Where’s the Ice Bucket Challenge for Ebola?

Two months ago, it was nearly impossible to watch the news, listen to the radio, or log in to Facebook without hearing about or seeing video footage of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Everyone was doing it, it seemed… jumping on the bandwagon to make a video of themselves dumping a bucket of ice over their heads in support of ALS. Some people chose instead to make a monetary donation to the ALS Association, and others still chose both to shiver under the ice and make a donation. The phenomenon spread like wildfire, ultimately raising more than $100 million dollars for ALS research.

I figured it would only be a matter of time before one of my friends nominated me to complete the challenge, and when that time came, I quietly made an online donation in both my and M.’s names, choosing to forgo the dumping of ice, mainly because jumping on bandwagons is not my thing. Especially when there doesn’t seem to be much of a correlation between the bandwagon and the supposed purpose behind it. To be completely honest, I was slightly annoyed at myself for giving in to the peer pressure of being asked, somewhat publicly, to give money to a cause that, while noble, would not necessarily have been the top of my ever-growing list of charitable purposes, particularly when I wasn’t completely certain how our money would be used. In short, I sold out, mostly out of fear of public humiliation. But at least I could tell myself that our donation would (hopefully) be put to good use in the fight against ALS.

Shortly after the Ice Bucket Challenge hoopla died down, I came across a way that I could support a cause in dire need of assistance. For months, I had been helplessly following the news of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, wishing there was something I could do to help with the situation at the ground level. Sending money is one thing, but too often, it is unclear where that money truly goes or how it will be spent. And then I learned of Gloves for Love Liberia, a grass-roots initiative started by a woman here in northern Virginia. She worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Liberia for three years and is close friends with a fellow foreign service family. Rather than ask for money, she has set up an Amazon wish list, from which donors can choose any number of medical supplies desperately needed by health care workers in Liberia to treat Ebola patients. It’s simple, really: the donor goes to amazon.com, purchases items from the wish list, and Gloves for Love sends them directly to trusted sources in Liberia. Short of flying to Liberia myself- with no medical training- this is a small and easy way to be part of the solution to this growing problem.

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Diana Sarteh, a Liberian nurse, has been taking care of Ebola patients in Monrovia for the past several months. Photo: cbsnews.com. Click the photo to read more about Nurse Diana.

Gloves for Love Liberia appealed to me immediately, and I thought my like-minded friends might like to support it as well, so I shared the link to it on my Facebook page. The response? With the exception of a handful of friends, nothing but crickets. In fact, I was seeing very little discussion at all about Ebola, perhaps because it was a far-away problem at the time. It doesn’t affect us. Ebola is happening “over there”.  It’s not “our” problem. This was some of the rationale formulating in my mind as to why some people might not be so concerned with Ebola.

But something bothered me about this.

ALS doesn’t affect most of us directly, either. And yet, so many people had come together to support research for it. Why weren’t people talking about and jumping up to help stop dozens of people from dying every day with the same zeal that they had to support ALS? I couldn’t understand.

Let me be clear: I by no means mean to imply that ALS research is not worthy of our support. It absolutely is. But I was baffled by how so many people so willingly poured ice over their heads in supposed support of medical research, yet as West Africans died and disease spread rapidly, few people really seemed to care.

Why don’t people care? I thought.

And then the unthinkable happened. Ebola came to American soil. And now it’s all anyone can talk about. Now, suddenly, everyone cares. I see the headlines and the comments: The U.S. acted too late. Our government should have responded sooner. Why are people from West Africa being allowed onto American soil? What are our chances of getting infected? Etc., etc.

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Heather Robertson of Reston, Virginia, started Gloves for Loves Liberia. Photo: restonnow.com

People are scared, even panicked. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little spooked by the whole thing, too. But what frightens me much, much more is the hatred I see in people’s reactions to Ebola’s presence in our country: the blaming, the finger-pointing, the accusing…. All of those things are very easy to do from the comfort of our couches while watching the news.

But you know what else is easy to do? (Hint: it does not involve freezing under a bunch of ice cubes.) Buy some medical gloves. A protective suit, perhaps. Say some prayers, if that’s your thing, for those fighting for their lives and for those helping them. Be part of the solution.

If you’d like to purchase medical supplies to help protect the health care workers who are working tirelessly to contain Ebola in West Africa, please visit Gloves for Love Liberia. To learn more about Gloves for Love Liberia on Facebook, click here.

Thank you for reading.

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