WeSurvive: Stories of the Ebola Outbreak

by Mirabel Pictures / WeOwnTV
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WeSurvive: Stories of the Ebola Outbreak
WeSurvive: Stories of the Ebola Outbreak
WeSurvive: Stories of the Ebola Outbreak

Dear GlobalGiving Supporters,

Thank you for the continued support you have given this project. Many of you also supported SURVIVORS when we began production back in 2014. There is no doubt the lockdown has been making me feel nostalgic - and I've decided to just embrace it - so this report is going to be filled with links and sharing. 

This first link showcases the original ebola survivors interviews we used in SURVIVORS. Most of them were filmed in Fall 2014, at the very start of the outbreak: https://vimeo.com/250981735

The rawness and honesty of the material felt so different from how we were learning about Ebola here in the US. And, now, as we are nearing final delivery of the WeSurvive oral histories archive to Emory University, I am so proud of the depth and nuance that these interviews will be adding to the historical record. To date, we have filmed and translated nearly a hundred hours of material, containing more than 80 interviews with Ebola survivors, family members, and West African frontline workers. 

Watching these testimonials again, now, still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been a very powerful experience. On the one hand, I am saddened that the Ebola outbreak did not act to inspire more preparedness for the pandemic we are experiencing now. Interesting also to revisit Bill Gate’s TedTalk from 2015 speaking on this very thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Af6b_wyiwI( I know excerpted clips were used from this in last year’s new cycle, but interesting if you want to indulge some pandemic-themed nostalgia.) But on the other hand, I am also struck with how much of the material celebrates stories of survival: https://vimeo.com/400429392

I also want to express my gratitude to the incredible Sierra Leonean filmmakers who have been our collaborators more than a decade as a part of the WeOwnTV program. It has been a privilege to watch their careers grow and have them evolve into the true industry leaders that they are. I also have been struck with the compassion and outpouring of love and support I have received from them as we deal with our own experience of this COVID-19 outbreak, political turmoil, and the tragedy of personal loss. :

Here is a link that details some of the COVID-19 related educational efforts the team has been involved with. Includes a message of hope from Arthur that he recorded as our lockdown began last year in 2020: https://www.weowntv.org/covid19

Congrats SURVIVORS cameraman and WeOwnTV fellow Tyson, who directed a powerful documentary just released by BBC AfricaEye https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYmXKVX4-Ws


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We are thrilled to announce that we have formalized our partnership with Emory University and are now in the process of delivering the WeSurvive oral histories archive to the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, of the Emory Libraries. To date, we have filmed and translated nearly a hundred hours of material, containing more than 80 interviews with Ebola survivors, family members, and West African frontline workers. These testimonials flesh out a tremendously underrepresented part of that event’s historical record and will enrich both how the crisis and the region are understood. We hope our team's efforts and the generous contributions of all the interviewees will help improve public health strategies implemented by foreign systems in the future.

Still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all now know first hand how difficult it is to build trust and understanding in the pressurized environment of a health disaster. One of our central goals in creating and sharing this archive is to add depth and authenticity to how the Ebola crisis is understood by sharing these personal testimonials. Our partnership with Emory will ensure this material is made available for Global Public Health researchers and professionals and can help craft more effective and nuanced policy and communication strategies for future public health events. The effectiveness of any public health campaign is dependent on behavioral change. Playing our part in rebuilding, developing, and sustaining public trust in health institutions and science will be essential work for all of us in our post COVID world. 

If you would like to continue and supporting this project as we develop engagement strategies and new educational materials - please donate using the GIVE NOW button below. 

“LEST WE FORGET! Our children and our grandchildren need to remember what happened during the Ebola crisis. We can never forget our history. We need to learn from it and to always be in prayer and to take actions that will ensure the safety and health of our people.”
WeSurvive Advisor Rev. Canon Dr. J.E. Modupe Taylor Pearce
Pro-Chancellor of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.


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Hello GlobalGiving Community,

We hope this message finds you well and that you are all doing well during these extraordinary times. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic our team has stayed quite busy, discussing our experience with the Ebola outbreak with a global audience and producing new public health messaging in Sierra Leone; here's a direct link  to some of our COVID-19 educational work.

