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Profiles in Courage: René

This is the first blog post in a series for USAID's Battling Ebola blog in which photojournalist Morgana Wingard compiles snapshots and sound bites from USAID and the Disaster Assistance Response Team staff on the front lines of the Ebola response in Liberia. Here she talks to a veteran in humanitarian disaster assistance, René Van Slate, who serves as a liaison between the military on the ground and the U.S. civilian team.


A veteran in humanitarian disaster assistance, René Van Slate is afraid of nothingnothing except Ebola. She was on the ground after the flooding in Thailand in 2011, typhoon Bopha in the Philippines in 2012, the Republic of Marshall Islands drought in 2013, and typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year. Now, on her fifth disaster response team René explains her trepidation, “Ebola is microscopic, it’s covered in mystery and it’s incredibly deadly.” But, René is here with USAID facing her greatest fear on the front lines of the Ebola response in Liberia.

René touched down with the first crew from USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) at the beginning of August. Since then, she has liaised between the military on the ground and the U.S. civilian team, advising and coordinating logistics to best utilize military assets and personnel. Specifically, she is working on Operation Liberty with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) supported by U.S. forces to build Ebola treatment units across Liberia.

One of the greatest challenges on the ground is that almost no one had ever dealt with an Ebola outbreak other than Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and those were much smaller and rural. “The whole humanitarian community is learning Ebola,” René says. “Though [building] an Ebola treatment unit is simple, like rocket science, it must be done perfectly every time.”

In an operation as large and complex as the current Ebola response, it takes a team of people working day in and day out processing requests to arrange for all the logistics to get materials transported, imported and delivered to where they are needed.

The best part of her job is days like today, when requests are fulfilled, referring to Thursday’s  arrival of 9,000 community protection kits—a joint effort of UNICEF, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and USAID—as part of the response to help Liberians fight Ebola. Each kit includes biohazard bags, soap, personal protective equipment, and gloves. They will be distributed to Ebola Community Centers across Liberia in partnership with UNICEF.