A coalition of Rutgers students, faculty, alumni and New Brunswick community members braved the inclement weather on Saturday, October 11th to make the G.O.Y.A Project’s 2014 “Walk for Literacy and Health” a success by drawing attention to several key policy issues: from the need for early intervention to expose children to literacy materials to the role of education in rebuilding societies after natural disasters (such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti) and how literacy and health go hand in hand (as per the struggle to control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa).
The walk was staged between the Rutgers Douglass Campus to the College Avenue Campus passing through the heart of the city of New Brunswick.
Before the start of the walk, however, as organizers gathered mid-morning, preparing to start everyone walking by mid-day, earlier bad weather looked as if it would continue the rains which persisted through much of the previous night. But a refreshing breeze came through around 11 a.m. and the trickle of walkers increased.
“We really wondered if our motto of ‘rain or shine’ would do us in, but by 11 a.m. in just half an hour we distributed about 70+ t-shirts, especially as several organizations came out with teams,” said Jenelle Ramdeen, a member of the coordinating committee.
While this year’s walk continued to support literacy programs within the city of New Brunswick and a continued outreach to aid children in the island of Haiti, a special health focus was highlighted via the “Stop Ebola” campaign.
The speaker on the health issue was Dr. Mafudia Suaray, who grew up in Sierra Leone, West Africa. She started her college education at the country’s only medical school in the shadows of Sierra Leone’s brutal 11 year civil war. Under threat of their lives, her family was forced to flee Sierra Leone in 1997. Nearly two decades later she now specializes in Family Medicine and Community Health and works as an Instructor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
While on a visit to Sierra Leone earlier in 2014, at the start of the Ebola outbreak there, she became deeply concerned about the monumental challenges the country and entire region faced and was spurred to action to raise awareness about the crisis. Since then, she has been actively involved in raising awareness about the crisis, advocating for effective prevention and containment efforts, and supporting fundraising efforts to send medical supplies and humanitarian aid to the West African region. She has made media appearances in the NY-NJ area, participated in Health talk shows on Sierra Leone radio stations, and published Ebola educational information in local news media.
Dr. Suaray stressed that the Ebola epidemic has to be handled thoughtfully and proactively. “When Doctors Without Borders first asked for help in early 2014, containment would probably have cost in the the many millions. However, the warning largely escaped the attention of everyone. Now that infections have spread to outside the region we are talking of potentially billions in containment cost,” she told the walkers.
As to the fact that there have several cases now reported within the USA she noted, ” We must remember that this particular disease is not particularly contagious. It’s not airborne. The only way you can contract the disease is through contact with bodily fluids from someone showing symptoms so, even if we get a number of cases in the United States, the likelihood of them spreading would be extremely limited.”
“But what about its rapid spread in West Africa? Because the nations in which it’s spreading have recent histories that led to them having a strong health care infrastructure to help isolate the virus’ carriers,” she said.
She concluded by noting that the focus on Ebola in West Africa is warranted. It’s a humanitarian disaster that requires action to stop the spread of the disease but the world’s response must also think about helping to fix the wider infrastructure weaknesses that have assisted in the widening spread of the epidemic. “That’s were individuals and organizations like those participating in this year’s Walk for Literacy and Health will be crucial.”
In drawing attention to the need for a wider health response context Dr. Suaray referenced a report by disease researchers Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust, and Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. These researchers said in an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine in September, “West Africa will see much more suffering and many more deaths during childbirth and from malaria, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, enteric and respiratory illnesses, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental health during and after the Ebola epidemic.”
The walk passed through the city of New Brunswick and concluded at the Rutgers University Center for Latino Arts and Culture where an end of walk rally and Bar-B-Que was entertained by student performing groups.
After the formal walk portion of the day, the G.O.Y.A. Project hosted a community fair for the enjoyment of members of both the campus and New Brunswick community.
The most popular attractions included the “dunk tank” and the DJ led dace practice sessions. However, performances by Rutgers’ Deep Treble and OrphanSporks galvanized the audience.
By 4:30 pm the long but successful day was finally wrapped up by the wrap-up committee!
We also wish to especially thank the members of the Pan-African Movement class in the Department of Africana Studies for their logistical support in making this year’s event a success!