Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reflections on our Fear of Other

Here's my sermon for last Sunday, there were some light edits the morning of, but you get the gist.

Today's scripture is from John 4 verses 5-42 and it the story about Jesus’s encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well. 

It begins with Jesus sitting at a well in a Samaritan city.  Jesus is in a foreign land amongst a people with a different culture and world view that conflicts fairly significantly with his Jewish background.    It's around noon and the sun is hot and beating down.  Jesus has been traveling for awhile and I'm guessing he's pretty tired.   Then John says:  

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[a] 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 

After acknowledging that Jesus is correct about her current marital status, the Samaritan woman and Jesus continue to go back and forth in a theological discussion where Jesus challenges the notion that God should be worshipped either on the mountain in Samaria as the Samaritans believed or in the temple in Jerusalem as the Jews believed.  Instead he offers an alternative view where he makes the claim that God is spirit and truth and can be worshipped anywhere.  Then the Samaritan woman says

25 “I know that the Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.”

27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[d] can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.

While she was gone the disciples encouraged Jesus to eat, but Jesus, having had this profound experience with the woman, said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving[e] wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”  

Some scholars infer that the others who have "labored" before the disciples may include the very Samaritan woman whom Jesus had just met and who was off talking to the people in her village at that moment.   Not only is Jesus involving a Samaritan person in his ministry he is laying the groundwork to include women in his group of disciples and followers.  

And this woman, an outcast in her own right, was highly effective in her own ministry as John then tells us: 

39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony,  . . . 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

There's a lot going on in this story, but I want to focus my thoughts today on Jesus's radical interaction with this Samaritan woman.   I think it's sometimes hard to realize what a big deal it was for Jesus to be even talking with this Samaritan woman at the well.  I don't think it can be overstated the animosity felt between the Samaritans and the Jews during this time period.   The Samaritans were the neighbors to the North and though both groups could trace their history to similar roots . . . over time the people of Samaria had developed different cultural and theological practices that involved interracial marriage and blending religious beliefs from multiple sources.   This was partly evidenced by the discussion at the well regarding where God should be worshipped.   These different cultural norms conflicted with the Jewish way of life which focused on purity and maintaining their special relationship with God as the only “chosen people.”   There were bitter arguments between the two groups about how folks should live and what was the "right" way of viewing the world.  The fact that they were neighboring lands forced them to cross each other's paths and heightened the level of conflict.  These clashing cultural constructs are why the story of the good Samaritan would have had so much weight.  My guess is that individual Samaritans and Jews did not spend much time socializing or getting to know one another and that misunderstanding and fear of the unknown led both groups to make up a lot of things about the other group.      

This "fear of other" or fear of people that are different from us is not a new phenomenon nor is it something that humanity has been able to overcome.  Prejudice and discomfort with people who look, talk or act differently from us is not something just relegated to our textbooks or something we only talk about in our history lessons at school.  All we have to do is look around a bit to see that throughout our world there are groups of people who are marginalized and oppressed based on their cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.  Women and members of the LGBTQ community are also marginalized in the towns and neighborhoods where they live.  Many ruling dictators exploit and enhance these divisions in order to maintain power over the people who live in their country. 

And sadly, we are experiencing more and more division in our own country and more than likely in our own neighborhoods and community.  It seems that many people want us to be divided into groups based on race, class, religion, sexual orientation or political views.   These folks use our very human tendency towards the fear of other as the wedge to do this.  

So we tighten control over our borders and build physical and metaphorical walls to keep people out.   And, even more upsetting to me, we see a small but unfortunately growing number of people, empowered by this fear of other, vandalizing sacred spaces and committing violence against people they have decided don't "belong" in our country.   Several of my friends from medical school whose families are from India have described patients making comments to them about not wanting to have them as their doctor because they are muslim or they are "illegal" and don't belong.  Though they grew up in this country and have been practicing medicine for many years, they are suddenly finding their presence in the community where they live and serve being questioned by people who believe they have more of a right to be there.  

As a white Christian male in American society, I have a hard time even imagining what it is like to be hated for the way I look, or where I'm from or what people perceive me to believe.   I did have one small experience, however, that shed some light on what it must feel like to be treated as an outsider.   

