>$20,000 Awarded to 7 NGO’s Fighting Ebola

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. I’ll confess that I haven’t felt inspired. I’m working, spending time with family and friends, enjoying the comforts and freedom that America offers. I’m also really cold.

Like EXTREMELY cold.

But life continues as usual — albeit swaddled in wool sweaters and covered up with glittens. Time continues to march onward and upward, the days are getting shorter and the nights are growing longer and colder.

Ebola’s still out there. As surreal as that statement is for me to make, it’s true. 5,000+ lives have been claimed in West Africa. There’s an alarming decline in U.S. healthcare volunteers signing up to help — likely due to the forced 21-day quarantine that has been placed on some of the heroic people who have given up 6-8 weeks of their paycheck and life to help end an outbreak that is leaving destruction in it’s wake. Fear is a contagion, spiraling out of control across the globe. I lay in bed at night, stare up at my ceiling and quietly ask the universe “why?” and “what can we do to stop this?”

The fire is not out. The fight has not yet been won. We must press forward to end this outbreak at the source. We are all at stake. Outbreaks do not stop at borders.

As I’ve written before, I’m working with the National Peace Corps Association’s Ebola Relief Fund to get money to those fighting Ebola in their home country. Last week we awarded over $20,000 in funding to 7 different NGO’s in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. As they implement and complete their projects they will be sending back evaluation, testimonies, photos, and videos — all of which I will be sure to share with you. We will be awarding a second round of funding in December 2014.

Check out the seven organizations we’ve selected for our first round:

GUINEAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE INCORPORATION OF WOMEN IN THE ELECTORAL PROCESS & GOVERNANCE (AGUIFPEG) — KINDIA, GUINEA

AGUIFPEG is mounting a community awareness campaign in an area where an estimated 75 percent of the population is not literate. The project was awarded $3,000 to educate on Ebola prevention through a theatrical presentation in 4 indigenous languages. Participants will be encouraged to pass on the health information through conversations in their families, bar-cafes, restaurants, markets, fields, mosques, churches and other public places.

AMIS DU MONDE POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT (AMD) — SAMOÉ, GUINEA

AMD was awarded $2,839 to create awareness of Ebola prevention practices. Team members will establish an information and intervention system using community leaders to encourage healthier personal hygiene and food preparation.

ASSOCIATION GUINEENNE D’EVEIL AU DEVELOPPEMENT DURABLE (AGEDD) — FORECARIAH, GUINEA

AGEDD was awarded $3,000 to conduct sensitizations for teachers in primary schools and the association of parents of Forecariah and Maferinyah in Guinea. Teachers and parent volunteers will be trained to educate their communities while distributing prevention materials (leaflets, soap, chlorine, buckets, kettles).

WOMEN’S CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL (WCI) LIBERIAN RURAL WOMEN’S PROGRAM — LIBERIA

The campaign draws on its existing network of local women leaders to form community action committees at the town and clan level in areas affected by Ebola. Communities have fed quarantined families, paid burial teams to remove bodies and distributed prevention information and materials in a dozen communities. NPCA’s award of $3,000 will allow WCI to expand activities to ten more rural communities.

FACE ACTION AFRICA — RIVERCESS COUNTY, LIBERIA

With the $3,000 grant from NPCA, FAA will provide administrative and logistical support to the Rivercess County Health Team, train contact tracers, facilitate the setting up and management of community care centers and the procurement of personal protective equipment for health workers.

ACTION SALONE ON HEALTH & EDUCATION (ASHE) — EASTERN SIERRA LEONE

ASHE was awarded $3,000 to support the work of Sister Josephine Karmara and a community of nuns in Kailahun in ongoing care of children whose parents died of Ebola. Goals are to provide physical and emotional security to the children, feed and care for them in a home-like environment.

SCHOOLS FOR SALONE — SIERRA LEONE

Schools for Salone was awarded $3,000 to help fill the education gap caused by  school closing due to the Ebola epidemic. The project will distribute radios to impoverished communities to allow them access to Ministry of Health daily broadcasts specifically targeting primary school students for three hours in the morning and secondary school students in the afternoon.

