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In This Year Of Ebola, A Montana YMCA Is Its Brother's Keeper

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In This Year Of Ebola, A Montana YMCA Is Its Brother's Keeper

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In This Year Of Ebola, A Montana YMCA Is Its Brother's Keeper

In This Year Of Ebola, A Montana YMCA Is Its Brother's Keeper

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/350582517/351074986" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Chris Siegler (center) in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2011. Siegler has forged a relationship between the YMCA in Missoula, Mont., and the one in Freetown. Courtesy of Kirk Siegler hide caption

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Courtesy of Kirk Siegler

Chris Siegler (center) in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2011. Siegler has forged a relationship between the YMCA in Missoula, Mont., and the one in Freetown.

Courtesy of Kirk Siegler

It started with the obvious question: "How can we help?"

That's what Chris Siegler wanted to know when Ebola struck Sierra Leone. And the answer to that question shows that it's not only big international groups that can assist Ebola-ravaged countries.

Siegler has had a long relationship with the West African nation. He was a Peace Corps volunteer there in the late 1960s with his wife, Jeannie. After the 11-year civil war ended in 2002, the Sieglers went to visit. Chris, who's on the board of the YMCA in Missoula, Mont., came across a YMCA in Freetown, the country's capital.

And so a partnership was born.

Chris Siegler with Pa Njai (far right) in Kalangba, Sierra Leone, in 2011. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Siegler met Njai back in 1969. Courtesy of Kirk Siegler hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Kirk Siegler

Chris Siegler with Pa Njai (far right) in Kalangba, Sierra Leone, in 2011. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Siegler met Njai back in 1969.

Courtesy of Kirk Siegler

"There's a tremendous similarity between the Y in Sierra Leone and the Y in Missoula," Siegler says, "in the fact that it's constantly looking for how the organization can serve the community better."

Missoula's Y has been raising money for Sierra Leone's since 2004, sending close to $100,000 to help fund programs for kids and teach job skills. They've also brought staff from Sierra Leone's Y to Missoula to study.

And now the Missoula Y is doing its part to help its sister organization in Sierra Leone.

When Siegler asked how to help, the answer was: "You can help by just giving us some funds for basic supplies, the chlorine buckets, chlorine bleach." That's how the Missoula Y began offering aid. Now it's also paying for "delivering food to families that are quarantined in their home for the 21 days while they're trying to determine if anybody in the household is affected by Ebola."

Christian Kamara, CEO of Sierra Leone's YMCA, is grateful for the assistance. He says the "outbreak of the Ebola deadly disease is something that is psychologically really affecting people here. Also, the economy is going down as well, because life is really not that normal."

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He says there are no longer social gatherings in Sierra Leone, as people are trying to avoid physical contact with one another to prevent the disease's spread. People are unable to work because of quarantines. Schools are closed, including those the Y operates — most of its facilities are closed — and there is no longer commercial air service into the country.

So far, Missoula's Y has raised about $3,000 to support the Y in Sierra Leone. Part of the money is being used to produce radio ads in the local language, telling how to recognize the symptoms of Ebola and promoting a hotline for medical help.

Right now the international community is raising tens of millions of dollars to fight Ebola in West Africa. The money coming out of Missoula so far is but a fraction of that, but Kamara says it makes a real difference.

"We don't need millions of dollars, we don't need thousands of dollars," Kamara says. "Whatever we could have, that could be able to support a family, support a home, support a community, support a village not to die, I think that's what we need now.