I was traveling through Malawi as a World Service Corps volunteer during the summer of my junior year in college.  Throughout these two months, I was well aware that I was a visitor in this small African nation.  The food was different, the language was different.  At 6 feet tall, I towered over most people and my skin color was out of place in every village I visited.  They even had a word to describe foreign white people like me - Mzungu.  I’d hear the word Mzungu shouted by children wherever I went.   Still, for the most part I felt welcomed by the people I met.    

However, there was one day when my experience was much different.   We had just finished visiting a Community of Christ congregation in the town of Dwangwa and were going to the bus depot to try to find a ride back to the town of Mzimba where I spent most of my time.   Bus depots in Malawi were always quite the site to behold.  The mini-buses we rode were called Mutatos.  I call them mini-buses but the mutatos were really converted minivans with 4 rows of seats in the back that could carry between 12 and 16 people at a time depending on how many people wanted to go somewhere.  At the depot they were lined up in a row, with horns beeping trying to get our attention.   The driver's assistants were standing outside of the vans yelling out the names of the town where they were going, trying to entice people to ride on their particular mutato.   Lilongwe, lilongwe lilongwe! or Mzuzu, Mzuzu, Mzuzu they would shout as if saying the name of the town over and over again would suddenly convince you that this was a place you wanted to go visit.     

My Malawian travel buddies and I were working our way through the chaos. We passed by very friendly vendors who were trying to sell us pretty much anything we could think of.  Through the din of horns and voices we were listening for the familiar Mzimba, Mzimba, Mzimba chant.  Then I noticed a young man walking towards me.  His eyes stared directly into mine as we passed.  When I was close enough to hear him speak he said, "Hey Mzungu, get out of our country, you don't belong here, you American people have ruined our lives.  Get out of here."  I held his gaze for a moment before I looked away. 

I didn't know what to say or how to respond.    I remember not being sure how to feel as we found the Mzimba bus and headed on our way.  I remember feeling afraid as he was talking to me, I remember feeling that maybe he's right, maybe I shouldn't be there, I remember thinking about all the awful things done by European and American colonialists over the years and that maybe my very presence was just perpetuating that unjust relationship.   But most of all, I felt ashamed of who I was. . . At the same time, I felt this strong desire to be heard . . .to say to him, I'm not who you think I am.  I'm not like people that have come before me who have exploited the resources of your country.  I'm not who you think that I am.   But I didn't get the chance.  It was truly a helpless feeling.  

And I can't help but think about how helpless many people in our country are feeling right now. Folks who are desperate for people to understand them for who they are.    As I've spent time reflecting on these issues, I've had a hard time finding hope in this time of increasing division, separation and misunderstanding.    

But when I read today's scripture, I do find hope.   You see Jesus chose a different path and he models a much better way to respond to people that are different.     Here he was, a stranger visiting a land full of people different from him, a people whom many felt threatened the Jewish way of life.  He could have easily ignored this woman and would have been supported by his culture to do so.  Yet, he chose to see through the cultural and religious differences created by his community.  He chose to see this woman for whom she was, a person standing in front of him - a woman who helped him get something to drink and wanted to engage him in a conversation.  

And how exactly did Jesus respond to this situation?  Several commentators highlight the fact that Jesus engaged this woman as a worthy conversation partner.   These two people had a theological discussion where both challenged each other and asked questions, both listened to each other, and both grew from the experience.   In the Jewish tradition, questioning another person’s point of view as Jesus did with this woman, demonstrates that Jesus thought she had value.  In his book "A Rabbi talks with Jesus," Jacob Neusner  talks about how a rabbi dialoguing and arguing with others is a sign of respect.  He says, “[asking hard questions] is my form of respect, the only compliment I crave from others, the only serious tribute I pay to the people I take seriously -- and therefore I respect and love." 