Thanks to all donors who have gotten involved. We are committed to sending 100% of your donations to reputable, community-based NGO’s in the affected countries who are working against directly related Ebola issues. As we continue to receive applications from NGO’s, we continue our fundraising efforts stateside. Consider getting involved today to help us fund even more organizations and end Ebola NOW!

Find more information about the NPCA Ebola Relief Fund here and make a donation here.

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Double-take: What’s in a Photograph?

I remember quite clearly how these two photos came to be. I had pulled my camera out, which always led to a flurry of excitement. Every child screaming at me to have their picture taken — a sort of reverse paparazzi. If I wanted to take a picture of something or someone, I had to prepare for a 30 minute riot with the whole family demanding another pose.

So, I had wanted a photograph of one thing or another and my camera was out. The kids were circling. These photos were taken at the beginning of my training so my French was limited and my Susu non-existant. I managed to explain to them through a combination of movement, basic words, and guttural noises to group together and smile and stay still long enough for me to get a good photograph. Immediately after hearing the shutter click they would run towards me and demand to see it.

DSCF3645DSCF3648

I saw the first photograph on my camera screen — dissatisfaction. I changed a setting, turned the flash on, hounded the kids back together and made them pose for another one. I glanced at the screen again — satisfied. I had finally gotten them to hold still which, to be honest, was quite a monumental task.

We passed the camera around, everyone happy to see their face on the tiny LCD screen. They demanded more photographs, I obliged, and eventually the camera was put to bed for the evening. We went on with our night and our lives. I completed training, I moved out of this family’s house and into my village, I lived there for six months, I was evacuated, and now I have been home for almost 3 full months.

Now when I look at these two photographs they are incomparable. The first photograph, the one that seemed flawed at the time, the one I almost deleted immediately but by some chance left on my memory card, this photograph is the one that now calls to me. Don’t get me wrong — the children look beautiful in the second photograph. It brings a smile to my face to see their happiness and recall the time we spent together. But the first photograph?

It shows the motion and joy of their lives. The constant movement, laughter, and play. It shows the glee budding on Alia’s tiny face. It shows Fati mid-giggle. I feel Bountu’s amusement in this photograph. I sense my playmates running around me, pulling on my hair, begging for me to pick them up and spin them around in the air. There is feeling and life in this photograph.

It takes me right back.

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.

john_moore_gettyimages

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.

Michael Douglas Lives in Guinea

One of my good friends at site is named Douga. This is his nickname, which comes from his preferred name “Michael Douglass”. Yes, the American actor. I was put into contact with Douga from former PCVs who lived at my site. He’s a young guy, insanely funny, and very smart. He was trained in electrical repairs by a Chinese expat. He speaks multiple languages, draws, and is interested in philosophy.

What do you mean you don't see the resemblance?

What do you mean you don’t see the resemblance?

On a day without any meetings, I would bike down to the phone charging center he worked at and hang out with him and our other friends all day, laughing the hours away and discussing life and politics in Guinea.

Before I left I gave Douga all my stockpiled chocolate. He’s really into Hershey’s. It was only one week home in America until I received a call from him – “Uh, Sara? I ate all the chocolate. When are you going to be back with more?”

Unfortunately, Douga has had to wait on that.

We talk regularly on Facebook. He travels between our village and the capitol frequently, looking for phones and computers to repair for money. As such, he’s got a pretty good hold on what’s going on with the Ebola outbreak. Although our conversations generally center around “How’s the family?” and “Man, I miss you!” I always try and get the on-the-ground perspective from Douga. Today, I was saddened by what he said.

“The city is dirty, the people have no work, there is no money, the health infrastructure is weak, the government has no money, all of this now leads to possible famine.”

He mentioned how happy he was to hear about the 3,000 U.S. troops being sent to West Africa. Unfortunately these troops will be directed to Liberia. Douga hadn’t realized that.

“All the troops are for Liberia? Then that’s another thing. We are screwed, my dear, because Ebola is not forgiving.

You know how it is here. The available time is small, life is short, laziness is vast, and Ebola separates us.

Tell Obama that we, too, want to live very much.”

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.

Life Through Photos

I wanted to share some of my favorite photos of my time in Guinea. 

