A former Harlington Upper School student, who’s just returned from a two-year mission to Sierra Leona, said local people initially seemed unconcerned about the lethal ebola virus.
Joshua Jest, 21, who was based in the east of the country, said: “They didn’t care. They thought it was just the government trying to do things to them.
“The government came from a different tribe, the Temne. And most of the people around Bo and Kenema. where I was living, were Mende.
“But I was concerned. It started in Guinea in about February and came to Sierra Leone May/June time.
“We were warned to be careful and take precautions. We weren’t allowed to eat food prepared for us, we had to make it ourselves.
“We had to use lots of hand sanitisation and were told not to touch people, which was very difficult because we were used to interaction, to shaking hands.”
He added: “I was very shocked when I heard our branch president had died from ebola. I knew him well, I taught his grandchildren and he was a doctor.”
Luton-born and bred Josh was brought up as a Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
He said: “I’ve always wanted to go on a mission and applied in 2012.
“I’d hoped to go to Kenya, where I’d done charity work in 2011, but I was sent to our missionary training centre in Ghana.”
The course lasted two and a half weeks, during which students learned more about the church and covered the basics – how to teach people and how to spread the message.
Josh was then sent to Sierra Leone.
He said: “The conditions were quite primitive but the people were lovely, they were wonderful.
“They had time to talk to you. Here in England everyone’s too busy to listen to anyone but there they were always ready to have a conversation.
“They saw us as people who were there to help them and they shared their food, usually rice and potato leaves.
Sometimes there’d be chicken and fish and at our apartment we lived on like a tomato stew.”
Josh’s day started with exercises at 6.30am, followed by a shower and breakfast. He and his companion Latter Day Saint – they always worked in pairs – would then spend time on religious and personal studies before going out into the comunity to talk to people.
Josh contracted malaria in December last year and admitted: “I forgot to take my anti-malaria drugs for a couple of weeks. But it wasn’t too bad.”
He also had a fungal infection on his leg and again confessed he hadn’t followed instructions: “I didn’t put dettol in the water as we were advised.”
Josh came back last month and gave a talk about his experiences to a packed gathering at the Mormon church in Poynters Road.
“It went down really well,” he said. “Everyone loved it.”
He’d love to go back to Sierra Leone, once the ebola epidemic is under control. “It’s like my second home,” he said.
But he’s waiting to marry his girlfiend when she comes back from a mission in New Zealand.
“I really don’t know what we’ll do after that,” he smiled.