katie meyler

Ebola: No one is coming to save us

Reposted from Marc Maxmeister on ChewyChunks

Katie Meyler has been telling stories of how the people of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia overcame Ebola:

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This little girl and her brother and sister lost their parents. The auntie is asking me to help her by taking the kids. I asked her, “If someone helped you support and empower her, would you could feel happy raising your sister’s children?”

“Of course!” She said.

rebecca tells me she is scared aug 2014 racingheart

Rebecca tells me she has symptoms and is scared. I took my gloves off and let my hair down because I was leaving for the day. I wasn’t scared, because she looked strong. We are bringing her meds and will keep a close eye on her. Obviously this is agonizing but we are doing all we can. Please pray for Rebecca with me.

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I talked to local medical staff about serving West Point. Everyone I met was really lovely. There were 20 or 30 body bags with deceased people inside. I was scared but also at peace. This place has things under control.

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Community leaders made the rounds in West Point and found 45 sick people in the areas they were able to check. Unfortunately, all of the clinics are at capacity and not able to receive people.

These are stories of people trying to be resilient in the absence of any real government help. These slum dwellers had only two options if they wanted to survive: wait for the Powers to come save them, or become self-reliant. Resilience won, because they were used to being ignored. And while the medicine, supplies, and training were delivered by non-governmental groups like MoreThanMe, the people running the ambulances, screening citizens, and handing out the food were community members. The community saved itself. It illustrates a larger truism that we keep denying: Only the Poor can end poverty. Allow me to explain why.

First, a little more of my backstory. My job for the past few years was figuring out how to give Voice to the Poor. I ran an East African storytelling project with GlobalGiving from 2010 to 2013. It showed that the Poor clearly were the “experts” on what they needed, and knew how their governments could solve big problems. But my straightforward approach – collect their first-hand testimony and present it to those in power – wasn’t enough. Why? Because governments and international agencies are not built for listening. They have no effective mechanisms to redress complaints. They don’t give local leaders and local solutions a fair hearing.

Most people are eager to speak up at first, but experience teaches them that Power doesn’t care about the Poor. If they complain about a program, the donors too-often go elsewhere and start over, leaving those people with nothing. Spurned and punished for their participation, they don’t speak out.

It is not just organizations. Governments and business have also taught the Poor to merely accept what is offered. Business offers the Poor jobs that sacrifice wages or safety through the unregulated markets of Globalization. Governments are “representative democracies” at best, not direct democracies. Few representatives really listen to the Poor. Power listens to Power. The Poor survive on what they get, and only take to the streets and assert their rights when hardship becomes unbearable.

But sometimes a community does come together and builds something. Ebola’s demise in 2015 is the story of local leaders rising out of the chaos and helping neighbors choose resilience over fatalistic resignation, as I profile in my book.

Their stories are often untold, because telling their story to outsiders doesn’t help them along the path of self-reliance or survival. A reporter swooping in to get the story gives the storyteller fresh hope that someone will save him. There are millions of international do-gooders in the world spending their lives in an effort to help the Poor. We live among the Poor. We listen to them. We share their stories with a broader audience. Sometime we raise awareness about an issue. Occasionally we inspire the Poor. But mostly we offer a twisted hope that keeps them off the path of self-reliance. We cannot end poverty for the Poor, only enable to Poor to lift themselves up.

In a famous letter from a law professor to his student, Bill Quigley writes:

“Many come to law school because they want to help the elderly, children, people with disabilities, victims of genocide, victims of racism, economic injustice, or religious persecution. Unfortunately, the experience of law school and the legal profession often dilute that commitment.”

It is a harsh lesson I keep learning over and over. Regardless of my tactic, Peace Corps, science, banking, or medicine, the end result only moves the Poor a few feet from where they once stood. No mix of skills or tools or toys may ever work if I am the one holding the chalk, the shovel, or the smart phone.

Singing “No one is coming to save us!”

Katie Meyler once said that things started getting better when the people of West Point slum starting singing “No one is coming to save us!” It was a turning point. They understood that local leaders were their best hope for survival. The people were finally taking charge of their own future. The narrative changed from being about the failure of outsiders to the success of the community. And when West Point slum’s death toll fell far short of projections in the months that followed, locals could look at each other and say with pride, “We did this ourselves!

This isn’t about outsiders abandoning the Poor, but about truly Serving the Poor.

But in our world, when stories like these are told by outsiders, the people who supply the materials take the credit. The bags of rice are stamped ‘US AID from the American People’.