The disciples would see this dialogue as they returned and their "astonishment" at this radical interaction reaffirms their cultural norms and feelings towards the Samaritans.  There was a big discussion in the early church about whether or not to have the Christian movement go beyond the Jewish people and this conversation with the Samaritan woman shows how much Jesus was willing to break down those barriers.   That the Samaritans were worthy of following Christ was further reinforced in Acts chapter 8 when Philip was sent to Samaria to share the word of the gospel and the Holy Spirit was shared with the Samaritan people.   

So we must take from this story a call to expand our community.   As the New Testament scholar Osvaldo D Vena writes about this scripture "Jesus left us with a crucial lesson to be learned: community can only be built when we are not afraid of overcoming old prejudices and are willing to break the social conventions that dehumanize us.  The living water that Jesus promised the woman, symbolized in the water that Moses made come out of the rock in Exodus 17, is God’s purifying water, the Holy Spirit (7:37-39), which can purify our hearts of old hatreds and hostilities and form us into a diverse people of God on earth."

But how on earth do we do that?  How do we go against the cultural pressures and norms that push us to want to only be around people that are like us, that make us feel comfortable?  How do we overcome the fear of other?  How do we follow the spirit’s gentle nudge to overcome these engrained barriers?  As I've thought about these questions, I keep coming back to the spiritual practice of deep listening, or mindful listening, or what some call holy listening.  Deep listening involves being fully present with someone and trying to understand their perspective.   Mindfulness guru Thich Nath Hanh says that when you are truly engaged in the practice of deep listening you begin to understand another person's suffering.

When I look around there's not much deep listening going on these days.  We have become constantly distracted by our phones, our busy schedules and are lost in our own thoughts and ideas.  Karyn calls me out on this all the time at home.  Oftentimes, when Grayson or Brooks or Karyn has something really important to say, all I respond with is uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.  Clearly I am distracted and not listening.  I’m guessing many of you been there too.  

But besides our increasing distractions, in the past few months it seems that many of us are choosing to avoid hearing perspectives from other people who are different from us.      Mindful listening, where you are truly present with a person, shows that you value this person as an equal.  Jesus did this with the woman at the well and on many other occasions.   In fact I think most of the healing power that he had came from his ability to listen and understand another person's suffering.  As a doctor, I know that I often provide much more healing through listening and being present with another person’s suffering then I could ever provide with fancy medication and procedures.    

If we are going to expand our communities as we are called to do, the first step is to identify the stranger among you.  Who in your life is feeling marginalized, who is thirsty for someone to understand them and their perspective or to understand their suffering.   At Grayson's elementary school, they have a bench.  This bench is where kids go when they are feeling alone or left out.  Then the other students have been taught to notice when one of their classmates is at the bench and to go up that child and ask them to come play.   What a wonderful lesson for these kids!  They are being taught to seek out the excluded or marginalized and invite them to be included.  Now it's not as easy in our adult world to identify people that are feeling left out, but I bet that if we open our eyes and are paying attention we will be presented with many opportunities to share the living water of Jesus in the form of deep listening.  

And when you are presented the opportunity to engage in mindful listening, spend time focusing on listening to understand that person.   Avoid the temptation to formulate your response right away.   As one of my palliative care mentors often says, put on your curiosity cap and ask more questions to get a greater understanding.  

Listening with intention is not easy and it can sometimes be exhausting, but it is vital to human relationship and it is vital to creating peace.  As one of my personal heroes Mr. Rogers once said "Listening is a very active awareness of the coming together of at least two lives. Listening, as far as I'm concerned, is certainly a prerequisite of love. One of the most essential ways of saying 'I love you' is being a receptive listener."
In doctrine and covenants Section 163 verse 3c and 4a we are reminded
c. There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.
4 a. God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

As you sit here now, I want you to think about who in your life is thirsting to be heard?  Who in your life feels on the margins and needs someone to connect with them on a deeper level?  Who is the stranger that can open your eyes to new ways of seeing?  Who in your life needs you to understand their suffering?  We have an opportunity to broaden our community everyday.   As we think about our own spiritual practices, I challenge each of us to practice mindful listening.  In that spirit of love we can follow Jesus' example at the well and break down barriers between us so that we can all drink from the living water of God's love.   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Training day 3

We had a busy final day of training with lots of information to share and celebrations to be had. 

