How is the Accountability Lab Combating the Ebola crisis?
Since the end of July, Liberia has been gravely impacted by an unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease. Over 4,600 people have died in West Africa, the Liberian government has declared a state of emergency (accompanied by a curfew and short-lived quarantine), and elections slated for this October have been delayed. Like almost all organizations in Liberia, the deteriorating situation has impacted our work – several of our projects which rely on functioning schools, sports activities or large public gatherings have been particularly impacted.
However, we firmly believe that the cure for Ebola is accountability. Liberia needs strong, transparent institutions if it is to decisively respond to and avert future crises. Schools may not be functioning, so we are exploring ways to deliver brief education lessons through text messages; playing soccer might not be a good idea, but we are still convening coaches and athletes to discuss ways in which to avoid Ebola.
The current crisis is showing how important accountability really is. The scope of our work is far from business as usual, but aside from one international staff member, the team on the ground remains in place (everyone is currently safe), emphasizing several core activities*:
- Community Justice Teams (CJTs): The Lab has supported a network of community mediators in West Point- Monrovia’s most crowded township- for some time. West Point was the site of a short-lived government quarantine intended to hinder the spread of Ebola in August. This move led to protests resulting in the death of one teenage boy, and undermined trust in the government’s handling of the crisis. Thomas Tweh, the leader of our CJTs which houses the mediators notes that the Ebola crisis has left everyone “mentally confused.” Following the lifting of the quarantine, the CJTs have witnessed a surge in cases, particularly around the distribution of international food aid. With the support of Trust Africa and Liberia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Lab recently inaugurated a second network of community mediators in Logan Town- another high-density township in Monrovia. With the psychological stress that the prolonged crisis has induced, these mediators are well positioned to help their communities with fall out related to Ebola.
- Accountability Film School: Our partners at the Liberia Film Institute (LFI) have launched a new session of the Accountability Film School, with eight students currently making films focused on Ebola related issues. LFI’s Director, Divine Key Anderson is also working on several Ebola-related films, examining the stigma the survivors of the virus experience as well as ways in which it impacts women and children.
- Murals: The situation has prevented us from moving forward with the Accountability Arts School. In lieu of their work directly with Liberian youth, the staff at the Liberia Visual Arts Academy are teaming with the Lab to produce murals highlighting important public messages. One mural with civic education and public health messages has been completed adjacent to one of Monrovia’s most prominent hotels. We’re looking to produce murals pertaining to Ebola in the coming weeks – if you know of any wall space in Liberia, please let us know!
- Daily Talk: The Daily Talk, a citizen journalist curated chalkboard news outlet, is located directly across from JFK Hospital and near many public vigils for patients that are suffering from Ebola. It has provided regular coverage of news pertaining to the crisis. Its Ebola scorecard, ranking the response of the Liberian government (and recently the US) in responding to the crisis has received major international media attention and served a valuable resource for Liberians. The Lab provides technical support to the Daily Talk and contributes civic education content.
- Comic Books: The Lab has teamed with Charles Cooper of Dawn Africa Press to produce a series of comic books that provide critical messages around civic education, Ebola, and public health in general. Charles is currently at the drawing board, developing a storyline featuring an athletic youngster navigating the challenges of Liberian society, including Ebola- learning from mistakes, but also accomplishing impressive feats that motivate his peers. Stay tuned for the first issue soon!
- Musical Campaign: The team in Liberia has partnered with the Business Start-Up Center and Shizo Magazine to produce a song and accompanying video by 45 of Liberia’s leading music artists that urges Liberians and the world to take Ebola seriously and mobilize in unity to negate further spread of the virus.
* Many of which are being supported by iLab Liberia through the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.