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Nixa Native and Peace Corps Trainee Back Home For Now Amid Africa Ebola Outbreak

Mary Kerr

A southwest Missouri citizen is hoping for a quick return to Sierra Leone where she had been training with the Peace Corps to teach English there. But the Ebola outbreak forced her and other volunteers to evacuate the country last week.

Mary Kerr was just six weeks into her training before she had to return home. The 26-year Nixa native was stationed in the Bombali District in northern Sierra Leone, and was to soon start teaching at a secondary school in a village of about 700 people.

Even in late July, as the outbreak worsened, Kerr said Peace Corps officials were moving forward as planned.

“We thought we were on track to teach. We still had a month of training and we were on schedule,” Kerr said.

But just last Wednesday it was determined an evacuation was necessary.

“Two days later we were in the air that following Friday. It was quick.”

The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola outbreak that is primarily concentrated in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia as an international public health emergency. As of Friday afternoon, some 1,700 cases had been reported, resulting in more than 930 deaths.

Kerr wasn’t sure if any Ebola cases had been confirmed in the area she was staying, but did say there were suspected cases. Kerr says she was never concerned for her own safety while in the West African country, but it was difficult to leave the people she knew behind.

“It’s a different world in Sierra Leone, it’s hard to adapt to that lifestyle. But it was rough to leave everyone – leave our host families and the staff stayed behind as well.”

She notes that host families were taking the proper precautions in preventing infection, and Peace Corps leaders worked closely to education those families on the virus. 

As officials in Africa work to contain the spread of Ebola, Kerr says she and her fellow trainees remain on administrative hold pending an improvement in the situation.

“We’re basically in limbo. We don’t know exactly if we’ll be going back. They bought us roundtrip tickets, so they intend for us to go back, but we’re not sure if we wil.”

Kerr says she’s hoping that if she and other Peace Corps staff cannot return to Sierra Leone, she’ll be able to travel to a different country where she can teach.