August 19, 2014 | Matt Kucinski

Students from Calvin College are on their way to Accra, Ghana, this week for their semester abroad. The students are heading out a week later than originally planned as the college has been closely monitoring the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in the West Africa region. While confirmed cases of EVD have been found in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, at this time there have been no confirmed cases of EVD in Ghana or in any countries that share its borders.

A task force of Calvin faculty and staff representing off-campus programs, health services, student life, risk management and academic affairs recommended the cautious course of action to delay in order to allow the college the opportunity to review the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines for traveling to West Africa, which were released this past week. The group also spent the extra time working with the college’s partners to assure students will have a safe learning environment in Ghana.

“We have studied this situation carefully for several weeks now and are confident in sending our students to Ghana, which has had no confirmed cases of EVD,” said Don DeGraaf, Calvin’s director of off-campus programs. “The safety of our students is our top priority, and we have benefited greatly from the ongoing dialogue we’ve had with national and international government agencies. We’ve done our homework and are confident in our decision at this time. If the situation changes we will reassess and make any necessary changes at that time.”

The University of Ghana, where the students will be studying this fall, is located in Accra, the country’s capital. The nearest confirmed cases of EVD are in Lagos, Nigeria, where there have been a dozen confirmed cases. While Nigeria is the closest in proximity to Ghana of the four countries that have confirmed cases of EVD, it is also by far the country least impacted. The hardest hit countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are separated from Ghana by the Ivory Coast—which is approximately square in shape and about the size of Germany. Nine hundred and fifty miles separate Accra from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, which could be considered one of the hardest hit areas of the EVD outbreak. That span is equivalent to the distance from Los Angeles to Portland, Chicago to Boston or Grand Rapids to Quebec.

DeGraaf says while the risk to students seems remote, the task force is monitoring the situation in West Africa and has a contingency plan in place if the college should need to use it.

“We know that no one can eliminate all risks from life in Ghana or even Grand Rapids,” said DeGraaf, “but we also realize that we cannot let our fears paralyze us. So we move forward in faith asking God for wisdom and courage to make good decisions.”

In addition to sending students to West Africa, DeGraaf says the Calvin community is excited to welcome students from the region to Calvin’s campus. He adds that the Calvin community is praying for those who have had to deal with this hardship in their corner of the world.

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