#ISurvivedEbola Voices Inspire International Community

March 30, 2015

For three days, a sea of expectant faces peered up at a stage in Minneapolis, Minnesota to hear from leading international peacebuilders at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Attendees waited to be inspired by their personal heroes, big-name presenters such as Jimmy Carter.

At the conference’s panel on Ebola crisis response, this inspirational tone was harder to come by. #ISurvivedEbola coordinator Vanessa Crowley proved the most hopeful messenger: while the speakers to her left and right delivered fair denunciations of the sluggish international crisis response, Vanessa argued for the dissemination of strong resilience narratives and screened the video testimonial of Ebola survivor Abdul Richard Kamara.

Vanessa Crowley speaking at the NPPF

Vanessa Crowley speaks at the NPPF

“As is all too often the case in situations of crisis, most responders focus on deficits: the healthcare system is failing, people aren’t listening,” Vanessa said.

“Instead, our campaign looked at what was working, against all odds. We applied a concept known as ‘positive deviance’ to our traditional storytelling methodology, recognizing that survivors could break through the noise to act as a trusted source of information. They are the perfect role models to inspire others to protect themselves.”

On the same weekend that Vanessa set the stage for Abdul’s voice to steal the show, the Sierra Leonean Embassy honored similar stories in Washington DC.

The Embassy joined forces with the #ISurvivedEbola team to host the Sierra Leonean diaspora. Ambassador Ibrahim S. Conteh, PCI Media Impact CEO Sean Southey and Attorney Fatmata Barrie sat on the event’s main panel, while nurse and survivor Fatima Kamara joined the conversation from Sierra Leone through video conferencing.

Though the group had assembled to talk about the Ebola stigma faced in the United States, the conversation soon shifted to solidarity with West Africa.

“As a Sierra Leonean living in Maryland, it hurts my heart to see my people on TV dying, especially from a disease where we are not exactly sure what is going on,” Sierra Leone-born Zainab Hassan said.

“I really want to be there with them, so it’s difficult… I feel helpless. But when I come to events like this, I come, I share, and I feel like I’m helping, because I am lending my voice to let my people back home know that they are not alone.”

After the presentation was done, Sierra Leonean diaspora members stayed to talk one-on-one with Fatima.

Sierra Leonean diaspora members talk to Fatima

At the Washington DC event, as at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, audiences were taken with the #ISurvivedEbola video testimonials. These first-person narratives offer messages of hope and resilience, introducing rare voices to the international Ebola conversation: the voices of Ebola survivors themselves.

At the end of the panel, Fatima took the last word. She spoke to her fellow countrymen and women, telling them what she felt Sierra Leonean survivors need from their international supporters.

“We want empowerment,” she told them.

“We want [the global community] to use us to go to the [villages], to do sensitization for those people out there who don’t know about Ebola. We’d be happy to share our stories with them, so that with them they will learn.”

With the space she was given, Fatima became an inspiration for her international audience, just as her ongoing work as a nurse has made her a role model amongst her local peers.

#ISurvivedEbola is an international campaign that uses storytelling and survivor testimonies to promote public health messages in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, while creating space on the international stage to ensure that survivor voices are heard. It is carried out by PCI Media Impact and funded by Paul G. Allen’s #TackleEbola initiative.

To watch and read more Ebola survivor stories, click here.