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Gary Shaye, 67, has spent nearly two-thirds of his life working for Save the Children in 80 countries trying to do what his organization’s title says.

For the last two years he has been senior director of humanitarian operations, which means that, among other duties, he is its chief fundraiser for emerging crises like Ebola.

So when the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh asked him to be its keynote speaker at a video conference the council was organizing for high school students to learn about the disease, he immediately said yes.

Tuesday, he told more than 600 local and international students taking part in the conference in person and via video that he wanted to explain to them the particular challenges that Ebola poses for even experienced nongovernmental organizations like Save the Children.

For example, he said, the way the disease spreads prevents people in the West African nations where the outbreak is ongoing from using handshakes, keeps farmers from planting in their fields and children from attending school, and generally disrupts the entire culture, making it even more difficult to solve the most basic problems.

It’s more difficult than, say, responding to a typhoon, he told the students because “In this crisis, we don’t know when it will end.”

Save the Children is trying to raise $130 million over the next three years to help families in affected African nations. Among its goals are to build 10 care centers to allow people to care for their loved ones closer to their homes; provide 21-day care packages with food, toys and and books for children to sustain them during the required quarantine period; and to track down relatives to take over the care of more than 4,000 children who were orphaned when their parents died from the disease.

During the short question-and-answer period with Mr. Shaye, Shanty Panza, 19, a senior at Hampton High School, asked if there were any nongovernmental organizations trying to provide ambulances in Monrovia, Liberia, to help transport Ebola patients, where, she read, there was just one ambulance operating in the capital city.

“It just seems crazy how it’s just one ambulance,” she said.

Mr. Shaye said there were efforts being made to address that issue, but, “it is a huge challenge because the infrastructure just isn’t there.”

“Even if there was the money for ambulances, my guess is there is not a big ambulance store in Liberia,” he told her.

In all, 21 schools participated in the video conference and another six schools in the region listened in.

Each school was given an assignment in advance to research how a nongovernmental organization, such as Save the Children, had responded to the Ebola outbreak. The students were then asked to explain the challenges and successes the organization had experienced, and its recommendations to help stem the crisis.

Amesh Adalja, a senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security and an expert on Ebola, moderated the event with the students, asking them questions as each school outlined its findings.

He, too, complimented the students at the end of the conference, telling them: “I think, by far, you have a better understanding [of the Ebola crisis] than a lot of the general public does, including some in the media.”

Thomas Kornish, 18, a senior and Hampton’s spokesman for his 24 fellow classmates who attended the conference, said one of the best parts of the morning was hearing from high school students from around the world — including Nigeria, Taiwan and Iran — who came up with solutions “similar to ours” to helping to solve the Ebola crisis.

“We’re a lot more similar than we’d like to think, even though we’re separated by thousands of miles,” he said.

Amiena Mahsoob, director of educational programs for the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, which put on the two-hour conference, challenged them to do something with the knowledge they gained through the conference.

“It's your job to now go out and spread the word about what you know about Ebola,” she said, “so that it doesn't continue to be a problem as you become adults.”


Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579

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