by Nat Frothingham
BERLIN — Laurie Hanson, a local registered nurse, has organized a spirited local outreach project to gather up outdated personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns, gloves and other medical supplies from local Vermont hospitals and health organizations and then ship them to Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, for distribution elsewhere. Hansen is connected to the University of Vermont Health Network, which is associated with the Central Vermont Medical Center.
Although several news sources report the Ebola epidemic may be in retreat, the situation continues to be worrying. In parts of Liberia, like the north central county of Bong, people continue to fear another sudden outbreak that could quickly spread. In short, according to Hanson, “It just takes one person to contract Ebola for the situation to change dramatically.”
In collecting outdated medical supplies and protective gear and getting them shipped to Liberia, Hanson sees a Vermont benefit. “Since these items would normally be headed to a landfill here, this project will help protect Liberians exposed to Ebola as well reduce the material that goes into our own landfills.”
Hanson ends her campaign letter by thanking the many people who have donated medical supplies. These supplies include a sterilization unit and much-needed medications. Her campaign letter re-emphasizing the need for additional help with these words, “I am presently accepting all outdated (and dated) supplies including haz-mat suits and I’m seeking cash donations to pay for shipping costs. These supplies will go a long way toward prevention and readiness should another outbreak strike.”
Hanson ends her campaign letter with this request. Please email me to arrange a pickup and/or send all cash donations to “PPE VT/Liberia” (Partners in Protection from Ebola). For further information please contact Laurie at her e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liberia-Based Leo Kponbowoe Will Distribute Supplies
LIBERIA — The ultimate success of the Vermont-to-Liberia project will depend on a partnership that has been developed between two Vermont women and Leo Kponbowoe, a native Liberian and an experienced community organizer. Sending the supplies into the country is one thing, but seeing that they get distributed to community centers, clinics and caregivers is what will make the project succeed. And that task will fall to Kponbowoe.
That Kponbowoe has been identified as the key Liberian partner is hardly accidental.
In 2004, Montpelier resident Carolyn Ridpath (then 62) traveled to Monrovia to work for a project supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide a range of programs to help Liberians after a devastating period of civil war, terrorism and destruction.
In a recent memo to The Bridge, Ridpath both accounts for and describes what she saw on the ground in Liberia when she arrived in 2004 to take up her Mercy Corps duties as finance manager.
“The year 2003 was a momentous year for the country of Liberia. (The country’s past) president Charles Taylor was exiled to Nigeria and an interim government was installed. For the first time in years, the people of Liberia had a chance at stability. (Taylor) left behind a broken country and broken people. The buildings and infrastructure were destroyed. The people terrorized or killed. Many of the survivors fled to camps for the internally displaced or were evacuated to camps in Ghana or Nigeria. Others walked to Guinea, moved to the Ivory Coast or came to the U.S.
Gradually, the people returned and went into the bush and rebuilt their villages. Ex-combatants were assimilated. Those who went to neighboring countries returned. They returned to a country whose infrastructure was seriously damaged. In Monrovia there was no sewer, water, electricity, postal service, or land-line phone service. Non-governmental agencies and businesses worked around these problems. They had generators and water trucked in. The disappearance of the sewage was a mystery that was never discussed. The cell phones operated.”
Ridpath worked with programs seeking to improve literacy, fund small business projects, reintegrate ex-combatants and build radio stations.
It was during her first weekend in Liberia that Ridpath first met Kponbowoe who was the manager of an orphanage and who was working to improve the quality of the food for the children under his care.
These were among Ridpath’s first impressions of Kponbowoe, “Leo was 27. He showed the visitors his nursery for starting plants, walked them through his fields and discussed any changes or improvements that were needed. The kids tagged along and obviously adored him.”
As time went by, Ridpath observed Kponbowoe in a number of situations. At the orphanage, “He was a wonderful
father. He was kind, loving and responsive but also expected respectful behavior in return. He received it. His interaction with the white adults was mature and he was respected and encouraged by them.”
Ridpath decided to encourage Kponbowoe to apply to college. And when he needed additional skills to succeed in college, Ridpath encouraged Kponbowoe to attend a computer school “where he excelled and graduated.”
Writing about Kponbowoe, Ridpath said, “The ex-pats tutored him. He showed amazing sensitivity in working
with the country director. He knew when to speak and when to be quiet. He could sit quietly for hours in the director’s living room until the director was ready to help him with homework and improving his study skills. Michelle, another ex pat gave him her computer. The staff that came from the United State to help integrate the ex-combatants would jog with him in the morning. They liked him so much that they left him their clothes.”
In due course, Ridpath decided to support Kponbowoe and when she returned to the U.S. she continued to help Kponbowoe and put him through college.
In 2014, the Ebola epidemic hit Liberia. Here is how Ridpath described that recent troubled period.
(In Liberia,) of the more than 8,000 cases, approximately 4,000 people died. The optimism experienced in 2003 crashed. In its place was economic disaster. There were dead bodies. The Liberians had seen too much of death. They had starved before.”
When Ridpath heard from friends of hers in Liberia via e-mail — their messages “reflected anger, fear and powerlessness.” Liberians were finding the Ebola epidemic worse than the wars. “They couldn’t leave their country for safety. Outside medical help came and things changed. In the end, the people pulled together and changed the behaviors that spread the disease.”
Ridpath believes that Ebola is in retreat and she notes that “Leo used his skill to help educate people about the disease.”