By Ruby Dickson
An outbreak of Ebola sweeping through western Africa has produced enormous ramifications, both in the affected region and abroad. The epidemic has even affected the Lawrence community through our connections to the region. Student and faculty plans for trips to western Africa, notably a research visit to Sierra Leone and a cultural immersion experience in Senegal, were impacted by the new dangers and liabilities.
The Ebola outbreak is the largest in the history of the virus with over 6,300 reported cases and more than 3,000 confirmed fatalities. The severe epidemic caused the countries of the impacted region, including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, to take preventative measures and enact containment protocol.
As personal choices clashed with containment efforts, some of these measures, and the suffering caused by the disease itself, created human rights issues. Ebola’s highly contagious nature has caused considerable worry worldwide about the spread of the disease. the United State Center for Disease Control placed a level 3 warning on travel to the affected region.
Lawrence University does not support student travel to any country with a level 3 warning. Because of these conditions, it has become significantly more dangerous and difficult for groups to travel to the affected areas.
Professor Skran’s annual 18-day field experience in Sierra Leone was among those impacted this year by the epidemic. As part of her Government and Economics-focused Field Research course, Professor Skran was planning to use this sixth annual trip to give Lawrence students real-world experience and understanding of the nation of Sierra Leone. Skran confirmed at last week’s meeting that the first visit of this school year, scheduled for December, has been canceled. The Spring Break trip, planned for March 2015, will be postponed and possibly canceled as well; students will have to wait for updates regarding that experience, but Skran stated that the trip would likely take place either in the summer of 2015 or in December of next year.
The other official Lawrence program involving trips to the impacted region is the French department’s Francophone Seminar at the Baobab Center in Dakar, Senegal. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that evidence suggests that the Ebola outbreak in Senegal is contained and likely finished, but there are still difficulties with organizing a program in the nation’s capital.
Laura Zuege, director of Lawrence’s Off-Campus Programs, confirmed this week that this arrangement will likely still go forward. “We usually treat long-term and short-term programs differently,” she explained, to note the difference between this and the Sierra Leone trip. “The Dakar program is a full term of cultural immersion, and it’s not supposed to happen until Spring Term.”
That said, she also emphasized that Lawrence is looking out for student safety with regards to the Ebola virus. “We’re going to be checking up with the U.S. State Department, the World Health Organization, and the Center for Disease Control, and see how it goes.”
Although the Senegal program is likely to proceed as scheduled, the Ebola outbreak has made it difficult to ascertain to what extent the plans may change.
Students expressed frustration with the situation regarding trip cancellations and postponements, but they still exhibit understanding of the gravity of this problem. Sophomore Regina Cornish said that she “was looking forward to going and exploring new cultures,” but that she “understands the need for safety measures, and that health is a priority.” She also expressed hope that “people in the region stay safe as well, and that all necessary steps are taken to improve the situation and minimize suffering.”
Other students spoke of difficulty with fitting a possible summer trip into their schedules.
Although the recent Ebola outbreak in western Africa caused considerable worry and complication for people around the world, its impact on the Lawrence community is fortunately small. The Lawrentian will report on developments regarding the planned spring trips to Sierra Leone and Senegal when further information becomes available.