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Education, economy suffer in Ebola outbreak

By Kathy L. Gilbert
August 22, 2014 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

“Ebola is killing people in Liberia. Help your friends and family here,” Christian Zigbuo wrote on his Facebook page Aug. 15.

Zigbuo is a graduate of United Methodist-related Africa University and was a United Methodist Young Adult Missionary for the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries. He is pounding the streets and byways these days, handing out posters to educate his home country about the deadly Ebola virus.

In one poignant posting, Zigbuo honored one of his friends who died from Ebola.

“We have lost our sister, classmate and friend due to the Ebola virus. Please pray for her husband and baby that are currently at the quarantine center.”

Cancelled classes

Students in other colleges and universities in Liberia and Sierra Leone are unable to return to classes because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Students and staff from Wesley College of Theology and Management in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia, have not been able to return to their classes because of restrictions and quarantines put into place by health and government officials.

“We are scheduled to commence first the semester of the 2014/15 academic year, this won't take place if the virus continues to kill so many people,” said Sidney Cooper, a staff member at the Wesley College of Theology and Management in Sierra Leone. Wesley is an ecumenical school involving United Methodist and members of other denominations.

Instead, like Zigbuo, the students are using their break to volunteer during the crisis.

“At the moment, all of our students are off campus and back into their cities, towns and villages as we all battle it out in prayer, sensitization, awareness and community outreach to ensure that this dangerous and deadly virus is wiped out of Liberia,” said Jerry Kulah, dean at Gbarnga.

“Our major concern is the denial attitude of our people. Traditional practices of washing corpses and touching them exacerbate the high affection rate,” said Cooper. “We are in constant touch with our students on phone educating and advising them to take the necessary preventive measures; such as don't shake hands, don't touch, washing hands and report early when you are sick with the symptoms.”

Kulah said many of the United Methodist students in Liberia are volunteering to mobilize prayers, create awareness and distribute needed items such as bleach and buckets.

“The situation is highly volatile and hazardous, be we are determined to fight this deadly virus until God takes it out of Liberia,” Kulah said

Food security threatened

When the Ebola outbreak became an international health crisis, governments began quarantines restricting travel from areas where the disease was present and areas where the virus hasn’t been found. The quarantines are creating a different kind of victim.

“When you make an executive health emergency to quarantine certain areas and the people do not have food to eat, you kill them. That is what we are now facing,” said Cooper.

The fall semester of 2014-15 at Wesley College has been delayed until students are free to travel again.

Graduation at Gbarnga School of Theology in Liberia, scheduled for Aug. 12, was postponed due to the Ebola crisis.

There are two other United Methodist schools in Monrovia, Liberia—the United Methodist University and A.M.E. Zion University College. Those schools have not responded to questions about how their universities may be affected.

Africa University, United Methodist related university in Zimbabwe has students from across the continent. In 2013-14 the university had seven students from Liberia, 35 from Nigeria and six from Sierra Leone. The university did not respond to questions.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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