|This is the fifth blog in our Profiles in Courage series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight against Ebola. This series records the experiences of our Disaster Assistance Response Team staff on the front lines of the Ebola response – from the security officers, to public health experts, to information specialists – and offers their reflections on this historic health crisis.|
“There is no book on responding to this Ebola crisis… we’re writing it now,” says Bill Berger, Team Leader for the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in West Africa.
A seasoned disaster expert, Bill has responded to more than 30 large-scale emergencies across the globe and led several DARTs for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
But how exactly are Bill and his team fighting this unprecedented Ebola epidemic?
“Day by day, pushing at a maximum speed on all fronts,” he says, and with every ounce of compassion and disaster knowledge they have.
As the DART Team Leader, Bill strategizes alongside the local governments and U.S. Ambassadors in the affected countries, the United Nations and NGO partners on the ground to mount the most effective aid effort possible. With Ebola, there are many complex technical pieces that need to come together to help save lives.
“We know the basic things that need to happen, such as building treatment centers, training health care workers, providing testing capabilities and coordination — but we also have a real opportunity here to transfer that capacity and boost national health care systems in West Africa.”
The DART is working across the region in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – each a unique country with its own dynamic for responding to Ebola. While there are challenges of navigating unknown territory for this unprecedented crisis, Bill draws strength from having the opportunity to help those affected by this tragedy. He’s also inspired by his team and the chance they have to contribute to such a critical and historic global issue together.
“Every DART is like living a full lifetime; you have many experiences and feelings in a short period, with so much confronting you daily,” he says. “Working with others during a crisis brings about wonderful and special bonds.”
Bill jokes that the DART will be giving each other the ‘Ebola bump’ — the new West African greeting of hitting elbows, adopted in lieu of a handshake due to the ‘no touch’ atmosphere — for years to come.
“Our DART is a very special group of dedicated people bringing in every piece needed for this Ebola response. It’s a great gift to lead this team.”