During the plague, children made up songs to ease their fears. "Husha, husha we all fall down" they sang as they danced around the rosie with pockets full of posies. As we approach Halloween, the legacy of disease lives on in children's minds, as the scariest monster now must be Ebola. Ebola is on everyone's lips. Especially among children. Ebola is what they're talking about in school yards across the country, if my kids are anything to go on. Like any monster, this one has got them worried.
The current outbreak, which the World Health Organization called "the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times," has infected nearly 10,000 people and killed more than 4,500, primarily in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. In light of this, it's perfectly normal for children to be scared.
My 10- and 12-year-old sons discuss Ebola incessantly with each other and with their friends. They discuss the warning signs. They discuss what happens when you contract Ebola. They know that thousands of people have Ebola in West Africa, and that more and more people are getting sick every day. They know about the nurses in Texas. And moreover, they know that it has come to New York, where we live. They even know about the Ebola-positive doctor now quarantined at Bellevue Hospital. They are knowledgeable but feel kind of helpless.
In a media maelstrom such as this, it does a lot of good to listen to kids and let them talk it out. They ask many questions and I try to be as transparent as possible. "Ok, ok let's talk about it," I say on Friday evening. "Why are people getting sick?" "How did it get to New York?" "Will you get it Dad?" one son asks. "No, there is no chance," I reply -- not entirely sure this is 100 percent accurate -- but aware of the fact that infection is not spread through the air but by direct contact with an Ebola patient, which is why those infected in the U.S. were hospital workers, the front-line heroes who come in very close proximity to Ebola patients in the worst stages of the illness.
Beyond talking it out and reading about it together, the boys wanted to do something, anything to help. Today we joined Danielle Butin the Director of The Afya Foundation -- an organization dedicated to helping the unfolding Ebola emergency in West Africa, by gathering surplus medical supplies, hospital equipment and humanitarian provisions from the New York healthcare, corporate and private communities.
Today we joined Danielle and her family as well as many volunteers to sort through and categorize boxes of donated critical care medical supplies headed for Sierra Leone to fight the Ebola epidemic.
Afya has this jarring video portraying U.S. kids talking about their fears and hope.
Getting involved in Afya was an inspiring and educational opportunity for my son to see first hand what is needed to stop the devastation the disease is causing. Afterwards he talked to me about helping to keep health care workers safe in Sierra Leone.
Walking into the massive warehouse today, the first thing you notice is the wide array of medical supplies needed such as rubber gloves, buckets, diapers, syringes, medical gowns, rubber-covered baby seats, different size plastic bottles of bleach.
Both my son and I understood at once that whatever Ebola is, it was going to take a mountain of stuff to help stop it. He should know, he helped count, number and label a wide assortment of different items, and place them in numbered boxes. He worked alongside many other men and women, teenagers and young kids who gave up soccer games and their Sunday to be there, sorting items on the Saw Mill Road in Yonkers, New York.
While there are no Ebola patients near him, Afya helped my son turn fear into action and hope.