We began the day by meeting three students who had passed their 7th grade exams which allowed them to go on to secondary school. These kids had worked very hard.  Unfortunately they all three had lost both their parents to AIDS. They would not be able to afford the fees to go to secondary school.  Fortunately HealthEd Connect has a fund that helps orphans and vulnerable children who do well in our school go on to secondary school.  The students were so excited to hear this.  They have dreams of being lawyers, doctors, and accountants.  Being orphaned has left them with little help from their families. Now they can continue to pursue their dreams. 

The 3rd day of training began with the groups identifying health care professionals in their community with whom they could share the information they learned. The hope is that they can partner with the professionals in the clinics in educating the people.  We did a few role plays to bring the point home. 

The first was with Sherri demonstrating what not to do. I played the role of the doctor in the community and there was much laughter at the two of us as actors. I then enlisted two actors from the crowd to share the info with me who again played the doctor.   I was very impressed with how much they learned. Given the noise of multiple translations and discussions at each table I wasn't sure how much was learned. Clearly the message came across. 

The next session allowed the groups to share what they do in each of their communities. This gave each group a chance to learn about all the possibile activities that the health workers could engage in. 

The first group was from the Congo. These women are traditional birth attendants who work tirelessly to deliver babies in their villages.  Here's a couple of them demonstrating a birth with lots of laughter by all. 
The Malawian women weigh babies and teach the mothers about health issues. Here they are trying to teach family planning to a pregnant woman with a baby on her back and another in her arms. It's nice to see that all health care workers can laugh about the work they do. 
The next group from Zambia demonstrated a home visit on a woman dying from AIDS. I'll blog more about this in another entry. 
This Zambian group demonstrated the child support specialist group that helps orphans work through their grief that comes from losing both parents. 
The final group was from Zamtan where we have just started our third school building. The health workers demonstrated digging the foundation for the school.  To help with the costs of the school 53 volunteers took a day to dig the foundation. Education and health are so interwoven that all of the health workers were there to help dig the foundation. 
To end our training day, each person received an official certificate indicating that they passed. It was a true celebration with singing and dancing. 

We even had time to celebrate Jac's birthday. That's quite the knife he's holding!

The training is over. It was three long days but I'm impressed with how much was learned by women who have had limited formal education.  I probably learned just as much. I hope this information will be helpful as they return to their communities. 

Visit to our new school at Zamtan!

Up until this time, we have most of our time with the health workers.  However, a big part of HealthEd Connects work is with community schools and supporting orphans and vulnerable children. 
Zamtan is our newest school and the students currently meet in this temporary structure and in the church nearby. 

Here is the new school building. Much more sturdy and water proof!
Seeing the two schools next to each other emphasizes the upgrade that the new school building brings. 
There have been some delays due to a cement shortage among other things. Here the men are working hard to prepare the floor. You can feel the sense of pride and excitement that comes with this new school building. 
Every student gets fed a lunch while at school. Here the kids line up for their food. 
Many of our students come from families where there is not much food to eat. The meal that our volunteer cooks prepare ensures that they have at least some nutrition when they come to school. 
I loved seeing them gathered together eating. 
Here's the whole group eating on the porch of the new school. 
Rotary recently contributed a burrhole which makes getting water for the porridge much easier. This woman has her daughter on her back while she pumps water for the kids. 

The students in their classroom. They performed a few songs for us while we were there. 

I'll end with this girl who had a great smile and the most adorable hairdo. These students are why we support the building of these schools. 

Home visits and palliative care

Our last meeting of the day was with our Kafwe health workers to discuss their home visiting program.   They visit people in their homes who do not have the family resources and support. Their patients mostly have HIV and TB and they work to support them as they seek treatment through antiretroviral therapy for HIV or antibiotic therapy for TB.  

Most of their patients have very little support and when they are sick there is no one to earn money to provide for their children.  Many of the patients eventually succumb to their illness and die.  These women are providing palliative care to many of the patients they treat.  As a physician trained in palliative medicine I wanted to see if there is something I could teach these health workers as they care for their patients.  

