You have probably noticed how Ebola has slipped from the headlines in the West. We are currently more interested in IS, Russia and the spectre of another recession. It doesn’t mean Ebola has gone away, or that we are any less involved in terms of money and personnel, but our perception of the immediacy of the crisis has somehow lessened. Unless or until another person with Ebola is hospitalised in the West, we shall continue to think of the virus as something that affects people ‘over there’ — and our thinking about how to help will follow suit.
There have been sobering reports that Western aid is missing the mark. Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s Chief of Development, is on record as saying neighbours and relatives are struggling to care for thousands of Ebola orphans while Western aid workers enjoy a lavish lifestyle and spend money on projects that are of little benefit. That kind of statement feeds into a very Western fear that aid agencies and charities do not always use the money given to them wisely or even appropriately. On the whole, if I may be permitted a very large generalisation, the religiously-inspired charities seem to do a better job than most, but still there is anxiety. How do we help? How do we ensure that money given to aid people suffering so greatly actually does what we intend? What should we do? I have no answers, but part of me thinks the very Benedictine approach of listening to the community might be a good starting-point. We may think building another treatment centre is the priority (and heaven knows, they are needed!) but for those who have been orphaned, or who have lost children on whom they depend for support, the need for food, shelter and companionship is just as urgent. It may not seem as urgent to us, but there is a future beyond Ebola we must think about and work to protect.