CENTRAFRICA-UNREST-US-AIDThe medicines and the trucks and the soldiers all have branding. But the people remain anonymous because they are the community being helped. It is a false narrative to separate the helpers from the helped. Serving the Poor means being in the community, without identity.

Instead, the locals are given supporting roles, first in the narrative, and later in the power restructuring following success (during the elusive “project replication” phase that funders seek). The meeting rooms usually look like this (a bunch of acronyms working together):

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Newsmakers and storytellers and politicians must unlearn bad habits. Every success story is, at its core, about people helping themselves. We outsiders are mere bystanders. But with hard work we can become true servants.

Take another example, this time from the 1960s US Civil Rights movement. One witness tells the story of the political parade that was the funeral for Rev. James Reeb, who was brutally murdered in Selma in 1965:

From the balcony I saw a sea of dignitaries clearly unrelated to the events in Selma. Many faiths had come to pay tribute in this memorial to James Reeb. Until Dr. Martin Luther King himself spoke, it is hard to imagine a more jumbled collection of prepared prayers and speeches rattled off in a patronizing way. It was ecclesiasticism at its worst. James Reeb’s death was described as the most monstrous example of brutality, when in fact it was one more instance in a long series. Men who had not taken the time to meet any young people praised them for their courage. The men and women who had come “thousands of miles” for the memorial were extolled. I thought that it was not too difficult to come and go in 24 hours and have the vicarious experience of heroism through singing a few freedom songs.

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When King began to speak, however, it suddenly seemed right that we should all be there. Everyone moved a bit in his or her seat when King asked rhetorically,

“Who killed Jim Reeb?”

He answered: A few ignorant men. He then asked,

“What killed Jim Reeb?”

and answered: An irrelevant church, an indifferent clergy, an irresponsible political system, a corrupt law enforcement hierarchy, a timid federal government, and an uncommitted Negro population. He exhorted us to storm the bastions of segregation and see to it that the work Jim Reeb had started be continued so that the white South might come to terms with its conscience.

This account captures the movement as well as a pan-out to illustrate the circus around the movement. Power lives a circus life. I too had that experience and blogged about it.

So if local efforts do succeed, outsiders swoop in and take all the credit, and the Poor are pushed out of the limelight. Outsiders get promotions and the Poor find themselves only a few feet from where they began. Though nothing is won entirely without cooperation – and everything is at least partly enabled by those in Power – the distortion of who deserves credit is so large in the International Aid world that we’ve forgotten why it ever works at all. Everything starts because a community buys-in, and ultimately survives because a community takes ownership. We are just drifters and gamblers in their story.

Only the Poor can end poverty. But the rest of us can make that journey lighter. 

One way is by emulating organizations like MoreThenMe.

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It was no accident we find them in the slum at the center of a strong network of relationships. Katie spent 9 years there working for the community as a humble servant. Then in December of 2014, Time Magazine anointed her “Person of the year.” Now she’s brunching with billionaires instead of begging for books. But it is the same Katie, doing the same work. Serving Pearlina and Rebecca and other girls who deserve to go to school. She is part of the community. She was amazing and unknown before; now she amazes a bigger audience with grace:

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They did not invent the process of community-building. It has been known for thousands of years. It is explained in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War:

“Come among the people.

Live among them.

Work with that they have.

Build on what they know.

And when the work is finished, they will say,

‘we have done this ourselves!'”

There has never been a better credo for fighting poverty, nor a better description of resilience. There are many technical ways to stop Ebola, but underneath every successful strategy is an appetite to empower resilient communities in precisely the way that Katie has. She didn’t know much about Ebola, but she knew a whole lot about inspiring people and organizing groups.

This is the most important lesson in my Ebola book for how we deal with the next crisis. Local leaders exist in every community, but too often our international systems co-opt their power and authority, replacing them in a state of emergency instead of empowering them. The sooner we can get a community singing, “No one is coming to save us,” the sooner that community can come together to save itself. Only then – and only through pre-existing local relationships – can international help be effective. No one from the Red Cross, WHO, CDC, and US army can live Sun Tzu’s credo in every town that might face a disaster in the future, and so these institutions need thousands of local allies. Only local voices can sing the melody in the resilience song.

A pro-Poor environment

If we want to hear the Poor speaking up, we must give them space to lead. We can create mechanisms to connect local voices with better performance in foundations and government (Keystone Accountability’s mission). We can reign in our proxy-democracy and make it more direct through functional citizen feedback loops (FeedbackLabs’s mission). We can listen to the Poor and let them speak in their own words (GlobalGiving’s Storytelling Project). These are all steps on the path to prosperity, but they are not the whole path.

