Peace Corps volunteer Kathleen Conery, who is awaiting her evacuation from Guinea on Sunday, is not afraid of the deadly Ebola virus that's spreading in West Africa.
The 23-year-old Eugene native learned all about Ebola as a middle schooler in the University of Oregon's summer enrichment program for gifted students, said her mother, Leslie Conery.
She even got a stuffed Ebola virus, the way other youngsters have teddy bears.
After Kathleen arrived in West Africa less than a year ago, she didn't worry about the virus because always before it had been rapidly contained, Leslie Conery said.
"In fact, when all these Peace Corps parents were saying 'Oh, bring our kids home,' my daughter was saying, 'I wish the parents would back off,'" Leslie Conery said.
But on Wednesday, Kathleen Conery, who was pulling weeds with her host mother in Mombeya in central Guinea, got a call: The Peace Corps was scheduling an evacuation for its 340 volunteers in Guinea as well as Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The virus is spreading faster than medical workers can control it, according to the World Health Organization. Ebola kills roughly two-thirds of the people who contract it. In the current outbreak, 729 people have died so far.
The outbreak serves to illustrate how small the world is and how many ties bind Eugene to West African countries such as Senegal, Guinea, Liberia Sierra Leone and Ghana.
The University of Oregon ranks eighth in the nation for the number of Peace Corps volunteers it produces, with 63 alumni serving currently and a total of 1,194 historically, according to 2014 agency figures.
That compares to University of California Berkeley with 66 volunteers currently serving, University of Colorado Boulder with 63 and the University of Minnesota with 57 -- all significantly bigger schools.
There also are various people-to-people ties between Eugene and Africa. UO journalism professor Leslie Steeves has taken up to 15 students for a six-week study abroad program in Ghana each year.
And the Eugene-based Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology, or CREATE, works in nine villages in Senegal. The nonprofit organization helps villagers hand dig wells and install solar powered water pumps to make irrigated, year-round vegetable gardens and to build doubly efficient wood cook stoves out of native materials.
CREATE Chief Operating Officer Louise Ruhr spends a month three times a year in Senegal.
Ruhr said she can see why many Peace Corps volunteers, such as Kathleen Conery, are reluctant to leave their host villages.
"It's your community, it's your family," she said. "Why are you privileged to leave -- and leave them behind -- when you could actually do some good by making sure that people are understanding and following all the guidelines for how to take care of yourself and avoid infection?"
Other Eugene-to-West Africa connections: the Eugene-based Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, which works with attorneys in 70 countries, helped found Green Advocates, Liberia's first public interest environmental law organization.
Several Liberian attorneys have traveled to Eugene for ELAW Fellowships, spokeswoman Maggie Keenan said.
The Eugene-based West African Cultural Arts Institute showcases Guinean djembe drumming and dance with classes and performances at the WOW Hall. On the flip side, the organization sponsors charitable projects in Guinea.
It's no surprise there's so many connections, Leslie Conery said.
"(West Africa) is an area with a lot of need and Eugene is a caring community, so there a lot of people working in different areas in West Africa."
Leslie's daughter, Kathleen, announced that she would join the Peace Corps when she was in middle school.
She graduated with an international baccalaureate from South Eugene High School in 2009.
As soon as she graduated from the University of Washington last year, she joined the Peace Corps.
She arrived in the Guinean capital city of Conakry last November for three months training, and then moved to her host village, Mombeya, in January.
Kathleen Conery was assigned to be a health volunteer, meaning she would promote maternal and child health, basic hygiene and water sanitation. When the Ebola outbreak began in the spring, the Peace Corps volunteers redoubled their sanitation education.
The village has no electricity or running water, Leslie Conery said.
"Sanitation is a significant problem. People don't wash their hands after using the rest room," she said. "It's a hard sell."
Kathleen Conery has a common language with only a few in her village, French, and she is trying to learn the native language called Pular.
"It was taking quite a while for her to break into the community structure," Leslie Conery said, and Kathleen was just beginning to make some headway.
The day the evacuation call came, was "one of the best days she had there -- because she was starting to be a part of the family structure," Leslie Conery said. "She was really sad."
On her Facebook page, Kathleen wrote: "Guinea, Mi Artay! Mi Artay! Ndikki seeda," which in Pular means something along the lines of: "Guinea, I'm coming back! Get well or be well."
"The Peace Corps is buying them round trip tickets. They've been told that they're going back," Leslie Conery said. "Her intention is to come back here, study, work on her French and her Pular and be ready to be redeployed."
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