From a colossal setback to an award-winning opportunity
Sarah and I met a little over 2 years ago now -- two Americans randomly transplanted to West Africa. As luck would have it, after deciding to join forces and launch a production company together in Liberia, the world's largest Ebola outbreak exploded and our new home became the center of worldwide headlines. Needless to say, that changed everything. All our plans and all our contracts went out the window. Sarah got stuck in America and I got stuck in Liberia. I was at a loss. "Now what do we do?" I worried. Sarah was anxious to return to Liberia and I was apprehensive to stay so close to the "hot zone." But, what seemed at first like a colossal setback, eventually turned into a unique opportunity.
After returning to the states in October, Sarah and I had no plan. Sarah desperately wanted to go back and I was "recovering" from the whirlwind of the last three months while hiding out at my mom's house until my 21 days of monitoring was over and people would want to see me again. Then, we got a phone call from Sean Southey at PCI Media. "Would you be willing to go back to Liberia?" he asked. I knew Sarah would jump at the opportunity, but I had one condition. "Can you cover our health insurance?" I inquired. I knew the greatest risk of us being over there was the potential need to be evacuated and our insurance provider had already made it clear they would not cover Ebola. Three Americans had already been medivaced back to the states by the specially equipped Phoenix Air plane built to isolate one patient while they are attended by a fully insulated medical crew. Word on the street was that flight cost half a million dollars. Two missionaries working at an Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia were the first Americans to contract the virus. Their organization, Samaritan's Purse, ultimately footed the pricey bill. The third American, Ashoka, was freelancing for NBC when he tested positive. At first, he was stuck with the bill but eventually he lucked out and NBC offered to cover it. I doubted we'd be so lucky. So, the only way I was going back AND bringing someone with me was if I had assurance that if something happened we'd have a way home and we wouldn't go bankrupt to get there. They agreed and soon Sarah and I met in Brussels before boarding a half-empty plane filled solely with aid workers for our last leg to Monrovia. For five weeks Sarah, Hashim (our savvy Liberian production assistant), and I interviewed Ebola survivors and experts involved in the response. In the end we created 15 films for PCI Media's #ISurvivedEbola campaign which recently won a Silver Davey Award.
Sometimes no plan, leaves you open for unique opportunities that you could never have imagined.