Ebola workers win TIME’s ‘Person of the Year'

Doctors and nurses who have helped stem the deadly virus are recognised for their courage by a prestigious prize from US magazine. Does their selflessness shed light on human behaviour?

‘The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight,’ wrote TIME Magazine’s editor, Nancy Gibbs, as she justified this year's Person of the Year. ‘They risked and persisted, sacrificed and saved’, she explained. They are, of course, the Ebola healthcare workers.

Each year, the US publication chooses a person, group, or even an object, that in the minds of the editorial team has 'most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.’

It is one of the most anticipated announcements in journalism. This year, from a shortlist that included the Ferguson protesters, Vladimir Putin, the Kurdish president Massoud Barzani, and Jack Ma, the team decided that it was the ordinary doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and burial teams who should grace five specially commissioned TIME covers.

Whether they were local or had travelled across continents, hundreds of people risked their lives to come to the aid of those dying from the mighty yet microscopic disease when it hit West Africa in March. Often they were total strangers, motivated by nothing more than a desire to save lives. Ebola has killed more than 6,300 people. Without their courage, the death toll could have been far higher.

One of the most harrowing aspects of Ebola is its ability to isolate and alienate people, because it spreads through bodily fluids. Anyone willing to treat an Ebola victim runs a risk of becoming one. Victims die surrounded not by friends and family, but by strangers in protective, eerie space suits.

In one heart-wrenching story, Foday Gallah, a 37-year-old ambulance supervisor in Liberia, saw a distressed child sick with disease and all alone. He felt compelled to comfort him. With that simple act of kindness, he himself fell ill.

Gallah survived, and is pictured on one of TIME’s five covers. But many more of his colleagues did not. About 349 healthcare workers have died after contracting the disease this year.

People power

Although the bravery of these individuals is undeniably humbling, this is just one exceptional case of human goodness, some say. Perhaps the workers only made TIME's cover because such altruism is so rare. Amid a year of brutality and misery, and while Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, it’s important we don’t get too self-congratulatory.

But that’s precisely why honouring these people is so crucial, others cry. In a year when terrible things have happened, these ordinary people have shown us that however dark the times, the human spirit can prevail. It’s an important message; one reminder of the good we are capable of that gives us hope for the year ahead.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with TIME’s choice to award the Ebola health workers Person of the Year?
  2. Do you think TIME is right to award groups of people and even objects and concepts, as well as individuals?

Activities

  1. In groups, choose a person, group, object or concept that you think best fits TIME’s Person of the Year criteria for 2014. Present your choice to the class, and take a class vote on who should win.
  2. ‘There is no such thing as altruism.’ Do some research, and find three examples that either support this statement or contradict it.

Some People Say...

“Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, but rather the hero’s heart.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Ebola is awful. I find it easier to switch off when I hear about it.
That’s understandable. The dispatches this year from the Ebola frontline have been hard to watch and read about even for adults. But the disease has also given us a reason to be hopeful. Rather than switching off you should take inspiration from these doctors and nurses and get involved: the battle against the disease is ongoing and health charities are more desperate for donations than ever.
Is it the first time a group has won?
No. Previous winners have included ‘US Scientists' in 1960, ‘The American Soldier’ in 2003, ‘The Protester’ in 2011, and even ‘You’ in 2006. You were chosen as a way of recognising the ‘Information Age’ and the millions of people who freely contribute to sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube.

Word Watch

Ferguson protesters
In August, a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot dead unarmed black teenager Michael Brown after he committed a minor robbery. Last month, a grand jury decided there was not ‘probable cause’ to put Wilson on trial, sparking protests and riots across the US.
Vladimir Putin
Two days before the closing ceremony of Russia’s Winter Olympics, a revolution overthrew Putin’s ally in Ukraine. Putin, furious, sent in troops to occupy the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Before March was out, Putin had annexed the region and changed the course of history in Eastern Europe.
Massoud Barzani
Barzani has been President of the Iraqi Kurdistan region since 2005. He was chosen by TIME for his efforts to push for Kurdish independence with the ongoing fight against the group of militants known as Islamic State (IS).
Jack Ma
As of November 2014, Ma is the richest man in China and the 18th richest man in the world, thanks to his company Alibaba. It owns Taobao, China’s biggest shopping site and alibaba.com, which helps connect Chinese exporters with companies around the world.

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