Author: Mary Kolu Massaquoi, January 8 2015 - I recently spent a week away from my home in Bradford, in the north of England, working with a team in London on scripts for a new BBC Media Action radio drama for West Africa called Mr Plan-Plan and the Pepo-oh. Our focus is Ebola and our aim is to use familiar characters and situations to help people feel confident about getting early treatment for Ebola Virus Disease (known as just "Ebola") and ensuring safe burials when someone dies.
It was an international effort - I'm Liberian, and I worked alongside colleagues from Guinea and Sierra Leone, and a creative team from India helped us with storylines. The scripts were produced in both French and Liberian English in order to reach as many people in the region as possible.
These new mini-dramas bring together three strands in my own life: I’ve studied nutrition and public health, I'm a nurse and midwife by profession, and I've also been broadcasting health related programmes for sub-Saharan Africa for some years in my show Calls to My Sister.
Calls to My Sister is based on the telephone conversations I really have with my own sister in Liberia where, in addition to chatting, I share advice about nutrition and hygiene. I realised this kind of information could be helpful for others, and so turned our conversations into scripted dialogue that I record with another actor. Our weekly show is sent to radio stations across West Africa. One time I was talking to my real sister on the phone when she suddenly stopped talking and held her radio to the receiver. I could hear Calls to My Sister in the background!
I know how well drama works - it enables you to bring up topics that might be taboo and the listener isn't being "told" what to do. So I was delighted to be invited to take part in this new BBC Media Action project on Ebola response. Radio is terribly important in sub-Saharan Africa. Young people do increasingly have mobile phones, but radio is how people get their information and news.
Before I got the call to help out I was getting very frustrated that I wasn't doing enough to help tackle the problem back home (with a Guinean ancestry, a Sierra Leone name and a Liberian nationality, I’m rooted in the region). There is sometimes friction between the need to stop the spread of Ebola and observing age-old customs. For instance, I heard that members of an official burial team [a team recruited by local officials to dispose of the bodies of people suspected of dying of Ebola] in Guinea had been attacked by the relatives of the deceased.
The people grieving didn’t understand what the team needed to do in order to ensure Ebola was not transmitted to anyone else. The bodily fluids of someone who has died as a result of Ebola are very infectious - but not to be able to spend time with the corpse and to touch it goes against local tradition. Without access to information people just don't understand what to do or why to do it.
Liberia was only just starting to recover from the civil war when Ebola struck. I'm glad to be able to play a small part in helping the country beat this latest threat and to take part in these new Ebola response dramas as both an actress and scriptwriter. I thank God that my real sister and her family are ok so far and I pray that with the help of these programmes and good practices they, and many more, will stay well.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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