I offer a deeper dive into these issues in my book, Ebola: Local Voices, hard facts on Amazon.

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Time person of the year: Racing to end ebola

NEW JERSEY – Katie Meyler, Founder of More Than Me, joins the Ebola Fighters named  TIME’s Persons of the Year with her work highlighted in the Ebola Caregivers list. Meyler and the Ebola Fighters group join a list that in the past has recognized Winston Churchill, Ghandi, Pope Francis, and President Obama.

“The past few months have been filled with some of the most intense moments of my life, but they’ve also been some of the proudest. I’m honored to be listed next to these truly inspiring people and want to take this time to recognize everyone, on this list or not, who has helped fight Ebola on the front lines,” Meyler said.

This recognition comes out of great tragedy, but is a reminder of the need to continue the fight against Ebola until there are no new cases – and to move forward and rebuild as the epidemic ends. The mission of More Than Me has always been to expand educational opportunities for the most vulnerable girls from the West Point slum in Monrovia; but unable to stand by while their students were at risk, the organization shifted to rapid Ebola response programs in August. As Meyler puts it, “We don’t have an organization if we don’t have students who are alive.”

The tremendous efforts of Iris Martor, More Than Me’s school nurse turned Ebola Fighter, are also mentioned. While working in the community leading trainings to keep staff safe and coaching nurses, Martor’s 8-month-old girl became ill and she feared it was Ebola. When her daughter tested negative and recovered, Martor momentarily questioned the risk she was taking, but ultimately thought, “If someone from America comes to help my people, and someone from Uganda, then why can’t I? This is my country. I should take the first step.”

More Than Me is committed to caring for Monrovia communities that have been deeply affected by this outbreak. More Than Me’s team hopes to reopen their school and resume regular programming in early 2015, but is also committed to long-term support of survivors and the families of those affected by Ebola in their students’ communities. Next year, Meyler hopes to open a boarding school to offer a greater number of children an education including many Ebola orphans. Donations to support More Than Me’s work are matched until December 25th. Learn more here.

The TIME editors’ selection is based on “who best represents the news of the year,” spotlighting leaders who showcase “both a snapshot of where the world is and a picture of where it’s going.”

You can follow Katie’s daily experience at racingheartblog.tumblr.com and donate to MoreThanMe at GlobalGiving.

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IamA First Responder to the Ebola Virus outbreak in Liberia

Compiled from reddit’s IAmA live question and answer channel, hosted by Sean Casey on Sep 19, 2014:

Source: First responder transcriptMore than Me’s Katie Meyler transcript

Monrovia is generally like this: the food is spicy, the people are warm, the colors are bright. It has a complex history. The infrastructure was completely destroyed in a 14-year civil war and now they’re trying to rebuild.

Q: Is the situation out there as bad as the media portrays it to be?

Situation is indeed vey bad, several studies show that the number of cases double each 2 to 3 weeks. If you remember the story of the chess board and the grains of rice, we have already a lot of cases in the current square, next square will be 2 times bigger. This can arrive with some possibility everywhere but the question is can it be fastly managed. A successful containment stops the problem at square one.

It is exponentiation growth

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exponential_function

An exponential fit to the number of cases from mid-July through to mid-September suggests that their number now doubles every 24.3 days (as opposed to every 29 days previously).

http://www.geert.io/exponential-growth-of-ebola.html

Exponential Growth’ in the Ebola Outbreak: What does it mean?

http://sacemaquarterly.com/other-infectious-diseases/exponential-growth-ebola-outbreak-mean.html

The effective reproduction number, Rt, of Ebola virus disease was estimated using country-specific data reported from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to the World Health Organization from March to August, 2014. Rt for the three countries lies consistently above 1.0 since June 2014. Country-specific Rt for Liberia and Sierra Leone have lied between 1.0 and 2.0.

http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20894

If reproduction number is below 1 then it will die out by it self. If it is above 1 then it will spread.

Q: recent murder of several relief workers will lead to aid agencies withdrawing from impacted areas

I don’t think that this will stop agencies from responding, but it will definitely impact how and where they work. Staff safety is paramount for all of us, and we need to know that we can do our work without threat of violence. The violence in Guinea is worrisome, and hopefully the authorities there will do what they can to prevent this from happening going forward.