Du Courage

Anyone who has spent any time immersed in Guinean culture will be able to confirm the ubiquitous nature of the phrase “du courage”. You’re sick? Du courage. You can’t find work? Du courage. You’re having a fight with your wife? Du courage.

The phrase roughly translates to stay brave and in area of the world where luck and chance play a large role in daily life, it is excellent advice.

The national motto of Guinea is “Work, Justice, Solidarity.” Here in the United Sates, we are quite familiar with work and justice. In 2010, when unemployment rates soared to 10% we considered it a national crisis – compare that to the latent 60% rate of unemployment faced in Guinea. And the United States is famed for its justice system, which although flawed, unfortunately functions at a rate incomparable to most other countries around the world. But solidarity, the feeling of unity between people who have the same interests and goals, is an area in which we lack.

Guinea's coat of arms.

In the Guinean context, solidarity is seen on a daily basis. It can be a young woman preparing meals for the surrounding elderly neighbors and single males because they have no one who will prepare for them. It can be a mother giving her hard-earned money to another mother who needs it more than she does. It is seen when a young man helps out his neighbor in the rice field while knowing he will not be compensated. Or perhaps when a community pools funds to help celebrate the marriage ceremony of a young man and woman.

A recently married man and woman at their ceremony.

A recently married man and woman at their ceremony.

Guineans are united, and in my short time in Guinea I began to feel a part of something. Now, when I call my friends and host-family back in Guinea, we ask about each other’s health, the health of loved ones, how business is going – the typical Guinean salutation is much more in depth than “How are you? Fine”. And when we get through asking about Great Aunt Fatou’s health, the conversation inevitably turns to the current situation – “When are you coming back? I don’t know” and it always ends with “du courage”.

When uttered, “du courage” signifies a level of solidarity between companions. It says, “You are down, but I am here to tell you to be brave and that we are together and we will pass through this hardship together.”

When first in Guinea, I thought it was silly for people to advise me to stay brave while I was stooping over the latrine all day. How will bravery help me fight diarrhea? What I need is medicine and rehydration!

Oral rehydration salts, also known as the best friend of every volunteer who has ever had diarrhea. They are also being used as supportive care for Ebola patients.

Oral rehydration salts, also known as the best friend of every volunteer who has ever had diarrhea. They are also being used as supportive care for Ebola patients.

But let’s return again to the context of Guinea (taken from the WHO country profile):

The under-five mortality rate is 101 per 1000 live births, compared to a global average of 48 per 1000. Life expectancy at birth is 58, compared to a global average of 70. Prevalance of tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV are all significantly higher than the global average. The maternal mortality rate is 3 time shigher than the global average. Only 20% of the population has accessed to improved sanitation conditions. The country has an average of 2.6 physicians per 10,000 citizens.

When access to resources is so difficult chutzpah, bravery, and a certain oomph are needed to survive on a daily basis. People fight tooth and nail just to live in Guinea, but they fight together. You are never alone — extended families open their arms and their hearts to feed even the most remote relative. Care is communal. Strength is found in numbers. People stick together.

So, to all my friends in Guinea — du courage. To all our neighbors in Liberia and Sierra Leone — du courage. To the doctors working in the field — du courage. To all those involved in combating Ebola — du courage. To all those who have lost a friend or family member due to Ebola — du courage. To all those who have been misplaced from their home due to Ebola — du courage.

You are down, but I am here to tell you to be brave and that we are together and we will pass through this hardship together. We will fight this — together.

Please consider donating to one of the following organizations who are continuing to work to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

  • MAP international is providing protective suits for health workers treating Ebola patients.
  • Unicef is providing protective equipment for health workers and supportive medication for patients.
  • Doctors Without Borders, those working on the ground to treat Ebola patients, claim to be fully funded for the outbreak but are always in need of more money and will likely still be working in West Africa once the outbreak passes to deal with the fallout of the healthcare infrastructure.

And please read this Time Magazine article written by the President of Doctor’s Without Borders  to get an accurate sense of the desperation on the ground. More people are needed.

The epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment on the ground. WHO in particular must step up to the challenge. And governments with the necessary medical and logistical resources must go beyond funding pledges and immediately dispatch infectious disease experts and disaster relief assets to the region.

For my U.S. readers, please consider writing a letter to your representative.