Thursday, October 23, 2014

A blog update has been long overdue.  Since the time I left Africa, I haven’t updated it as often.  Mostly, I’m not sure what to write about.  I often want to write the same kind of theme as what I wrote about while living in Africa – a story of someone who I’m hoping to help with education or to set up a business, or something along those lines.  I’m not sure if I should write more of these stories, so I hesitate (even though there are two or three remaining people who immediately come to mind who I’d love to help with their education and who only need about $600 – more or less - per semester and for whom I already have stories written ---- just a small reminder/plug that there are still a few people out there… who I know… who would do well if they could complete their education… etc. etc.). 

Another big, obvious thing to write about is the ebola crisis.  Some of the people I’ve written about in the past are now back in Liberia, along with other good friends and former colleagues.  Everyone is affected by the disease.  Schools are closed, businesses are shut down, prices are over-the-top, pharmacies are closed, and hospitals are seen as frightening places of possible contagion and are often closed.  People are afraid to go for healthcare if they have regular medical emergencies (malaria, for example) because they’re understandably, and possibly justifiably, terrified of contracting ebola at a hospital or someplace where someone infected has been. 

I heard some statistics (but don’t have them available to quote specifically or refer to) that more people have died of malaria in the same time period as the current ebola crisis, and more women have died in childbirth in the same time period.  Ebola is terrifying because there’s no effective treatments, etc., but these statistics are shame-inducing since malaria deaths and childbirth deaths are mostly treatable and/or preventable.  (Probably most people who might read this are more up-to-date on the news about all this than I am. I haven’t been on top of the news lately, and just have personal communications.) 

I just talked with Samuel the other day (I have talked with a couple of others, too, but I’ve known Samuel for over 20 years, so I use him as an example. Then there are some others I haven't yet been able to reach. This is a link to one of the more recent things I wrote about Samuel back in May, 2013, about halfway down the page.).  Happily, he and his family are all fine.  But, the kids can’t go to school (since the schools are closed), even though his son has just started 3rd grade.  With some money Samuel recently earned through writing a project proposal for an organization that had hired him for that purpose, he has been able to pay to download some math, English and other lessons to give his son at home so that his education won’t be interrupted in the same way the previous generation had happen to it over the past 20 years due to the civil war.  Samuel’s wife, Alfreda, works with Social Services, helping families that have been affected by the virus.  Fortunately, Samuel and his wife have a minimum income to help them at this time. 

Everyone is afraid to let their kids play with friends and neighbors – it’s not possible to control what enters the house when other people come inside.  So . . . at home . . . inside . . . no friends to play with . . .  sorry for the kids . . . and sorry for the parents.  People say that the crisis is worse than the civil war that went on for over a decade.  At least with the war you could see/hear when your village was being attacked and you could run.  But, you can’t see ebola and you can’t run and hide from this enemy.

Samuel and others I talked with say that what is most needed is money to help people get by.  Samuel is managing in the meantime, but mutual friends/colleagues of ours are facing bigger struggles with food, water and other basic necessities.  Most people can’t work, yet they still need to pay for so many things in order to live.  I don’t enjoy helping in this way – just sending money, reacting in crises rather than preventing the crises.  For me, the way in which I tried to help in the past (thanks to so many donations from people who read this blog) – education, especially – is a much a better way.  “When people know better, they do better,” as a good friend used to say to me when I was working on the refugee camp.  In the long run, many crises could, maybe, be averted prior to becoming a crisis if people are educated and have their awareness levels increased.

But, ebola wasn’t avoided (and education may not have precluded its arrival, but could have hindered the epidemic).  Sending money directly to people at this time helps them to survive, but is basically a bandaid for the problem.  Yet, it seems to be a necessary bandaid for now.  Phew.  So, I find myself doing what I’ve tried not to do in the past – just sending money to help people buy food, just providing the bandaid until something better comes along that makes it possible for people to do more than just survive.


At 3:55 PM, Blogger MJ said...

Steve, I want to say thank you for what you wrote here--it gives an entire new slant on the Ebola crisis than the one we keep hearing about on the news---a more personal one instead of just the medical part of it. You know the people, their way of life, what affects them and can tell us how they are being affected in ways other than just by being infected by the disease and how it affects them in every aspect of their life even if they have had no contact with it personally.

At 10:10 PM, Blogger steve said...

hey- a good friend responded in email with the following comment:
"I heard a doctor recently on television telling how horrible ebola is when he treated people in West Africa. He spoke of walking in with a space suit on and how little personal contact the patient feels since they can hardly see the face of the doctor or nurse and how they are so isolated from a smiling or caring African friend or family member and how even in death any personal connection is lost. He said that was the tragedy of the disease and how it is worse than any other sickness he has ever seen or could imagine. It was very moving for a doctor writing this from a clinical but also deeply human point of view." It seems like an important comment to share with anyone reading

At 10:11 PM, Blogger steve said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

HI Steve - thank you so much for highlighting the horrific effects of the total destruction of the health care systems in ebola-impacted countries. After war, it has taken so long to build trust in the public health care system. It will now be another generation before people in the countries are confident in their safety at health care facilities. It is so sad!

I agree that sending money to people directly has not typically been the best way to have lasting impact. But the social and economic crisis created by the panic and fear of ebola, both in West Africa and abroad, is unprecedented. I think EVERY thinking human has a role to play in reducing the fear globally, and consequently the potential impacts of that fear in the hardest hit countries.

In 1918, in an era before airplanes, influenza spread all the way around the planet in a matter of a month or so. Millions were affected and millions died. In more than 8 months of basically unchecked spread, ebola affected only 10,000 people. Yes - it is HORRIFIC for those 10,000, but the whole world does not have to be in such a frenzy to shut off all contact with affected countries. the disease, although highly contagious IN SPECIFIC situations, is not that easy to catch in normal day-to-day life.

Lets hope that now that the world is more aware of the spread of the disease, reason and compassion can take the lead in ending it.


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