Q: What do you feel is the source of distrust that Ebola is real/dangerous? I’m specifically thinking of the clinic that was attacked and looted.

That feeling of distrust that Ebola is real isn’t as prominent as before because there are so many people getting sick and dying now. The clinic that was attacked and looted in West Point was a politcal issue. It had a lot to do with the fact that there was no communication between higher ups and the local people. There’s a saying that “nothing good ever comes from West Point” so there’s a feeling in West Point that everyone hates them and when they saw Ebola patients from outside of West Point coming in, they thought that they were trying to bring Ebola into their community because they didn’t believe that Ebola was in West Point at that time

The virus already feels uncontrollable, but I think with the help coming that it will change things, but it needs to get here fast enough.

Q: What is the reaction from the community?

Stigma

We know of one woman named Finda whose whole family died but she survived Ebola. Yes, there’s definitely a stigma for survivors. More Than Me wanted to hire Finda for the awareness team but she didn’t feel comfortable being in West Point anymore because of the stigma.

I don’t see anyone working to change this right now. There are dead bodies and sick bodies everywhere. Right now, people and workers are afraid. The main services happening at the moment are that sick people are being brought to holding centers and dead bodies are being picked up to be cremated. All the ETUs and the one holding center are full right now. (ETU = Ebola Treatment Center)

The West Point Commissioner asks US what to do. The community of West Point is pleasantly shocked to see an international person return and me being here gives us extreme credibility. It makes the community feel they’re not alone, that we actually care, that there’s hope. We aren’t just here when the sun is shining, but here through the storms as well.

The community is helping themselves and I’m supporting them. They want rain boots? I get them rain boots. Their t-shirts aren’t working? We get them new ones. That’s what we’re able to do. On top of that, we can help coordinate the awareness workers’ messages, coordinate meetings with partners on the ground, etc.

In West Point, the awareness team is telling families to wash their hands every 15 min if possible, don’t touch bodily fluids of sick people, isolate any sick people you have in the house, and designate one caretaker for the sick. And make sure the caretaker is hydrated and the sick person but the caretaker must use plastic bags to protect themselves from touching them.

We are bringing home nurses to these families with food, and an ebola kit that has everything a family would need to care for a sick person: new bed sheets, vitamin b, rice, bleach bucket, clorox, oral rehydration solution, etc.

The only hospital I’ve been in, that isn’t an ebola place, is Star of the Sea Clinic in West Point. The doctors see Ebola patients coming in nonstop and they have nowhere to send them so it’s definitely getting more risky for the staff there.

Avoiding infection

I’m not touching people, washing my hands constantly, washing my clothes in chlorox. But the main thing I can do is not touch anyone.

West Point and Capital Hill – the two neighborhoods where we’re working – treat us like family. I don’t feel at risk at all being there. The community protects us. I feel like the bond between me and these communities of Liberia is magical right now.

(This next question shows trust isn’t just a problem in Liberia, but everywhere. Someone didn’t believe this was the person she claimed to be.)

Q: For proof, could you please mention this AMA on the MoreThanMe website or tweet about it from @MoreThanMeORG

We’ve tweeted the link and posted on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/morethanmewww.twitter.com/morethanmeorg

Q: What will be most effective?

Definitely donations. All humanitarian responses require funding, and this one is particularly expensive, given the scale and all the inputs required.

We especially want to raise funding to support training and equipment for Liberian first responders. This is something we integrate into all of our work, but it’s particularly important here, as this response requires enormous human resources. Around 90% of our staff here are Liberians, and our first priority is to support them to work safely and effectively. www.firstresponderscampaign.org

Biggest needs are qualified staff, nurses that know how to control infection. Secondly, put pressure on your governments to help. Donations in kind are tricky because the need to respond to specifications. Money for buying those items is better.

We need all kinds of things, but many of them are quite specialized – like doctors and nurses, and specific models of personal protective equipment. The most useful input that the average person with some interest in helping can provide is money to support the operations. Ebola response is very expensive – operating one 70-bed treatment unit can cost up to $1 million/month!

Q: Where to find local accounts?

I don’t know any local Liberians sharing their stories anywhere. Carielle Zoe is a Liberian journalist who’s sharing on her social media, and I’m sharing stories constantly on instagram. (@katiemeyler)

Just today, this morning i prayed and sat with a 15-year old sick boy and he died this afternoon. I went to the courthouse in the afternoon and the people handcuffed were vomiting everywhere and asking me to take them to the hospital.

