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Ebola outbreak puts Doane alumna's Peace Corps work on hold

Caitlin Moore ’13 had received the updates.

Even with limited internet access as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country of Liberia, warnings of the Ebola virus had been consistent for months.

The first thing she can remember was a BBC tweet in February.

Then came emails from the Peace Corps and US Embassy.

But when the Peace Corps finally announced it was pulling its volunteers out of countries affected by the West African outbreak last week, it still felt sudden—and hurt as such.

“I instantly started crying. It was really hard for me to hear,” Moore said in a phone interview Tuesday from Kakata, a city northeast of the Liberian capital Monrovia.

The Doane alumna had only recently returned to Kakata following a two-day drive from her work site in Pleebo, a city in the east that sits less than 10 miles from Liberia's border with the Ivory Coast. It was during this return trip, a three-week stint to train newcomers for classroom teaching, that the ultimatum came down.

Moore's emotions got the best of her when her program manager shared the news, a week ago today.

“It’s a two-day drive—in a good car—to get to my site; I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to all my people there,” said Moore, a Fairmont native. “I was so devastated. I couldn’t call my site mate, so she didn’t know. I called my parents to let them know I was coming home.”

She did, however, get to “say goodbyes" and "take some pictures” on a down-and-back trip last weekend. Moore said she would be making the return flight home today and will be back in the Lincoln area tomorrow.

She is one of several Peace Corps workers being temporarily evacuated from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which is being called the worst in history. Peace Corps’ medical officers are evaluating all volunteers before they leave Africa.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1,711 cases and 932 deaths had been reported between Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone as of Aug. 4. Liberia’s 516 cases were the second-most of any country and its 282 deaths the third-highest total.

Moore had heard stories about the outbreak, but fortunately, it had not yet reached Pleebo.

“It’s scary. There were volunteers that were living in Lofa County (in the north) and there was a lot of Ebola going on,” Moore said. “Where I was living, Ebola hadn’t reached. I had to drive a day before I reached a village with a suspected Ebola case.”

Moore's Doane education prepared her for a situation like this. She studied in Ghana as an undergraduate in the immersive International Student Exchange Program. Jan Willems, Doane’s director of international programs, advised her through the process and said that Moore, like all other Doane students who study abroad, completed required research of her host country through the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Department of State and WHO.

“It is an important part of what we do in pre-departure orientation,” said Willems, who had kept in contact with Moore via email during her time abroad. “They have to go to the State Department website and look up very specific information about their host country’s legal system and concerns about things like traffic safety, what the State Department can and can’t do for you and how your insurance works. They go to the CDC or WHO website to look up information about health-related travel risks.”

None of the outbreak, though, could put a damper on what the Fairmont native has gained through her 13 months in Liberia.

A month after graduating from Doane with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a minor in biology, Moore started her work with the Peace Corps. Since June 2013, she has been teaching high school chemistry and physics.

“The students here are such a different demographic than America,” Moore said. “I have a lot of students who are into their late 20s and early 30s that are just now in 10th grade. I’m learning so much from them and giving them the opportunity to practice essential skills that they’ve missed out on.”

Moore is keeping a blog of her experience, which Willems said illustrates a deep commitment to her work.

“If you read her blog, you understand that she was plugged into her community and that she was fully invested in the work she was doing,” Willems said. “She was deeply fond of her neighbors, students, her roommate and the other Peace Corps workers in Liberia.”

The presumption is that the Peace Corps will return its volunteers to their stations once the outbreak is over. And Moore fully intends to resume teaching in Liberia.

“All of the (Peace Corps) staff is staying on in Monrovia and expecting us to come back. I’m coming home with a heavy heart,” Moore said. “They’re my family. l know I’ll be back in Liberia.”