Over 20 people from two continents met at Hertford UMC on September 4, 2014, to discuss how the NC Conference might best respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The group heard first hand from UMC Global Ministries missionaries Kip Robinson and Priscilla Jaiah about the impact of the crisis on the lives of everyday people in Sierra Leone and Liberia. UMCOR staff joined the meeting by tele-conference.
For those wanting to help fight Ebola, recommendations are to PRAY and give financially to the UMCOR International Disaster Response Advance #982450. Donors are encouraged to continue to support the ongoing development of Ganta Hospital Advance #15080N (Liberia) and Rotifunk Hospital, NCC # S-00281 (Sierra Leone).
Rev. Priscilla Jaiah serves the Ganta Hospital, the only hospital in Liberia with an Ebola isolation unit. She described how ignorance about the symptoms and transmission of Ebola and lack of adequate personal protective equipment has led to the spread of the disease within families and communities. She voiced concern that people were dying from starvation and dehydration, as fear of contracting the illness and reluctance to travel have hindered food distribution. Priscilla expressed the need for the right person on the ground in Liberia to act as logistical coordinator, to help ensure that overseas shipments arriving in Monrovia are delivered timely to Ganta Hospital in the interior.
Missionary Kip Robinson described a similar situation in Sierra Leone. Government-run Kenama Hospital has the only isolation unit in a country the size of South Carolina. Lack of protective equipment, failure to quarantine, and transportation barriers led to the spread of the disease. UMC Bishop Yambasu will be heading up an interfaith task force of religious leaders to help educate people and stop the spread of Ebola.
The UMCOR representative expressed confidence that it had the contacts and means to overcome logistical challenges on the ground. UMCOR works directly with local community health boards in affected countries and trusted suppliers to ensure that
the right inventory reaches the people most in need. UMCOR recently shipped about $400,000 in relief supplies to Liberia and Sierra Leone from the International Disaster Response Advance, including personal protective equipment, isolation tents, and other supplies. Those wishing to donate are discouraged from giving to “cowboy” groups set up to help.
In addition to UMCOR’s response, North Carolina Conference has responded directly in several ways. The NCCUMC mission team shipped one container of supplies to Liberia and a second to Sierra Leone within the last month or so. (See related article on Rotifunk Hospital.) In a quickly organized effort at the end of August 2014, the Beacon District working together with the Conference conducted an emergency food drive for Liberia. The response was overwhelming, more than filling a 40 foot container of food to help relieve the critical food shortage created by the Ebola crisis. NC-based Stop Hunger Now has committed 1,000,000 meals and already has hundreds of thousands of meals on the ground.
The Liberia Self Reliance Initiative, an outgrowth of the mission program at Edenton Street UMC, is actively engaged in a long-term agricultural development program in Liberia, through better methods of irrigation and food production. Participants at the Ebola Crisis Summit were reminded that long-term development must be concurrent with disaster response, if the countries in West Africa are to be prepared to move forward once the crisis has abated. Projections are it will take six to nine months to get beyond the current Ebola epidemic.