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Missoula Y Responds To Ebola Crisis

Chris Siegler

As the Ebola crisis rages on in West Africa, Missoula’s YMCA is raising money to help their sister organization in Sierra Leone fight the deadly outbreak.

Credit Chris Siegler
One of the YMCA facilities in Sierra Leone supported by Missoula's Y.

Chris Siegler, who’s been on the board of Missoula’s Y since 1983, was a Peace Corps volunteer in the west African country in the late 1960s with his wife Jeannie. They went back to visit after Sierra Leon’s 11-year civil war that ended in 2002. On that trip they discovered the Y in its capital, Freetown.

“There’s a tremendous similarity between the Y in Sierra Leone and the Y in Missoula,” Siegler says, “not in the activities it conducts, but in the fact that it’s constantly looking for, ‘how can we help young people, who are disenfranchised by the war develop a livelihood skill, carpentry, masonry, etc., so that they can provide for their families and that they can become good citizens in their communities?’”

Missoula’s Y has been raising money for Sierra Leone’s since 2004, and since then has sent close to $100,000 to help fund programs for kids and build facilities that generate income and teach job skills. They’ve also brought staff from Sierra Leone’s Y to Missoula.

We reached one of those staffers, Christian Kamara via Skype in Freetown. Kamara is CEO of Sierra Leone’s YMCA.

"Most of our medical staff have died. We've lost three medical doctors. We've lost 40 to 50 nurses."

Kamara says the “outbreak of the Ebola deadly disease is something that is psychologically really affecting people here. Also, the economy is going down as well, because life is really not that normal.”

He says that there are no longer social gatherings in Sierra Leone, as people are trying to avoid physical contact with one another to prevent the disease’s spread. People are unable to work because of quarantines. Schools are closed, including those the Y operates - most of its facilities are closed - and there is no longer commercial air service into the country.

“Most of our medical staff have died,” Karmara says. “We’ve lost three medical doctors. We’ve lost 40 to 50 nurses.”

A big reason so many doctors and nurses are dying is because of a lack of basic protective medical gear like sterile gloves and gowns, and even duct tape that medical staff use to seal their garments closed to prevent contact with the body fluids that transmit Ebola.

The situation has motivated Chris Siegler and Missoula’s YMCA to act.

“Our obvious question was: How can we help?”

He says, “their answer was, that you can help by just giving us some funds for basic supplies, the chlorine buckets, chlorine bleach. And they have gone from there to beginning to deliver food to families that are quarantined in their home for the 21 days while they’re trying to determine if anybody in the household is affected by Ebola."

So far, Missoula’s Y has raised about $1,300 to support the Y in Sierra Leone. Part of the money is being used to produce radio ads in the local language, telling people how to recognize the symptoms of Ebola, and how to reach a special hotline for medical help.

Right now the international community is raising tens of millions of dollars to fight Ebola in West Africa. The money coming out of Missoula so far is but a tiny fraction of that, but Christian Kamara with Sierra Leone’s YMCA says it makes a real difference.

“We don’t need millions of dollars, we don’t need thousands of dollars,” Kamara says. “Whatever we could have, that could be able support a family, support a home, support a community, support a village not to die, I think that’s what we need now.”

“Most of our medical staff have died. We’ve lost three medical doctors. We’ve lost 40 to 50 nurses.”

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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