First, some good news: The three West Africa nations plagued by Ebola may soon be declared Ebola-free.
Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the rampaging virus claimed nearly 12,000 lives and disrupted the lives and economies of millions in the last two years, are waiting with bated breath for the World Health Organization to put its official stamp on the milestone. A country is declared Ebola-free once two 21-day incubation periods have passed without any new cases, the BBC reports.
"It's the best year-end present that God could give to Guinea, and the best news that Guineans could hope for," Ebola survivor Alama Kambou Dore told AFP news agency in the BBC report. Guinea is expected to celebrate with concerts and fireworks.
But the declaration — no matter how awaited — doesn't mark the end of the dreaded disease.
Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free in November, but Liberia was declared Ebola-free in the spring of 2015 and then again in November after more cases appeared.
The Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary in Voinjama, Liberia, reported in their Christmas newsletter that they are currently waiting for their third Ebola-free declaration. We reported on the Missionary Sisters' work there in October 2014: They were among the few outsiders to stay when the outbreak started, and they're still there, trying to put lives back together in the wake of the emergency that saw schools and markets closed, families decimated and traditional burial practices declared deadly.
"The Ebola virus in Liberia took its toll among the male population. Hence the women are faced with farming totally alone," the sisters write. "To address this they need to hire workers to help them do their farming."
To help, the sisters gave 300 family heads $100 each and started 20 business groups and 16 farmers groups. The business groups will get management skills and the farming groups will engage with the government agriculture program. The sisters are also ensuring children can continue to go to school.
"We all know that the precautions put in place must be constantly practiced. Recently we watched the dismantling of the treatment center in our area. It was both a joyous moment and a sobering one," they wrote. "Yes, Ebola is gone but there is always the sense that it can raise its head at any moment!"
The sisters are also back to their regular work of literacy training, education and protecting the area's natural resources.
Last week, we updated you on the precarious situation in South Sudan, where uneasy peace seemed to be just an incident away from being shattered yet again.
What we didn't know at deadline was that an incident had already happened that shows just how tense the situation is.
De LaSalle Christian Br. Bill Firman, executive director of Solidarity With South Sudan, reported via Catholic News Service that on Dec. 28, five armed men believed to be connected to rebels climbed the fence surrounding the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio, confronted the nuns working there and demanded guns, cash, phones and computers.
"It was clearly a planned attack, but the assailants were not familiar with the compound," Firman said, noting that it was "a very traumatic incident, but there were no casualties."
The new semester is supposed to begin today, Jan. 11, but Firman expects the number of students will drop given the danger of traveling.
Noting that "our communities are disrupted and lives are fractured by such violence," Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio said in the CNS report that he prays that people "will reach out to one another with the love of God and with a voice that inspires justice, courage and peace."
Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at email@example.com.