The burial team, Dr Fallah (mentioned in NYT) and hospital workers, journalists, awareness workers and me are all in the midst of this outbreak, but I’m not sure that any one of them besides journalists are sharing their personal stories.

This is hitting uneducated people who don’t know how to use social media. And for health workers, they are so overwhelmed with the situation that there’s no time to share stories.

Q: I’m worried about some American doctors in Monrovia at Cooper Hospital. I’ve heard rumors that all the other medical facilities closed except EWLA Hospital or possible JFK government hospital. Can you speak to the risks they are facing or give some local knowledge about their neighborhood, etc? I’m realizing I know very little about Morovia (though a reasonable amount about Ebola).

If anyone is interested in reading about their experience, one of the surgeons keeps a diary here.

http://www.ahiglobal.org/main/news/?title=ahi-doctor-heads-to-liberia-to-aid-ebola-crisis–james-appels-personal-log-of-daily-events/

Q: How does it affect you?

It’s hard to see, for sure. I went to pick up a 12-year-old patient on Monday and spoke to him briefly before he boarded the ambulance. An hour later he was dead and the next day I saw his body being carried away for burial.

Q: What is UN/WHO doing?

WHO has staff supporting several ETUs. There are currently six open in Liberia: – Fyoa (MSF) – ELWA III (MSF) – ELWA II (Ministry of Health) – JFK (Ministry of Health with WHO) – Island Clinic (Ministry of Health with WHO) – Bong (IMC)

There is a body in WHO called the GOARN, Global Alert and Response Network. They publish regularly on alerts or updates.

Q: Sean what does your ‘average’ day look like?

Hectic! It usually starts at around 6am and ends at around midnight. In Monrovia, lots of coordination meetings. In Bong, troubleshooting at the ETU, coordinating with government representatives, and sometimes chatting with patients. No two days are ever the same – it’s one of the things I love about my job.

We have a psychosocial team that provides support to our staff and their families.

We provide IV fluids, oral rehydration solution, pain medication, presumptive malaria treatment and symptomatic care.

I think there are lots of untold stories about the very brave health workers here. They’re the real first responders, and they’re continuing to work despite the fear and risk. One of our nurses saw six of her colleagues die from Ebola, but she’s continuing to fight the disease by working with International Medical Corps at the Bong ETU.

We’re seeing quite a few families present together. It’s normal for relatives to care for each other when they’re sick, so this is a common vector for transmission.

Q: Some people there think it is a hoax.

Sadly very true. Ebola is not an hoax. The consequences of negating it are yesterday’s news about killings in Guinea.

Q: On the likely number of cases:

Q: Why don’t they close the airports and put military at all exits of the cities infected? It boggles my mind they haven’t done this yet.

Closing an airport increases risk in bordering countries as people that want to travel, will, but not via official land crossings to the information can not be collected, the temperature can not be taken.

MoreThanMe – latest ebola project report via GlobalGiving

In this together – By Emily Bell – Project Leader

School Nurse Iris handing out care packages

School Nurse Iris handing out care packages

Dear MTM Family,

Thank you for your continued support. Our report this month is going to be a little bit different. As your probably know, there is an Ebola outbreak in West Africa affecting Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. On July 30th, President Sirleaf recommended that schools close to avoid large gatherings. We decided we needed to close the MTM Academy for the safety of our girls, staff, and community.

On July 31st, the girls and their families came to the school. We gave students care packages that included workbook pages to keep them busy and learning, medicine for fever and bacterial illnesses, Ebola awareness posters, health care referral forms, oral rehydration solutions, chlorine, soap, and rice. All students, parents, and staff also attended an awareness class led by doctors and staff from UNICEF, the IRC, and Ministry of Health. While the school is closed, all expat staff members are being relocated to the US.

To date, we’ve had no reported cases of Ebola related illness in students or staff.

On Friday August 22nd, our founder Katie Meyler arrived in Liberia to help the West Point community, where the majority of our girls live. She has been meeting with community leaders, government officials, health officials, and police to coordinate a faster response to Ebola in West Point. You can follow her journey at http://racingheartblog.tumblr.com/.

Thank you for your continued support. We hope to reopen school as soon as it’s safe for our girls. Until then, we will keep fighting for a better, faster, more organized response to the outbreak, both in West Point and across Liberia. Please direct any questions, comments, or words of support to emilyb@morethanme.org.

In this together,

Emily & the MTM Team

Katie in West Point checking on students