Student-organized summit brings myriad perspectives

Weeks ago, before the national public unrest regarding civil disputes and police brutality, the issue regarding Ebola filled the news. It was impossible to ignore the eruption of cases in West Africa and the fear that spread in the United States. In recent weeks, this issue has completely vanished from the public’s eye as issues that hit closer to home take their spot. The issue is far from over.

On December 5, Blake students Austin Echtenkamp ‘15, Eli Makovetsky ‘15, and Isaac Frans ‘15 held a summit at the University of Minnesota to spread awareness about the Ebola epidemic. Echtenkamp explains that “this project originally started in Global Theories, Local Realities class with teacher Dion Crushshon. We had to figure out a way that we could act in our community to aid this problem, and decided bringing people together to spread awareness and knowledge was the best way to combat this issue.” The three students organized two panels of speakers to share their thoughts on the epidemic to discuss their respective connections to Ebola.

 The first panel focused on the impact of Ebola within the community. Among the speakers was Mariama Sengita, who described her experiences coping with the death of her father from Ebola. She described something that is felt by many: Ebola didn’t become a national problem until it entered the United States. She commented,  “It didn’t hit home until my family was affected.” Unable to meet the required funds demanded by the hospital for her father’s treatment, she reflected, “I became really angry. Angry at myself, at the health care system, at the doctors–how could they play with the human life like this?” She found that “being angry doesn’t solve anything so I started educating myself… There are many opportunities to get involved, but you have to self regulate with all the information that’s out there. It’s easy to get caught up in fear, which I think makes us make really stupid mistakes.”  To this day, she refuses to capitalize the “e” in Ebola because she doesn’t want to give the disease power.

The first panel also included Abdullah Kiatamba, director of African Immigrant Services, Alice Karpeh, co-founder of Rural Health Care Initiative, and Jeff Hall, founder of OneVillage Partners.

Kiatamba described the multicultural task force he created to spread public awareness about Ebola and address issues of stigma and fear amongst the community.