Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Calling?

For the last week or so in particular (especially since there's been another bout of coverage regarding US military assistance), whenever I see any news coverage of the Ebola outbreak, I feel like it really hits my heart.  Sometimes I almost feel it on my shoulders.  Sitting there, weighing on me. 

I just want to do something.  I want to go there and help, just fix it and end these thousands of deaths. 

I read the Roads and Kingdoms blog pretty regularly, and there was a post last week by an anonymous international in Liberia who I assume to be working for the UN.  The bulk of the beginning of the post was about the process of training to drive a UN vehicle in Liberia, but then it got to life right now:
That was two months ago. So much has happened here since then. The pressure that the country is under is unbelievable. You can feel the already rickety structures that underpin society creaking and splintering and swaying with the weight. Ebola has devastated the place. It has changed everything. The health care system is in ruins. People who are sick with Ebola can’t get a bed. If they are lucky they can get into a containment tent on the hospital grounds and wait for treatment. So people stay home. Or are pushed into the streets. Bodies can take days to be removed. Businesses are closing their doors, there are food shortages in some parts of the country, security forces are being deployed and there are reports of beatings and violence and corruption throughout the country. We are teetering on the brink of a serious, sustained humanitarian crisis and we don’t have the resources here to deal with it. And people don’t want to come here to help. Not in the numbers we need at any rate. If this was an earthquake that killed more than a 1000 people and injured another 1000, the ground would be flooded with international workers. The best-case scenario here is that five times that number will die.

Reading that intensified this weight of horrible suffering and needless death that is sitting on my shoulders. 

I googled, "what can I do to help Liberia?"  Sadly, even with the "what can I do to help" start, Liberia wasn't one of the google suggestions.  (Probably poor phrasing on my part, if I go with "how can I help with", "the ebola outbreak" is the first suggestion.) 

My husband worked in Liberia during the civil war (he was in the military, evacuating US citizens), and said it was a horrible and sad place and before we got married, it was the only place in the entire world that he said he wouldn't go with me.  That makes it particularly odd that it's one of the only places in my entire life I've felt a "calling" to go and help. 

Of course I'm not going to Liberia.  I don't have any skills that would be useful (though hmm, maybe those crazy drivers result in accidents, and baseless injury claims need to be strenuously litigated, so maybe I could help with that?).  I don't have any more vacation time (using it all next month). 

When I got the google results about what I can do to help in Liberia, it appeared to be a list of charities working there to which I could give money.  To help buy medical supplies primarily, which I'm sure is urgently needed, and if I read more, there may even be something where you can contribute money to pay for a physican to help, or vaccine, or more hospital building.  There may be even "real" work I could do from here, writing appeals for assistance, helping with any online work, etc.  I actually found something that involves looking at satellite photos and attempting to help create maps -- I may give that a go on Sunday morning for a couple hours before Chinese.  And of course I know it's important to vote for politicians who have similar views about our government's role in the face of an overseas epidemic. 

In reality, I feel like I don't have enough money to give to make a real difference (but obviously, that's no reason not to give some money, particularly in some parts of the world, giving what is a bit to us helps them immeasurably).  But at the same time, I don't feel like giving money is going to fix the weight on my heart.  Maybe giving time will -- I need to look more seriously for options.  The mapping project might be just the ticket. 

Perhaps the best solution, longer term though, that I came up with was the idea of maybe in a couple years, doing some kind of organized volunteer work in connection with our annual overseas trip.  I understand there are people at home in need, but it's not the same as thousands dying from Ebola in West Africa.  And I do think there's some value to just vacationing -- going to someplace other than the typical American vacation spots to bring them revenue, spending our money directly into that economy. 

I know doing some kind of community service trip would entail work at the outset in picking the right organization that is a good fit for us.  My husband and I both have some issues with some faith-based charitable organizations as we feel strongly that our religion (Christianity, he's Catholic, I'm Episcopalian) shouldn't be pushed on anyone, that everyone's individual religious beliefs (or lack thereof) deserve respect, and that no one should be denied assistance because of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof).  I like the idea of building schools, digging wells, things like that that offer long-term assistance, but I also like the idea of helping someone in immediate need -- providing that very next meal, the shoes with durable soles to get home, a typhoid vaccine, etc.  I'm certain there are some organizations (probably even many faith-based ones) that would be able to work within the scope of what we'd be comfortable doing from a moral standpoint, and what we'd be capable of doing in terms of skills, time, etc. 

I wonder if I'm just bracing myself for some of the need we are bound to see on vacation in October?  Maybe I should be googling "what can I do to help India" so that we'll have an idea of where to give money when we get home and are filled with an urge to help.  I've already told my husband at least 5 times that we cannot ever, ever, ever give to children who are begging, and even giving to adults is not a good idea, that we're better giving to a charity that can help, but I know it's going to pull at us both.


  1. Such a good post. I feel you on the need/desire/drive to want to DO SOMETHING, and it sounds so dumb to say it's frustrating, but it is! Like, we can't all just drop everything and go somewhere and help in a crisis, ya know? But, just sending money to a charity... also feels so... removed from it all. Plus, I am such a skeptic with charities and feel like I have to spend 3 hours researching the charity before I send a check. But, I guess in this instance, that's really all that I can do. Sucks.

  2. That blog excerpt nearly broke my heart. It is awful, and yes, Liberia wasn't in great shape before the outbreak. Volunteering as part of your vacation might have the most impact. My sister does a volunteer vacation every year in Africa, but she volunteers at animal rescue groups. A friend of mine's sister was in the Peace Corps in Africa and got to know the people in the village she was at. When she came back, that winter, instead of giving each other Christmas presents, the family instead pooled their money and paid for someone from that village to go to college. So sometimes you can do things on your own without going through a charity. This specific situation is so tough, though.

  3. You both are such wonderful people. I really believe that if you feel so compelled to do something, it will keep bugging you until you find what it is that lets you "rest." I think helping in India would be a wonderful solution. And isn't it sad that the Ebola outbreak isn't getting more coverage? Yet another example of mass media skewing "real" news...