After a few months off from the world of emergencies, I'm back in it as a Programme Manager for Oxfam's Ebola Response in Sierra Leone! I'm thrilled to be working in this programme, not just because it's a chance to be directly involved in an emergency I've been following since it started in early 2014, but also because it's a huge opportunity to grow more in this field. As much as the Philippines has been an excellent training ground with the numerous typhoons, floods, monsoon rains and other assorted natural disasters we're affected by yearly, working in Africa introduces a whole different world for living and working.
Why did I decide to work in this response? Though the decision was easy for me, it wasn't without weighing the risks carefully. A wealth of documents and information from the news, humanitarian organizations and Oxfam helped tilt the balance towards working here.
One, I knew as a non-medical professional, that my chances of catching the disease would be significantly lower. Contact with Ebola victims would be very low to non-existent. My interactions would mainly be my colleagues, partners, other agencies working here, and communities that weren't in red zones.
Two, I knew that strict obedience to guidelines would limit the risks even further. Avoiding body contact, washing with soap or water with chlorine at every instance, and other precautions, are instituted to prevent transmission and are based on sound advice.
Three, there was an emotional tug at doing what I could to help a country wiped out by the disease. Not only is this an extremely isolating disease in a very community-driven, people-oriented society, its effects are so devastating, it has nearly decimated an entire country's healthcare system, done serious damage to livelihoods and will likely cause potential mass hunger in the next few months, and caused Sierra Leone to take massive backward steps where progress was being made.
Lastly, I felt that there was a responsibility to respond to a crisis that illustrates the levels of inequality we are facing in the world today. In Sierra Leone, thousands have died from Ebola. But in countries like the USA or the United Kingdom, the survival rate has been almost 100%. Where the health care system is strong and there is access to professionals, medicine and advice, people have pulled through. But in countries where it is weak to begin with, then it becomes a disaster.
Would I have decided to join the Ebola response if I had been a medical professional? Probably not. I know myself and I know I probably couldn't manage the strict systematic and labor-intensive treatments being given by healthcare professionals. I would also have avoided the response if Ebola were airborne. But the disease is preventable and manageable, and I think great strides are being made daily to learn about the disease and how to respond to it.
I have no doubt it will be an interesting, challenging and super fun four months here in Sierra Leone.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.