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In Her Shoes: Running in Liberia—and against Ebola

Bev, tackling a red hill among the green green.
Bev, tackling a red hill among the green green near Foya, where the ebola outbreak is greatest. (Picture by Joni Byker)

We have been editing a bunch of different things for the third book, out next March. One section in it is going to be called In Her Shoes, which is first-person accounts of different running situations and tales. (So far, running a naked 5K is my—Dimity's—favorite...but I'm not done yet.) A few of the In Her Shoes relate to running in foreign lands, and Bev Kauffeldt, a longtime mother runner, lives and runs in Liberia. The western African country is all over the news right now because of the Ebola virus and Bev is on the frontlines, so we thought we'd publish her experience published now, instead of next March. 

My husband and I work for Samaritan's Purse International Relief in Liberia. He is the Country Director and I oversee our community development programs, which include water and sanitation, literacy, sports programs for kids, and community health.

Normally, we, along with our two boys, live in Monrovia, the capital, which is where our main office is. We do mostly development long-term programs outside of Monrovia in the rural areas of Liberia. But with the serious ebola outbreak, my duties concern the disaster response. I am doing water, sanitation, and hygiene services for our case management center in a northern community called Foya.

Right now, our working days are long, usually 15-17 hours. Today, part of my job was to put on a full protection suit and remove two women who had died from ebola. One of them had a little boy who is still in the clinic but is now without a mom. It was a hard morning.

I’ve got to run—or I would stress too much about ebola and about the safety of our staff. I run to clear my head and know that God will give us all strength. We must keep fighting for these people who have nothing and are scared of this disease.

Bev and her husband, who was training for the London Marathon e trainined for the London marathon but had to pull out due to his leadership role in the ebola outbreak.
Bev and her husband, who was training for the London Marathon but had to pull out due to his leadership role in the ebola outbreak. (Photo by Joni Byker)

When I can, I run on red dirt roads or jungle trails near our Foya base. Everything is all jungle and green: Every shade of green you could imagine. Like a large petri dish. I either smell burning grass (passing by farms) or urine (going through a village). There is not a lot of sanitation here and men pee everywhere. As I pass through little villages, I hear kids yelling "Poomwee!," which means “white person” in the local dialect. Not my favorite name.

Sometimes I run alone, but only during the day. I would never run in darkness here; our organization’s safety policy is that no men or women are out after sunset. That said, Liberia is so close to the equator, we have 12 hours of light and 12 of dark. So as soon as the sun is up, I get up and go because it gets hot and humid quickly. My long runs are on Sunday morning: They are my "church" and are the reason why I am still here. I use the miles to refocus, pray, and be grateful.

Although I worry about my safety sometimes, I worry most about snakes on my runs. We have a lot of them, and they are all brutally dangerous—and there is no anti-serum out here! I’ve never seen more than their tracks, but my running buddy saw a huge black mamba once.

Earlier this year, a co-worker and I ran 37.5 miles from one village to Foya. It was epic. The miles were grueling; so hot, and it seemed like there was another hill every time we came around a bend in the road. But it was amazing to run by the communities where we had worked for the past 10 years. It was really gratifying to see how far they had come since the end of their civil war, which ran from 1999 to 2003. —Bev Kauffeldt (Plans to run the Liberia Marathon next January when the outbreak is contained.)

12 responses to “In Her Shoes: Running in Liberia—and against Ebola

  1. My family and I have spent much time in Grand Bassa County in central Liberia. We have been praying fervently. I am so thankful for Samaritan’s purse and all who are working for them. I hope to run the Liberian Marathon one day as well.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so amazed at the work that you do and your running. Sending prayers and strength your way.

  3. Me and my mum who has visited Liberia (Margaret Parry) and my church have been praying for you all I’ve been praying for Him to carry you all through this sad time and protect you. You are all faithful servants and He will always be with you all and never let you go. I cannot imagine what you are going through you are a shining example of Gods light God bless you all Christine Rigby

    A

  4. I wish Bev and her family safety and good luck to weather this most recent crisis in Africa. I lived in Africa for 5 years in Guinée, Sénégal and Zambia. Daily life can be a challenge, but it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. West Africa to me laws also every shade of green imaginable. I often thought of it as Jurassic Park.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of “every shade of green you could imagine”. I lived in a small community in Guinea and to this day I still think this part of the world is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. So glad good people like Bev and her husband are working to combat ebola and the public health issues that people face in Liberia. Now more than ever Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia need help from the developed world.

  6. Another thoughtful insight to dynamic runners living courageous lives in a variety of circumstances. Thanks for keeping my life in perspective by virtually rubbing shoulders with people in “real time” world events. I was just making a back to school shopping list and feeling a little overwhelmed when I checked your webpage and read this article. I feel nothing but gratitude now and inspiration for the good I can do in my own small way.

  7. wow! I already support Samaritan’s Purse and what a great insight into the day to day lives of the people on the front line. prayers for Bev, her family, and her coworkers! thank you for all you do!

  8. I pray that the top politicans in the three Ebola Countries contract Ebola virus and then only they will take it seriously. They are all busy collecting money in the name of ebola

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