Foday Sajuma of Radio Moa: Fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone
By Philip M. Hellmich
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is breaking my heart, as I am sure it is for you too.
It is a horrible situation. It is also personal for me as I have many, many friends in Sierra Leone, where I lived and worked for years; and, also in Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria, where I visited and supported peacebuilding programs as a staff member of Search for Common Ground, one of the world’s leading conflict transformation organizations.
During the peacebuilding missions, people told me time and time again how meaningful it was to have the global community support them in times of crisis; to know they are not forgotten.
In the past few weeks, I have been keeping in close touch with Topher Hamblett, a dear friend from our time together in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone. Years after his service, Topher created Foundation for West Africa (FWA) in part to support community radio stations serving Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
FWA assists community stations because radio has a powerful impact on people’s attitudes and behaviours and can be used positively and negatively. In Rwanda, community radio had been used to inflame ethnic tensions that contributed to the genocide. Because of the experience in Rwanda, Search for Common Ground, FWA and other partner organizations have provided and continue to provide stations with infrastructure support and training of staff members. The result of these efforts has been incredible. In Sierra Leone, community radio stations help dispel rumors, relay important information and bridge community divides by facilitating dialogues and giving a voice to the voiceless, especially women and children.
Community radio stations have played and continue to play a vital role in grassroots peacebuilding efforts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. With the outbreak of Ebola, community radio stations are once again on the frontlines in life and death situations.
Topher is seeking support for Radio Moa, a radio station strategically located along the remote border area of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - areas hit hard by Ebola and by violence during the war. Radio Moa is serving tens of thousands of people - many of whom are illiterate - by providing valuable information that people need to take action to prevent the spread of Ebola and to care for people who are infected with it.
Foday Sajuma is the station manager of Radio Moa (see photo - sitting). Foday and I had worked together at Search for Common Ground. Foday had been a highly respected combatant during the war and then joined “Search” to co-produce a radio program with Rashid Sandi, an officer from the opposing side. Together, Foday and Rashid called for fighters to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate into society.
I spent considerable time with Foday and traveled with him to the village where he had served during the war. Foday is an amazingly strong and fierce warrior who overcame his anger about the war to help foster peace. Foday is once again working on the frontlines to help his people when they need him the most. I highly respect Foday for his strength and service and consider him a friend.
In one of my most recent conversations with Topher, he had just gotten off the phone with Foday and the Radio Moa team. They said that the World Health Organization (WHO) has pulled out of Kailahun District, where Radio Moa is located; and, that there are concerns Doctors without Borders (MFS) may do the same. This news is extremely discouraging because WHO and MFS clinics are treating victims.
The departure of the international community is a terrible signal in a desperate situation and will undoubtedly raise fear among people already distraught.
Topher and FWA is seeking funding for equipment necessary for Radio Moa to stay on the air and to increase its efficiency. Like most community radio stations in West Africa, Radio Moa is operating on limited resources and used equipment. After visiting a community radio station in Sierra Leone, one friend said, “they run on an ‘aglet’ - the plastic tip of a shoe string.”
Topher and Foday have arranged for Andrew Kromah to bring the equipment to Radio Moa and to assist with the installation. Andrew will need to travel over horrible roads, possibly enrolling the military’s help. (See photo - Foday and Andrew)
I also know Andrew very well. Andrew had operated the first community radio station in Sierra Leone during the war, often in the face of death threats. After the war Andrew was a close friend of Search for Common Ground and helped establish numerous community radio stations across the country and to form a network of independent radio stations similar to National Public Radio.
Like Foday, Andrew is once again willing to risk his life to help his community.
Andrew said to Topher over the phone, “This is a war.”
It is with all my heart that I encourage you to support Foday, Andrew and Radio Moa in battling the Ebola outbreak. Let’s help Radio Moa be a voice of hope in a time of crisis and let the people of Sierra Leone know they are not forgotten.
Philip M. Hellmich serves as the Director of Peace at the Shift Network. He has over 25 years of experience in peacebuilding including 14 years with Search for Common Ground. He also served for four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone where he lived and worked in small remote bush villages. A published writer, Philip recently published God and Conflict: A Search for Peace in a Time of Crisis. He serves as adviser to The Global Peace Initiative of Women. A long-time meditation practitioner, Philip enjoys studying and teaching about the parallels between inner and outer peacebuilding. To learn more, visit: www.godandconflict.com
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This article appears in: 2014 Catalyst, Issue 17: Summer of Peace - Compassion, Ebola and 11 Days of Global Unity