In Collecting And Cremating Ebola Victims, A Grim Public Service Stephen Rowden, a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, just returned from Liberia. In just four weeks, he supervised the removal and disposal of over 330 bodies of Ebola victims.

In Collecting And Cremating Ebola Victims, A Grim Public Service

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're going to hear now from someone who went to West Africa to help. It was Stephen Rowden's first posting with Doctors Without Borders. He was charged with a grim task - managing teams of body collectors in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. As he told us, he was surprised by the scale of the job. They collected 10 to 25 bodies a day, but someone had to do it. He also had to educate people about what his teams were doing.

STEPHEN ROWDEN: Unfortunately they weren't that aware of the conditions that the government had imposed on the removal and disposal of bodies. So it was quite a shock when we advised them that the body would be taken for cremation and burial was not permissible.

SIEGEL: Liberia's government has effectively banned traditional burial practices, in which families wash and embrace their dead. Instead, the teams quickly collect the corpses and transport them to a crematorium.

Stephen Rowden returned from Liberia this week. We asked him to speak to us from a radio station near his home in Danbury, England but the staff there said no. They were concerned about his exposure to Ebola.

So we called him at home and I asked him how he'd maintained his frame of mind while doing such difficult work.

ROWDEN: Robert, I'm still trying to answer that question. I saw it very much as a desperate emergency crisis for the people of Liberia. I signed up to do humanitarian work and the teams I worked with recognized that it wasn't a good job, a nice job - very much countercultural to what they were used to with burials. But they did see it as very much a role of helping the Liberian people as a whole.

SIEGEL: Is there a particular moment, a particular day, a particular visit that just stays with you more vividly than the others right now?

ROWDEN: There's probably two or three. One was the case of a 4-year-old girl who was found in a house. She had died from Ebola, but she had been abandoned by her parents. We just knew her name was Madelyn (ph) and she was four years old. I found that a very sad case.

SIEGEL: Do you have any idea where her parents went?

ROWDEN: No, no one had no idea at all.

SIEGEL: Oh, my.

ROWDEN: I was quite surprised that some of these cases where relatives brought in the bodies of their relatives there appeared to be very little emotion. It was almost an acceptance of that. That's what happens. That's not to say that they weren't sad, but just, expression of emotion was just not present. I don't know if they were numb. It was difficult to know without knowing the culture a little bit more.

SIEGEL: It sounds like you were almost getting a glimpse of 18th century life or something - the time when you had children and you just assumed half of them would die before...

ROWDEN: Yes, that's very much how I saw it.

SIEGEL: Are you a religious man?

ROWDEN: I am. Yes, I'm a practicing Christian.

SIEGEL: Did you find your faith at all tested under those circumstances in Monrovia?

ROWDEN: No. No, I got great strength from my faith and the support of my family. I'm married and my four children, they're all very supportive of the work I do. I would not have gone out if any of them had been extremely uncomfortable with that.

SIEGEL: Well, obviously you're taking on board the acceptance of death of the people all around you. On the other hand, doing something like this must make one feel hyper-alive at some level - that your every moment is in engaged in huge, huge questions.

ROWDEN: I feel very privileged to have undertaken the work I did. A lot of it I'm still working through - my feelings, my thoughts. Would I consider going back? Yes, I would. The timing, I'd have to think about it and the place I go to, but it's something I would certainly consider again.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Rowden, thank you very much for talking with us about your experience. It's been, quite obviously, quite a remarkable time for you and I'm sure a great many people in Liberia are very grateful for what you did. Thank you.

ROWDEN: Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: Stephen Rowden, a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. He spoke to us from his home in Danbury in Essex, England, about his work in Liberia. And he told us that none of the 36 people he managed while he was there have shown any symptoms of Ebola.

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