip irrigation in Israel. He told me of the differences between Latin American coffee and Ethiopian coffee and how his mother cannot get up in the morning unless she inhales the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans. We discussed religion and the extreme factions of Islam that have spread in Ethiopia in the past few decades. He told me about his childhood; how men and women, boys and girls of both Christian and Muslim descent mixed and mingled, intermarried, celebrated each other’s holidays, and lived in peace together. He told me that now, only a short time later, there is fear and distrust growing between the two groups, that the youth are taking up an extreme form of Islam and spreading it through the poor areas like a virus.

He asked me about my time in Guinea — my host-family, my work, the people I teach, how much money I make, what cabs are like there, how I felt about my safety, how I felt living so far away. I told him that in Guinea at least things are still the way he once knew, with Christians and Muslims living in solidarity and unity. We talked about Ebola, my removal, and the guilt and sadness I feel.

Typical Guinean bush taxi

Typical Guinean bush taxi — slightly less space than the American version…

We spent Georgetown to Union Station together, mixing and mingling our two worlds and comparing the Peace Corps of the 60’s to the present. When we pulled up, I didn’t have enough cash to pay him and began to pull out my debit card to use a fancy new swiping system set up on a touchscreen in the back. I briefly paused and tried to imagine paying for a bush taxi in Guinea with a credit card — a funny thought. Biruk put his hand out, stopping my imagination and debit card. He told me the ride was on him.

He helped me pull my bags out of the trunk, we shook hands, smiled, and thanked each other.

You’re Official Now, Kid: In-Service Training is Finished

Well – it’s official. I’m done my in-service training. I’m an “official” volunteer now, ready to start projects and make a difference in my community. But, I thought I became “official” after pre-service training? And didn’t someone tell me I was “official” when I stepped off the plane in Guinea? Didn’t they say we were “official” when we met for staging in Philadelphia? When does one become an “official” volunteer? Better yet, what is an “official” volunteer?

My group of 32 stellar folks has finished our 3 months of site evaluation and 2 weeks of training. We’re now trained in grants, monitoring and evaluation, project design and management and a variety of technical skills. We’re supposed to hit the ground running and ~save the world~, right?

Well, sort of.

For the rest of our time here in Guinea, everything we do is in our hands. We’ve got no boss breathing down our backs to get the report turned in by the deadline. Imagine yourself in our shoes for a second –foreign, grappling with language, working with minimum resources. Everything around you is different. Many people don’t believe you can accomplish anything. Maybe you don’t even believe in yourself.

The problems sometimes seem awfully big, while we seem awfully small.

But we persist. To me, an official Peace Corps volunteer is someone who has committed. We have chosen to be here and we actively choose to remain here. Although our days may pass slowly and we may not always seem busy (in the American workforce sense), we are working 24/7. Peace Corps has three goals within it’s mission:

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Living with a host family, making friends with people of all ages, walking through the market and talking to the women selling – viola! Goal 2! This blog post? Letters back home? Facebook interactions? Phone calls? Viola! Goal 3! And as for Goal 1? We work within the context we have been given. Some of us visit gardening collectives, some of us visit health centers, some of us teach in schools. When we gather for events we share our successes and failures and we think of ways to adapt them for our sites. We google for new ideas. We read dozens of text books. We try our hardest; we work with what we know and we learn what we do not. That is what an official Peace Corps volunteer does.

Officially a PCV!

As of this posting, I am an official volunteer with the Peace Corps. Although the days in Dubreka sometimes passed slowly, the past two months have flown by. I came into this country positive and outgoing, but in the past two months I have really come into myself. I am proud of what I have accomplished here, proud of the connections and friendships I have made, and excited for what is to come.

Me and my host-mother both teared up when we said goodbye. When they walked away, I bawled. I really have felt at home here in Guinea, and that has been due to them. Luckily my site is only 2 hours away so I will be able to visit. It won’t be the same, though — and that’s what’s sad. But goodbyes are unfortunately a part of life. I learned that by saying goodbye to America, goodbye to friends, goodbye to college, goodbye to Brazil — I’ve had a lot of practice, it seems. It hasn’t gotten easier but I know the importance of staying in touch. One thing I’ve already learned from Guineans is the importance of family and friendships. Guineans are the most loving and giving people I’ve met. They will give you the shirt off their back if you say you like it and they will call you just to tell you their salad tastes good. Just today, I was at the bank in Conarky and I met a woman named M’mah Sylla — my name is M’mah Camara. We started talking and joked about how the Syllas are theives, no, the Camaras are theives, no Sylla! (There is a lot of running rivalries here between family names). We talked for maybe 5 minutes and she asked for my phone number. She’ll probably call me a few times just to ask how I am, if there’s evil in my life, if everything is good, if my family is healthy. People here care.

I’ve never been so happy to be where I am in life. The past years of my life have been headed in a positive direction, but always had some level of anxiety about “what next???”. Here, I am at ease. I am happy. I am joyous. I am content. I feel that I am in the right place and doing what I should be doing with my life. Over the course of the next few days, I will go shopping for various food items, possibly a smart phone (ayyy internet!), and hang-out in Conakry. Then, I will go to Boke to meet the Prefect and the Mayor. Then, I will be at site.

The first three months have been said to be the hardest. Life will switch from training 8:00am – 5:00pm to being completely on my own. I’m going in roaring and ready, though. I’m ready to be back at my beautiful site and begin getting to know my community, my new host family, my counterpart, and my site mate! I don’t have a singular complaint. Diarrhea is a real thing, but it’s really not that bad. Electricity is already something of the past. Internet, shminternet. It’s funny how quickly you adapt. I’m happy here.

Thank you to my family for supporting me in this journey so far and for the awesome packages!!!! The fan has changed my life. Thank you to my friends for supporting me and sending me messages and letters. I love you all. Here are some highlights of the last two months:

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My sweetheart, Alia. He is my host-brother in Dubreka. A 4-yr old ball of energy and cuteness.

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My speech, the swearing in schedule, and my expert card stating why I’m here in Guinea. I gave a speech in Susu at our swearing in. Probably one of the most amazing moments of my life. Learning French and Susu in only 2 months is a crazy accomplishment, and the crowd was applauding almost every sentence I said during the speech. They laughed at my joke! C’ete bien passe. The best thing about speaking Susu, and my motivation for learning, is seeing people light up when you speak their language. It really is the reason why I’ve integrated so well.

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The crazy oath we took to make us official US GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE/VOLUNTEERS!!!

 

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Making soap with my mom.

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My mom and petits with the Moringa tree we planted.

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My three Dubreka boys — Lamine, a family friend. Ostage, an imam / super religious arabic teacher, but hilarious and open-minded and intelligent guy. Mamady, my host-brother and best friend.

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Aboulaye and Alia, my two little brothers. The outfit I’m wearing was a goodbye gift from my family.

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Mamady, Me, Host-Mom, and Host-Dad