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Ebola Aid Volunteer Says She's Aware Of Risks, But Work Is Important

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The Ebola epidemic has hit the West African nation of Liberia the hardest. Aid groups are on the ground there, trying to slow the spread of the disease, but new cases show up every day. NPR's Sami Yenigun reports from northern Liberia.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: The Doctors Without Borders tent village in Foya in northern Lofa County is a tightly run ship. Chlorine buckets sit at the entrances of orange plastic gates. Medical workers and other staff wear blue scrubs and masks in pop-up tents. And one of these, a woman with tight, white curls is planning her work week, deep in concentration.

KIM FEDERICI: I'm Kim Federici and I'm the health promoter here at the Ebola treatment center.

YENIGUN: At 72 years old, Federici is the rare foreign grandmother working in Foya. Her first mission with Doctors Without Borders was in 2005. Before that, she had been a nurse in Texas and New Jersey for 30 years. She says, she's aware of the risks, but they're doing an important job - helping get the message out about Ebola.

FEDERICI: This is a very serious disease, but it's so simple to manage. It's basically got five or six rules about hand-washing, observation of symptoms and the rest of it. And doing those provide the safety, so that's the body of our message.

YENIGUN: In teams of two, Federici and her colleagues go into villages all over Lofa County and do what she calls sensitization - an initial attempt at speaking to community leaders and others to raise awareness about Ebola. It's not always easy, she says.

FEDERICI: We've had places where we've had pockets of denial, where it's like, go away. We have no disease.

YENIGUN: And when this happened, says Federici, we go away.

FEDERICI: We never go in without permission. We never go in without the support of the community. If the community begins to even represent tension, we back off.

YENIGUN: But the number of Ebola cases and deaths in Lofa County has skyrocketed in recent months. Federici says, communities that have seen this virus wreak havoc on their people have returned to ask for help.

FEDERICI: The desperation that you feel when you've lost an entire family motivates you, so then they will come to us and welcome us to come back.

YENIGUN: This is what happened in Barkedu. Initially, apparently in denial, the community didn't want health workers to come in. But the town chief, Musa Sessay, says, they lost over 120 people to Ebola, so they called for help.

MUSA SESSAY: For now, everybody's saying, Ebola is real. And people are taking the precaution every day.

YENIGUN: And the hope is that once larger communities like Barkedu start working with Doctors Without Borders, smaller villages will follow suit, says Kim Federici. She considers this trip to Liberia the zenith of her career.

FEDERICI: It's just an honor to be part of the work. This sense of what we're doing is just palpable.

YENIGUN: Also palpable, says Federici, is the sense that Doctors Without Borders needs much more help on the front lines of this fight. Sami Yenigun, NPR News, Voinjama. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.