Ebola dinner raises $1045

Although Waterville is thousands of miles from the center of the Ebola epidemic, several Colby students have deep ties with Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, the countries worst hit by the virus. These students wanted to take action, so on Oct. 30, Osman Bah ’16, Kumba Seddu ’17, Robert Malongo ’17 and Leah Breen ’15 organized a fundraising dinner to support Ebola eradication efforts. Collectively, the students raised $1,045.50 in total, including donations collected while tabling in Pulver throughout the week.
The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the United World College Club, sponsors of the event, decided upon two beneficiaries: Partners in Health, a global health organization, and Power Women 232, a network of female entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone. “We wanted to support a West African civil society organization that is entirely focused on the ground and is made up of individuals whom Ebola directly affects, but we also wanted to support a major health non-profit that has the resources to coordinate a large-scale response. Power Women 232 and Partners in Health fit that criteria perfectly,” Breen said.
The event began with a buffet of West African food prepared by Waterville resident and friend of the College, Cito Cruz The menu featured 40 pounds of chicken peanut stew and chicken curry with coconut milk. “It was a lot of work, but a lot of love and satisfaction came with it,” Cruz said. “Four hours of cooking was worth it all.”
As students took their seats with plates of rice and stew, Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Kurt Nelson delivered opening remarks. He thanked everyone for showing their support and extended special thanks to Bah, Seddu and Malongo for their initiative in creating the event. Nelson asked for a moment of silence for the individuals suffering from Ebola and for the health workers risking their own lives to help others.
Bah, originally from Freetown, Sierra Leone, then spoke about the virus’s economic impacts on Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea by highlighting rising food prices and inflation. The World Bank estimates that the crisis could cost up to $32.6 billion by the end of 2015 to completely contain. Sierra Leone is still recovering from its civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002 (Liberia’s civil war lasted from 1989 to 2003), and the Ebola crisis is erasing much of the country’s economic growth.
Bah had hoped to return to Sierra Leone in December to be with his family, but the crisis now prevents him from returning home. Seddu, unable to attend the dinner, is also from Sierra Leone and faces the same dilemma. Neither student knows when they will next be able to see their family.
Breen delivered the next remark about her connection with the epidemic. While spending the summer in Liberia interning at Building Markets, a private sector development organization, she worked closely with a Liberian named James Rogers. Rogers died of Ebola on Oct. 17, unable to have a proper funeral due to the epidemic. “The American media largely ignored the crisis until two American health workers contracted the virus in July…the crisis hasn’t been humanized for the 5,000 West Africans who have died,” Breen said in memory of Rogers. She described his ability “to make every person with whom he engaged feel comfortable and loved” and shared personal anecdotes.
The Colby African Drumming Group performed during the dinner, attended by students, faculty and members of the Waterville community.
Rubez Chong ’16 reflected on the remarks from the evening as she listened to the performance. “I’m glad that even though we aren’t [directly] saving any lives, we are taking the time to pause, reflect, and show solidarity,” she said.
The College’s focus on Ebola will continue over the coming months, beginning with a student-organized letter thanking Kaci Hickox, a Maine resident who was quarantined after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

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