Five Eastern Mennonite Missions workers and their families returned to the United States Sept. 4 as a safety precaution after the first confirmed case of Ebola in Senegal.
Beryl Forrester was volunteering in Senegal. Michael and Karen Baker and their five children and Dave and Delores Shirk were based in Guinea-Bissau.
“We were sorry to leave and we pray for the safety and well being for all those affected by us returning to the states,” Dave and Delores Shirk wrote in an email.
While there had not been an official report of Ebola cases in Guinea-Bissau, according to a report from EMM’s crisis assessment team, “the context there is such that it is difficult to know who has been exposed to Ebola and could be a possible carrier.”
The crisis team made the decision to return the 10 individuals after consulting with local leaders and EMM administration. Local leaders affirmed the decision.
EMM’s Guinea-Bissau team was running a clinic in Catel, where people from other villages were likely to seek help for Ebola.
“However, the clinic is not capable of treating Ebola, which could cause people to travel there in vain, and further risk the spread of Ebola to that village,” the report said. “Only hospitals can effectively treat Ebola.”
Sherri Ober, the crisis assessment team leader, said the government encouraged closing such clinics in Guinea-Bissau and bordering countries as a preventative measure.
The team will continue to evaluate if and when return might be possible, Ober said.
“We are in the process of building a criteria that must be met before our workers are released to return,” she said. “We are conferring with other mission agencies and relief organizations in building the criteria. We have scheduled a time in December to evaluate what the steps forward will look like in the new year.”
Until then, the Baker family has returned to their home community of Milton, Pa. Forrester and the Shirks are staying in New Holland, Pa., near their home communities.
Ober said EMM hopes to re-engage in the work in Catel begun over the past several years.
“Deep friendships have been made, and the desire is strong in the hearts of the EMM workers to return to their friends in Guinea-Bissau and Senegal,” she said.