Guest post by Elizabeth Smith, media advisor at the Canadian Red Cross

Garth Tohms turns wrenches to fix water pipes, turns a good phrase in his blog and through his work as a humanitarian with the Canadian Red Cross, has helped turn peoples’ lives around in various places. Garth has deployed as a technician with the Red Cross’ Emergency Response Unit to the Philippines and South Sudan, and, most recently to Sierra Leone.

As a water and sanitation technician at the Red Cross Ebola Treatment Centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone, Garth spent a month working closely with local staff ensuring the water supply and electricity for the 60-bed emergency hospital. Garth has since returned to his Winnipeg home.

“Overall it was wonderful,” says Garth.” It was so rewarding working with the local people, and we were able to accomplish what we had to do.” Of course there were challenges – for instance when the valves in the water system had to be frequently replaced as they became weakened from the concentration of chlorine mixed in the water, required for decontaminating clothing and equipment.

Garth mainly worked in the low risk zone, divided from the high risk zone by a fenced space 1.5 metres wide. He made a point of calling out cheerily to some of the recovering patients over the fence, giving advice on chess moves if there was a game underway. He formed strong bonds with his Sierra Leonean co-workers who called him “G”. They confided their fears of being in contact with the virus to Garth but he constantly assured them their safety was his “number one concern”.

True to his word, none of Garths’ workers became infected, and to show their gratitude, they made a special plaque for him that they presented on his departure day. “It was very emotional for me, more so than any other mission I have been on,” remarked Garth.

Would he go back?  “Definitely”, says Garth. He also encourages other Canadian technicians to consider going to assist the Red Cross in containing the Ebola outbreak.

The Ebola Treatment Centre in Kenema has treated 169 patients since it opened, 60 patients have been discharged to date. The Canadian Red Cross continues its efforts to send qualified and highly trained aid workers to the treatment centre. 

Canadians wishing to support the Red Cross response in the West Africa can make a financial donation to the West Africa Ebola Fund online at, by calling 1-800-418-1111, or by contacting their local Red Cross office.