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Ebola Outbreak Affecting Newtown Connections In Liberia

Progress on building a school in Liberia that was funded by an anonymous couple on the West Coast and Reed Intermediate School’s Pushcart Warriors has been halted, due to the spread of Ebola.

Reed fifth grade teacher Karen King, who has been involved with the effort to build the school, has been keeping up to date with both the organization building the school, New Life Christian Academy, and with New Sight Eye Center, also in Liberia.

Both the school and the eye clinic have been supported through local efforts in the past.

As the Board of Education learned through a presentation at its meeting on July 15 this past year, 2013-14 Reed Intermediate School sixth graders in Valerie Pagano-Hepburn, Lil Martenson, Patrice DiVanno, and Georgia Smith’s classes helped New Life Christian Academy, located in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, by raising $5,564 through the sixth grade Pushcart Day project, meeting and surpassing a challenge by an anonymous West Coast couple to raise at least $3,000. The couple donated the remaining money to build a school through the Well Done Organization for roughly $25,000.

The old school building, Ms King explained to the school board this July, was not secure. Three hundred children attend the school under the guidance of seven volunteer teachers. The building’s walls had been built by hand using mud, sticks, and straw.

The Well Done Organization had completed building a new well, after Reed 2012-13 Pushcart Warriors raised money, for New Life Christian Academy by December 10, 2013, and a sign, designed and created by local artists near the academy, read, “This well is dedicated to the memory of the 26 Sandy Hook School angels, given by Reed Intermediate School, Newtown, CT, USA, 2012-2013. Kindness matters and love wins.”

Other donations for New Life Christian Academy came from a contact at Scholastic Publishing, who had heard about Reed’s efforts and offered to donate 600 to 1,000 nonfiction books, and HEARTT, an NGO, offered to ship the books.

At the July board meeting, Ms King said the New Life Christian Academy’s new school building was being built by the Well Done Organization this summer and was expected to be completed by the start of September.

In September of 2012, Ms King told The Bee that without the Newtown Rotary Club and Reed students, opening New Sight Eye Center that previous summer would not have been possible.

Before that summer, Ms King said fundraising and consciousness-raising efforts were made, and eventually the cause of building the New Sight Eye Center won the support of many local donors from Newtown, and beyond.

In July and August of 2012, Ms King, Mary Ann Kane-Cantor, and Jessica DiVanno, a 2007 Newtown High School graduate and a 2011 graduate of the University of Connecticut, visited Liberia and New Sight Eye Center. Years before that trip, Ms King and her students had been sharing pen-pal letters with Liberian refugees in Ghana. Ms King later met a cataract surgeon and an ophthalmic nurse, Robert Dolo, through efforts with Unite for Sight in Ghana. Mr Dolo eventually returned to his home country, Liberia, where he wanted to build an eye care center.

Without knowing whether she could help Mr Dolo, Ms King contacted Brian Amey, a Newtown Rotarian and the assistant vice president/branch manager at Newtown Savings Bank, who ended up working to help fill out paperwork for the new eye care center.

For everything to come together, the Newtown Rotary Club had to agree to be the fundraising entity behind the project, according to Ms King, and the Sinkor Rotary in Liberia had to agree to partner with their Newtown counterpart to oversee the project and all of the money, as reported in 2012.

Mr Amey explained in 2012 that the Newtown Rotary Club in partnership with four other Connecticut Rotary Clubs from Rotary District #7980 (Westport, Stamford, New Canaan, and Greenwich), plus the local Interact Club at Reed, applied for a Rotary International Global Grant; in essence the local clubs matched 50 percent of the total grant from Rotary International. The $46,500 grant was the first step of the project.

 More funding came in after that, and by the summer of 2012 the New Sight Eye Center was founded. And Ms King had a long list of people who had worked to raise funds and awareness.

Months ago, by chance, New Sight Eye Center moved and is now located within walking distance of New Life Christian Academy, according to Ms King.

 

Responding To An Outbreak

The Associated Press reports that more than 1,400 people across West Africa have died due to the Ebola virus.

The virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent, and is transmitted through direct contact with blood, secretions, and other bodily fluids of infected people and contact with contaminated environments. The Ebola virus disease (EVD), according to WHO, is a, “severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.”

No licensed vaccine is available, and several vaccines are being tested, according to WHO.

International relief efforts in West African have included shipments of gloves, gowns, face masks, and other protective equipment, according to the Associated Press, although it is not clear how many have reached health workers in West Africa.

According to both WHO and the Associated Press, health care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients.

“Because of the current Ebola outbreak in Liberia, we have closed some of our activities,” Mr Dolo said this Wednesday, August 27. The clinic, he said, is not closed, however.

Some New Sight Eye Center staff, according to Mr Dolo, were sent home, and others were formed into community awareness teams.

This week, Ms King said New Sight Eye Center, thanks to a $5,000 donation, has been able to have brochures and posters printed to help raise awareness about the spread of the disease.

Mr Dolo said the New Sight Eye Center community awareness teams were also trained by Liberia’s Ministry of Health & Social Welfare. Among their efforts to help in the area, Mr Dolo said team members go door-to-door, sharing information and distributing questionnaires. They also give hand sanitizer, chlorine solution, buckets for handwashing, and instructions on how to respond if someone in the community becomes infected by Ebola.

When going out to communities the New Sight Eye Center team members wear T-shirts that read, “New Sight Eye Center, Ebola Prevention. Wash Your Hands. No Hugging. No Shaking Hands. Avoid Affected Person,” on the back.

The group is also helping to support community leaders by sharing the knowledge of how to deal with the outbreak, according to Mr Dolo.

 

A School On Hold

While progress on building the New Life Christian Academy is on hold, Ms King said she understands students may not return to school for at least six months, until the outbreak can be dealt with.

Since Ebola was first discovered in Liberia in March, Ms King said it resurfaced in a “much bigger way.” This summer, Liberia’s president announced a lack of plastic sterile gloves, which had an impact on health care workers. At one point, Ms King said, hospitals were closed. WHO and AmeriCares, Ms King said, have been working to send supplies.

And last Monday, Ms King and Waterbury Hospital surgeon David Knight delivered medical supplies to the AFYA Foundation.

Dr Knight said he has traveled to Liberia for the last five years for two weeks in March and two weeks in September with a team to perform operations and teach at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Liberia.

“I thought I would go once, but it was one of those things: You go once, and you want to go back,” Dr Knight said Wednesday, August 27.

Ms King and Dr Knight this week were both not sure how local people can help the situation in Liberia.

Only one airline, to Dr Knight’s knowledge, is currently flying into Liberia, and that makes transporting materials difficult.

“This is going to be ongoing,” said Dr Knight. “This is not going to go away… They are looking at it as probably [lasting] another six months of dealing with Ebola.”

Once the Ebola outbreak is dealt with, Dr Knight said the country will have other situations to face.

But for now, both Dr Knight and Ms King suggested donating to organizations that can help. Dr Knight suggested HEARTT (Health Education And Relief Through Teaching), www.hearttfoundation.org, or Doctors Without Borders, www.doctorswithoutborders.org. Ms King said those who can donate medical supplies can do so through the AFYA Foundation, www.afyafoundation.org; she also suggested donating to AmeriCares, www.americares.org.

Whatever donations can be made, Mr Dolo said the Liberian people are thankful and he shared his own “heartfelt thanks for support” from the residents of Connecticut and Newtown specifically.

More information about New Sight Eye Center is available at its website, www.newsighteyecenter.org.

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