Adeline Bass lives in Connecticut, more than a thousand miles from the nearest case of Ebola. But the count of miles disguises her proximity to the virus which has proliferated in West Africa in the last few months: Bass is originally from Liberia, and her older sister still lives there. So do her brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and her other sister’s children.

“We’re not there to assist,” said Bass, Yale Young Global Scholars Program Coordinator and member of the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut. “We can’t even go.”

A total of 255 million people live in the six affected countries combined, but there are only two students at Yale from any of those nations. Given the literal and figurative distance between most of us and those affected by the outbreak, it’s all too easy for us to block out the events occurring in the other hemisphere. But does our distance from the devastation free us of responsibility?

Despite the fact that international flights into and out of Liberia have been suspended, Bass and her colleagues at the LCAC are still determined to aid those affected by the Ebola outbreak in some way. The LCAC, in collaboration with Faith Revival Temple Church of West Haven, is taking both cash donations and contributions of other supplies such as hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. The supplies will be delivered to Liberia through Global Health Ministries.

Yaa Ampofo, president of the Yale Undergraduate Association for African Peace and Development, isn’t from Liberia — she’s from Ghana. Though Ghana is in the same geographic area as the affected countries in West Africa, it doesn’t share borders with any of them. Nevertheless, when Ampofo visited home this summer, she was still worried.

“I was terrified less of the Ebola virus itself than about the closing of borders and whether or not I could leave,” Ampofo said.

Ampofo’s situation over the summer is in some ways indicative of most Yale students’ relationship with the disease, which, according to the World Health Organization, has as of August 26, claimed 1,552 lives. Since experts say that Ebola would not pose a serious threat in the United States or any other country with a well-developed public health infrastructure, the majority of us need only be concerned with Ebola peripherally, if at all.

That’s one of the problems the YAAPD has encountered in planning outreach events centered around alleviating the Ebola outbreak.

“It’s been difficult to figure out, how do we get people to make an emotional connection with the issue?” Ampofo said. (It’s a rhetorical question; she doesn’t have an answer yet.)

The second problem is a more challenging one logistically: what sort of outreach event would be the most effective in actually helping those affected by Ebola?

“We’ve been finding it difficult to find out, well, if we raise funds, who are we giving it to?” Ampofo said. “Because right now it’s in five different countries, over two thousand people affected … I don’t know. It’s difficult. It’s not difficult to think that people should be responsible, it’s more like well, what does being responsible for something entail?”

As of now, Ampofo thinks that raising awareness is the most important action that she and her peers in the YAAPD can take. She said that the organization has been posting updates about the spread of the Ebola virus on the YAAPD website and Facebook page. Her hope is that, if enough people know and care about the crisis in Africa, pressure to find and distribute a cure will be increased. (An experimental drug called ZMapp has proven successful in initial trials but will likely not be available for use until two years from now.)

Bass, however, doesn’t see why a lack of West African citizenry at Yale should be an impediment to the extent to which we rise to aid those affected by Ebola. She said that becoming heavily involved may require some sort of emotional connection, but anyone can donate.

“When Haiti had a crisis, it wasn’t just Haitians that went to Haiti to assist,” Bass said. “We had Americans, we had people from other organizations going out to help. Liberia needs help. We need help from anyone that can help us.”

Bass plans on sending two letters describing ways to help the citizens of Liberia to her colleagues at Yale. One of them, issued by the Liberian Embassy in Washington, has one phrase bolded and underlined: “Liberians saving Liberians.”

Responsibility is a complex concept; it’s difficult to provide any definitive answers in questions of culpability. But to confuse the boundaries of nations for the boundaries of responsibility would be a grave mistake.

 

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