When I treat folks in America that have a terminal illness my team often asks the patient two questions. First, as you look to the future, what are you hoping for?  This question is often posed after a discussion around the seriousness of the patient's illness and many times patients have specific things they hope for like to be able to attend a grandchild's wedding or to be free from pain or to have their financial affairs in order.  The second question is what are you worried about?  These two questions help us to understand the patient's hopes and fears and we can hopefully begin to tailor our care and support to meet the patient's goals and needs. 

Our health workers have been using these questions over the past year.  What they discovered is that their patients are most worried about what happens to their family if they were to die and they worry about the cost of the funeral.  The patients they see have so little resources that all they worry about is how their family will survive without them. Their basic needs are not being met so that is all they can think about.  I asked if they could make plans for the future including who can watch their kids when they are gone.  Like our own culture, most Zambians do not like to talk about their death or to make plans for after they're gone.  Unlike our culture, however,  I was told by this group that their traditional beliefs make it even harder for they fear that if they make plans for after their death(like who will watch the children after they are gone), they will die shortly afterwards. They also mentioned that there is nothing to plan for given that they have nothing to give anyone when they die. 

I've learned enough about death and dying to know that it is an extremely cultural experience and it is not my role to  pretend to know I understand this culture. I did discover that these women are providing true palliative care to the patients they care for. They provide physical support by cleaning the patients that are unable to do so and to help them find some food. More importantly they support these patients emotionally and spiritually by caring for them, listening to them and praying with them. They also can help provide transport to the hospital when needed. 

You can imagine the emotional toll this can take on a health worker. Their patients need so much and they are only able to offer a little aspirin and their physical presence most of the time.  Given the emotional toll, we've been working with them to make sure they have good self care and support one another as much as possible.   One practice they have begun doing is a rememberence service where they list the names of the patients who have died over the past year.  We do this in palliative care often and it gives us health providers a chance to remember and honor those we have cared for and grieve their loss. 

At the end of this session I had an opportunity to make my own homevisit to a community member who was asking the Kafwe for help.  I had some trepidation going to the house knowing that I had very limited resources at my disposal and unsure of what I would find. 

The young man we were seeing let me into his mud brick home.  He had injured his back lifting cement blocks for his job. Through help of translation, I learned that he had pain shooting down his leg.  I also learned that when he had similar pain last month he went to the clinic and they took X-rays of his hip which I reviewed through his window. I performed an exam and diagnosed him with lumbar radiculopathy.  We gave him some aspirin ( the only NSAID we had) and I gave him precautions and showed him bending at the knees not the waist when lifting heavy blocks.  
It was not the emaciated AIDS patient I was expecting, however, his problem could be very serious and potentially threaten the life of his family and himself. If his injury persists, he could lose his job and be unable to provide for his family with three small children. I felt totally inadequate to deal with the depth of his problem and continue to be in awe of the health workers we work with.  I am so proud to be able to work with them. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Training Day Two

The important part of the training occurred this second day. Much information was shared with each other and you could tell that these women were thirsty for knowledge. 
In the morning everyone started with tea and bread. The women all ate in the cookshack which normally is used to feed the students. 

We peaked into a few of the classrooms to see what the students were doing. Unfortunately we Americans stuck out like a sore thumb and were a bit of a distraction as soon as they noticed us. 
This little boy had to wait around while his older brothers and sisters enrolled in school. He's too young to go now but will hopefully be in school in a year or two. 
The fifth grade greeted us with waves and smiles.  
There was much singing and dancing as we opened our second day. I will post some of the videos when I return to the states. 
Here Idah is sharing some of her experiences with the group.  I met Idah in 2000 when I went to Malawi. Her son Prince and I became good friends. I learned on this trip that he named his first born son after me. He may be the only Jeffo in the country. 
At lunch time we met the girls who are just starting 7th grade. They are all part of the GAP (girls achievement program) which encourages girls to stay in school. Unfortunately, girls receive many pressures to stop going to school and we know that educated and supported girls and women improve the whole community much more than the boys and men. 
Our friends from the Congo made it to the second day. Travel in and out of the Congo can be very difficult. These women and their colleagues back home delivered close to 1400 babies last year. 
The women practiced through role plays. This group was showing how they could educate their communities about Ebola. 
We've walked several days to and from the center. This was the first day it didn't rain. 

