Richard Wilson is back in the U.S., but his heart is in Liberia.
The Mercer University professor spoke to The Telegraph by phone from Chicago on Saturday, after two days of trying to get back home from the Ebola-stricken country. He had hoped to be home Friday night but weather in Atlanta stranded him in Chicago. The airline put him in a hotel and he got his first sleep in a bed in 40 hours.
He expected to be back in Macon sometime Saturday night.
Wilson is president of Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, which has a boarding school. Wilson took the job in January with hopes of rejuvenating the school.
Never miss a local story.
He reluctantly left as the Ebola crisis became too much of a threat to stay.
“This is hard for me,” he said, fighting back tears. “There’s so much that needs to be done and I want to be there. But I’ve got to come home.”
Getting out of the country wasn’t easy, and at one point he wondered if he would even be able to leave. He was supposed to fly out on British Airways on Thursday, but it canceled its flights due to the outbreak. His travel agent was able to get him on a one-way flight from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, to Ghana, and then a flight to Germany.
“It was pretty tense at the airport in Monrovia,” he said. “There were a lot of people that were eager to get gone.”
He was put in a holding room in Ghana where they took his temperature and asked him questions that included whether he had touched a dead body or had any contact with sick monkeys. The Germans didn’t show any concern about the incoming passengers, he said.
Wilson said there would not be an Ebola problem in Liberia if it weren’t for false rumors and conspiracy theories.
“The most devastating part of this crisis is misinformation and fear,” he said. “If someone gets ill with the Ebola virus, their family hides them because they are afraid the Western medical workers are going to kill them.”
When people die from the virus, the families drag the bodies into the street and leave them because of fears of being quarantined. Wilson said he left the compound only twice in his last 10 days there, and did not see dead bodies or anyone with signs of the disease.
Most troubling to Wilson is that even before the crisis, life in Liberia was a daily struggle for survival. The country is one of the poorest in the world, and rated second on an index of most miserable places to live. It has no electricity, other than from generators.
Even at the seminary, living conditions are so bad that Wilson can’t even bring himself to charge the boarding students for staying there.
“I told them if they can find a dry place to sleep, they can stay there for free,” he said.
Unemployment before the crisis was 85 percent, and 90 percent of Liberians live on a $1 per day. He cited one example of how people might make that dollar.
“People buy a jar of mayonnaise and they divide the mayonnaise into tablespoons and they sell a tablespoon of mayonnaise on the street,” he said. “But they are not going to be able to do that. ... My fear is that within six weeks, the hunger crisis is going to be worse in Liberia than the Ebola crisis. If you go to work, you are exposed to Ebola. If you stay home, you are hungry.”
With the Ebola crisis, Wilson is fearful of what will happen to his friends and students even if they avoid the disease. With the seminary shut down due to Ebola, he had to suspend half of his staff.
Between faculty, students and staff, Wilson said about 100 people live at the seminary. He is concerned about them getting food during the crises, and has set up a fund to try to help them.
He hopes to raise $1,000 a month to get food to residents of the seminary. It takes only 33 cents a day to feed each person a subsistence diet of rice and beans. He has established a fund called “Care For 100.” Donations can be sent to Lamberth Memorial Baptist Church, 1026 Long’s Store Road, Roxboro, North Carolina, 27574. Add a note that it is for Care For 100.
Although named for those in need at his school, Wilson said there are six Baptist schools in Liberia and the funds will go to all six of those schools.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.