Ardent Activist

Emily Floess—shown here at her home parish, St. Patrick Catholic Church in Urbana, Ill.-—has “prayed a lot” for the Liberian community she worked with that was struck by the Ebola virus. (Photo by Darrell Hoemann Photography)
Ex-Peace Corps volunteer Emily Floess returns to Ebola-stricken Liberia.

When Peace Corps worker Emily Floess ’10 LAS left Liberia for a short home leave in July, she didn’t know that she might never be back.

“I never really said goodbye,” says Floess of the people with whom she bonded over the last four years. “I didn’t know it would be my last night there.”

The outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa changed everything.

While Floess most recently worked out of Cestos City, a rural enclave, she spent the majority of her time in the town of Kakata teaching high school math, science and chemistry. Kakata—a mere hour’s drive from Libera’s capital, Monrovia—“was hit bad” by Ebola, says Floess, who lost students and friends to the epidemic.

The Peace Corps pulled its volunteers out of the nation because they work so closely with the community. But Floess stays in constant contact with her friends back in Liberia, and says she’s proud of the work some of her former students and fellow teachers are doing to raise awareness of the disease. They’ve made instructive posters, and gone door-to-door providing residents with buckets and bleach. One student, 22-year-old Fatu Kekula, demonstrated for a CNN news team how she devised her own protective gear from plastic trash bags to take care of four sick family members (three survived).

“It’s so hard,” especially since the nation was just emerging from the devastation of nearly 14 years of civil war, Floess says. Lives, education, harvests and the economy have come to a stop. Again.

Yet Floess, who immersed herself in social activist opportunities while at Illinois, remains active. By November, she was already back in Liberia, working with a nongovernmental organization. “It’s good to be careful in life,” Floess says, “but not scared.”