The Ebola crisis has got me thinking. Asking a lot of questions. This is the time of year when schools are presenting their global programs to students and their families. Any school or organization with projects in Africa is wondering how the Ebola crisis will affect them. They wonder: Should we go? Should we cancel? Should we wait to decide? How long? What factors will influence our decision? How far away from the infected countries is far enough to risk? Even if your prospective program is in Kenya and you know that isn’t next door to Liberia, does the fact that the virus moves via air travel give you pause? Is travel to anywhere on the continent worth the risk? People are frightened; are their fears justified? Schools are frustrated: how can they make decisions so far in advance with limited information?
Response to these questions varies. People look to resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State Department travel warnings, and the World Health Organization (WHO). They talk with their legal council and reach out to online communities such as the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) to share their thoughts, post articles, see what others are doing, and discuss the pros and cons. They look at the goals of their global programs and wonder if these can be met without being on that continent, this year. We all hope the crisis will have passed by the time we need to purchase non-refundable plane tickets.
Because you see, the Ebola crisis, this virus that affects mostly people in poverty, in poor countries in West Africa, highlights exactly why we need global programs. We need to travel to different places, meet people who live there, and seek to understand their lives, the joys and the challenges that face them. See Rick Steves’ recent article on this subject. When we see the issues in their countries as issues that affect us all, when we come together to share our struggles and triumphs, when we come away with a new perspective on this our fragile planet and the people who are working hard to make things better; then we find hope and inspiration.
So, as we wait to decide and weigh the risks and benefits of travel to Africa at this time, our task is to continue to understand Ebola and the people directly affected by it in a broader context. Resources such as this free webinar “From Ebola to Mental Health” on December 1 will help provide that context and lead to greater comprehension of our interconnectedness.