Normal life ground to a halt for many in the three West African countries affected by Ebola. People were quarantined, or stayed at home. The threat of catching Ebola kept people indoors, and away from work, school and markets.
Community radio stations and local African singers were at the forefront of efforts to educate people on Ebola: how it is contracted, what the symptoms are, and ways to prevent catching the virus. They’re were successful because they are the voices that people trust, and they’re speaking to communities in their own languages.
For example, KPPC 89.3 interviewed Liberian disc jockey The Milkman on the songs and information that are playing on Liberian radio stations, and the difference these are making in listeners’ lives.
Many journalists and aid workers spoke about the rumours and stories that surrounded the Ebola outbreak: stories that the government was behind the spread of the virus, that catching Ebola was an automatic death sentence, or that aid workers brought Ebola to Africa. This latter rumour was initially one of the most destructive rumours to circulate, forcing aid organisations like Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) to stop working in certain areas for a time.
In her article for the New Yorker entitled “Ebola and the culture makers”, Sarah Stillman tells the story of a local Guinean journalist who was killed not by Ebola, but by a hostile mob suspicious of the government’s interventions and actions on Ebola.
Speaking and reading
The spread of Ebola was slowed dramatically, after listeners heard a few basic hygiene tips. They were simple messages, like regular hand-washing, not shaking hands as a greeting, and avoiding contact with the bodies of those who’ve died.
They might have been simple messages, but if they’re not explained in local languages, the message is lost. And written messages are hopeless for countries with such high levels of illiteracy, particularly if they’re written in French or English.
It’s another reason why community radio – which speaks to people in their own languages – is vital and popular.
But this is only half the story …
While community radio stations are doing a great job of disseminating information and news that’s helping fight Ebola, it’s only half the story. The other half is to make sure that people have a radio to listen to.
Having a radio and keeping it powered
Many households lacked a working radio. And even if they had one, electricity was unreliable, and in most areas, it’s still non-existent. The other option – batteries – can be hard to come by, and they’re costly. Particularly when livelihoods have been disrupted, buying batteries is out of the reach of many families.
That’s why a little solar radio called the Polaris – independent from the grid and needing no batteries – helped in the fight against Ebola. For families trapped in their homes and surrounded by a terrifying illness, listening to trusted voices on radio brought not only information and news, but comfort, reassurance and much needed entertainment.
Radio reaches all communities, even in the most remote areas of West Africa, and being able to access news and information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will help fight the spread of Ebola and other diseases as well.
What Lifeline Energy did in West Africa
Our first consignment of Polaris radio/lights went to to the UNDP in Liberia back in 2014. In conjunction with the MoHSW (Ministry of Health and Social Welfare), they were distributed in Montseraddo, which was the a real hotspot of Ebola outbreaks in Liberia. The UNDP and MoHSW conducted a door-to-door awareness campaign, while searching for the sick and the dead. They deployed dozens of volunteers in this campaign. The radios were a vital component of the campaign, as they provided families who were quarantined with the information they so desperately needed . In a press release sent out by the UNDP, their Country Director Kamil Kamaluddeen said: “The Ebola crisis has shown us just how important information is. Liberia has an excellent network of radio stations and we want as many people as possible to be able to listen in to get the information they need.”
We sent thousands of Polaris radios to Sierra Leone, which overtook Liberia as the worst-affected country in West Africa.
As always, were were deeply grateful to our generous sponsors, particularly GlobalGiving, who’ve made it possible for us to make significant contributions to the fight against Ebola.