24 Hours With

An Ebola Worker



Ever since the Ebola epidemic erupted in her hometown of Foya, Liberia, earlier this year, Deboriah Foko has been working on the front lines to battle against this deadly virus.

Each morning the single mother leaves her 5-year-old daughter, Success, with a neighbor and heads to work for Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as an Ebola awareness health promoter.

Despite a disability that makes it difficult for her to walk, the 21-year-old travels to different communities to talk about Ebola and answer questions from locals.

Here are the journal entries from a day in her life:

4:00 AM

Because I know we have to cover a long distance to reach the community we will visit today, I wake up by 4 a.m. I have a five-year-old daughter, so before work I bathe and dress her and prepare her breakfast — fried plantain with gravy. I don’t want her to be hungry.

7:00 AM

I leave my house and ride on the back of a motorbike to work. I have some difficulties walking long distances because of my legs, so I have to pay every day to ride on a motorbike.

7:30 AM

I arrive at the health promotion office at the Ebola Management Center and sign in. I collect a report form for the visit we will make and then go to wait for the car.

8:20 AM

We head out toward Langbamba Bendu, a small town right next to the border with Sierra Leone. We are late leaving. I am concerned because it is a three-hour drive, and the people are expecting us.

8:21 AM

The driver radios over to the MSF base, "leaving EMC for Langbamba Bendu. Five passengers on board. How well you copy?" He says he will make contact again in an hour. I am in the front seat.

9:00 AM

Not long after leaving Foya town the roads get much worse. They are all very muddy with some large dips and puddles.

10:00 AM

We pass by a field where some women are harvesting a crop. One of the women is an Ebola survivor and when she sees the Doctors Without Borders car she rushes from the field to wave and greet us on our way. It is so nice to see her looking fit and healthy and back working in her community.

10:30 AM

As we pass through many small villages out in the bush, the driver mentions to the European traveling with us that during the civil war many of these villages were completely deserted for over nine years.

11:00 AM

We arrive in the village where we will be doing our health promotion activities. We ask to speak to the town chief who is expecting us. He tells us to go to the town hall and invite the people to come and talk with us about Ebola.

11:15 AM

I start talking to the community members who have gathered. We have visited this town three times before because they had a big outbreak here in July and lost many people. It has since been contained, and there haven’t been new cases for more than 42 days.

I start by explaining to them what the Ebola Management Center is like, as not all of them have been there and they are curious about what happens inside. The community knows a lot about Ebola, though, and answers correctly lots of questions about what the virus is, how it is transmitted and what to do if they suspect someone has the virus.

11:30 AM

We have brought a band with us today and we have a short break for the boys to perform their Ebola awareness songs to the community. They sing songs about Ebola and stigma, encouraging people not to reject those that are cured when they return home.

12:00 PM

We go back inside the town hall. They have lots of questions: "What will MSF do if one of our relatives is sick in Sierra Leone?," "Will MSF build a new hospital after Ebola?" and "Have the white men found a treatment or a vaccine yet?"

I answer them as best I can: We will take any suspected patients who are in Lofa County; if someone is in Sierra Leone they should call the hotline and the MSF team in Sierra Leone will come for them; there are no treatments or vaccines, but trials have started, and there is hope that there will be something next year.

12:45 PM

We finish talking to the community, hand the town chief a set of fliers with our hotline number on it and say goodbye. They thank us for our visit and request for the band to play one more song.

12:50 PM

We have a quick stop for lunch: rice with soup and groundhog meat. We are very hungry, so we finish it all, before rushing to the cars. We don’t want to be late back.

1:00 PM

We get in the cars and head back to the Ebola Management Center. The journey is long and I am tired.

3:20 PM

We arrive back. I wash my hands in chlorine and have my temperature taken before I can pass through to the office.

3:25 PM

I have a small snack of some biscuits with my colleague who was on outreach with me before starting work.

3:40 PM

I start working on my report from the visit.

4:00 PM

I go to check the ‘suspect’ patient area where people suspected to have the virus await their test results, and then the ‘confirmed’ area, where people who have tested positively go, to see if any new patients have arrived. Fortunately there have been no admissions today.

5:00 PM

It is time to go home. I sign out at the office and find my workmate to go home on his motorbike.

5:30 PM

I get home and greet my daughter who runs out of the house when she hears me coming. My mother has come to visit with my baby niece and I am happy to see her.

My daughter brings me a bucket of water and clean clothes so that I can bathe before coming in the house. As I have been working I will not touch anyone until I have taken my bath. I do not want to put my daughter at any risk.

5:45 PM

I start playing with my daughter. I want her to be happy all the time so I play with her whenever I can. It is a shame for her at the moment, because the school is closed due to Ebola. My neighbor watches over her, but it would be better if she was going to school.

6:15 PM

I read with my daughter so that she will know how to read when the school reopens. It’s an ABC book. I teach her the days of the week, the months of the year and the two times table. She is good and can do all this.

6:30 PM

We go inside and I let her watch a DVD while I prepare the dinner.

7:15 PM

We eat some rice together before I start to settle my daughter to prepare her for bed.

8:00 PM

I put her to bed and sit and read on my own for a short while. I read the notes I have been given at work, so that I can revise the messages before we go out working again tomorrow.

8:30 PM

I go to bed early as usual, because I will need to be up again by 4 a.m. and I am very tired. We sleep in the same bed together.

Readers: What's it like to spend 24 hours in your shoes? Email blake.ellis@cnn.com for the chance to be profiled in an upcoming story.

Published on November 24, 2014