More to share tomorrow. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Spread the Word Not the Disease: Ebola Facts and Fiction

We just finished a great day of training. There was much laughter and singing and sharing of information.  We divided in our various location groups for ease of translating and to have participants share in small group discussions. Here is the Malawi delegation at their table.

We spent time discussing what each of their communities were saying about Ebola.  
It was fascinating to hear the various reactions in the different communities.  There was a lot of fear expressed by many in their communities especially during the past few months when there was a neighboring out break in the Congo.  I learned that there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about the disease ( not very different from the hysteria in the US in October) and how important accurate information can be. We then had the health workers act out their village's perception of Ebola.
This woman has passed out and everyone is worried she has Ebola. The plays were hilarious and have a good sense of the rumors that were around. The plays also cut across language barriers.  I will write a separate blog containing more insight into Ebola but I think this is a very important topic for these health workers. 

As you can imagine feeding 30 people is no small task. Fortunately our community center is equipped for the task and some of the volunteers cooked for us. Here us the cook shack.
Inside the cook shack the yummy food was being cooked. 
We had fish for lunch. 
A lot of charcoal was needed to support the group for the week. 
And here was the finished project. 
I had the uneviable task of teaching after lunch. I taught them the funky chicken to shake off the post lunch sleepies. Fortunately, there are no pictures to share!

Overall it was a really good and productive day. I look forward to another full day tomorrow. 


I've had varying thoughts and opinions on the issue of Ebola over the course of the past several months. When I heard that HealthEd Connect was going to be facilitating a training, my first thought was    to question why we should spend all this time and resources to train on Ebola. With the so many dying from AIDS, malaria and dysentery, what would be the use in discussing a disease that is not even in the communities where are health workers live?  Currently their risk of contracting Ebola is zero so why do we need to educate them on this topic?  

After traveling around Africa the past week and listening to officials from the Zambian government as well as our local health workers, I have been made keenly aware of why we should be doing this training.  

First, Ebola is a scary disease. It's death rate is very high for a contagious disease and when people die from Ebola, they are isolated, scared and their loved ones cannot comfort them for fear of contracting the virus as well.  

When anything is scary we as humans tend to overreact and the fear builds. I remember the level of fear created by the media in the US a few months ago and the irrational responses many communities and governments made due to fear.  Their reactions were not based on rational science, rather made due to irrational fear. 

The same is true in Zambia, a country that borders the Congo which had a limited and under publicized outbreak a few months back.  Given the proximity to an affected country, there were many rumors and myths formulated about Ebola.  People were avoiding foreigners and others were worried that their fever meant they had it. There was even a story of one man entering a crowded market and shouting loudly that one of the other men in the market had Ebola which caused people to flee. When there is a scary threat there is a tendency to respond with fear.  

Second, Ebola is a serious illness and requires a serious response.  When the media exaggerates a situation, I tend to respond in the other direction. I downplay the seriousness of the so called crisis blaring from my TV.  I realize that there is no Ebola in the communities where HealthEd Connect works, But I'm  now also realizing that it still impacts these communities.  As the tragedy in West Africa is teaching us, if we don't take this disease seriously, the situation can spin out of control.  

Third, education is the key to responding in a serious, rational way. Without knowledge we make things up. When we have accurate information we can make an appropriate plan to respond.  By training our health workers in Ebola, they can work to dispel myths and rumors and if another outbreak occurs, they can help contain the disease before it spirals out of control. 

Last, trust is vital in dealing with this disease. We have the problem in West Africa because of lack of trust.  The people in these countries don't often trust their government officials or the hospitals near where they live. Likewise, the governments of West Africa were slow to ask for help likely due to lack of trust in the international community. Without trust there cannot be a coordinated response. 

Our health workers are very trusted by their communities.  By participating in this training they will gain further trust on a relevant topic that has been lacking in accurate information. This allows them to gain more support and trust to work on the issues currently facing their community.  I guess this Ebola training is important afterall.