Rising to Our Best

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Michael Leventhal, Chief Nerdy Development Officer

November 21, 2014

SILICON VALLEY, CA, USA – iNERDE’s African base of operations is in Mali, in West Africa, the region of the world which is the center of the ebola epidemic. The epidemic has brushed Mali; five people have died but all cases were quickly identified and extremely rigorous measures are in place to halt further spread of the virus.

We’re concerned at iNERDE, with the added weight that family, friends, and our Nerdy kids in West Africa will be coping with many hardships as Africans and the world fights this disease.

It is possible to arrest the spread of ebola, as has already been demonstrated in several countries with significant levels of infection. The most important tool in stopping the epidemic is knowledge. The army that has been mobilized to fight ebola consists of doctors, naturally, but also scientists, engineers, technologists, and even mathematicians doing statistical analysis to map the spread of the virus and containment strategies. A STEM army. Highly skilled Africans form a large component of this army, and many Africans have, sadly, already given their lives fighting ebola and caring for the afflicted. Many have also come from all over the world to help. It is right for the world to help for many reasons from the most altruistic to the most self-interested. However, it must be acknowledged that the West Africans, if they had to, could not do this on their own. As much as the skill, intellectual brainpower, and infrastructure of Africa has improved in the last years, it is not enough for a challenge of this magnitude.

iNERDE absolutely rejects any idea that this is the perennial state of affairs in Africa. We know that Africans will continue their amazing trajectory of development, whatever challenges come along the way, until the day arrives when they are capable of dealing with ebola, or whatever the next ebola is, with their own resources. The key to getting there is education to create a STEM-literate, skilled and capable society. The stuff iNERDE does. Africans understand this and their motivation to continue their social transformation has never been higher. The African response to ebola will have a positive resonance for many years to come. We know that our Nerdy kids will be keener than ever to know so they can act and to act so that can serve their communities.

Has ebola caused iNERDE to re-evaluate its objectives? Yes, absolutely. We are more committed than ever to our mission. We felt that STEM education was a key to creating economic opportunity in Africa, we now recognize that is the key to much more, to creating self-reliance and the ability to confidently face any challenge. If ebola should pose a significant health risk in Mali or any other country iNERDE operates in next year, will we alter our plans? Yes, absolutely. We will follow the travel advisories of the relevant national authorities and act with prudence. We would not risk the well-being of volunteers or Colonie de Vacances staff and Nerdy kids and we would not want to do anything that would further tax the resources of the agencies fighting to stop ebola. Will iNERDE suspend its activities for a time and not deliver our curriculum of STEM knowledge and empowerment to the kids? Never. Never, this work will never be as important as it is right now. Fortunately, we have developed a strong network of collaborators in Mali and elsewhere in West Africa and, while we might have some new challenges to overcome, we have the ability to continue our programs whether or not ebola might restrict certain aspects of our activities.

Communities rise to their best when confronted by collective challenges. We are seeing this in West Africa today as the people there bravely fight ebola. The iNERDE community may also be faced by challenges in carrying out its mission as the situation evolves but we will rise to our best and keep the promise we have made to all our current and future Nerdy kids.