One Sunday June 28th, we participated in a truly global panel hosted by the Global Health Film Festival (GHF). Arthur joined from Freetown, Sierra Leone, Banker joined from Boston, and Dr. Rebecca Inglis moderated the discussion all the way from Laos. We had more than 220 participants join the discussion from 24 different countries. A big thank you to festival director Gerri McHough for organizing such a great event,

GHF Classics volunteers have been hard at work collating reports and articles on pandemic preparedness that we wanted to share with all of you. They have come up with such an extensive list of resources that the festival added them to the Survivors event page this week rather than add them in here; highlights include this Global Health Now article on preparednessthis World Bank piece on lessons learnt from Ebola and this World Economic Forum piece on Sierra Leone and the Covid-19 response

Here is a parting message from Arthur!

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still from the documentary film, SURVIVORS.
still from the documentary film, SURVIVORS.

While we continue work on the WeSurvive database, our team has been very focussed on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and the possible impact in may have for us here in Sierra Leone and of course worldwide. in many ways, it has reaffirmed our deep commitment to this project and the importance of working to create trust in our health systems - between institutions and the communities they serve. This new outbreak started at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. It is spreading rapidly around the world. Though the outbreak still remains the worst within china, countries worldwide are now facing challenges in preventing and managing the spread of a new virus within and across borders. First off we want to extend our prayers for all the individuals and families that have been directly affected by the outbreak. Our thoughts go to the brave individuals, Doctors, Nurses, Contact Tracers and all those who are in this fight together and we want to say thank You.

WHO has expressed particular concerns about the vulnerability of countries with weak health systems and we are again thinking about how our own country may be affected by this new outbreak and what may we have learned through the experience of the ebola outbreak that ravaged the country 2013-2016. Without a doubt, our country’s health officials, doctors, and nurses gained invaluable experience during that time. The disease also very much highlighted weaknesses within our health system. For the purpose of this report, and because the virus itself is different, we want to focus on what we may have learned in the way of health education, public health messaging, combatting rumors and misinformation and dissemination strategies and partnership building during the outbreak.

Ebola: a refresher: Official WHO numbers for the recent West African outbreak were 28,616 Ebola cases reported with 11,310 deaths. The three countries most affected by the outbreak were Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, countries with little to no health infrastructure and whose citizens largely mistrusted their governments. Additionally, international aid organizations were unprepared to respond to an epidemic of this proportion. Original public health messaging often lacked a nuanced understanding of local customs, cultural beliefs, and practices, and therefore had difficulty engaging with local community leaders. Stopping the spread of the disease required isolating the sick and abandoning local burial practices. The highest levels of trust we needed to secure compliance and people were being asked to do this before this trust had been established.  

This project, WeSurvive is all about the importance of building better relationships between local communities and the institutions that serve them. It is about collaboration and working together whether you are a community member, a Humanitarian Aid organization or a local government official. “Communities need to be at the center of all public health efforts,” Pamela Scully, one of our project advisors explains. “Solutions lie with communities and working in villages and particularly with women at the start of an outbreak, indeed at the start of any project, creates sustainability. That work always needs to start from the ground up. But this is hard-earned knowledge.

In relation to this novel coronavirus outbreak, we have been most disheartened by reading reports of the suppression of information. This happened in its own way for us in Sierra Leone. We understand the complexity of this issue as governments are trying to control the spread of misinformation, but harsh tactics, such as jailing journalists, degrade this needed trust and in the end, paves the way for rumors to grow and thrive. It is also troubling to see the politicization of this new coronavirus outbreak. In recent days in Italy and the US, news organizations seem more focussed on flashy headlines that feed into this dangerous blame-game than they are on helping citizens understand important facts and information. Building trust in each other and in our health systems needs to first be based on trusted information. 

Back home in West Africa, Sierra Leoneans coming in from places such as China are being cooperative with the government regulated quarantines once you step out of the plane. We are jittery but hopeful, fearful but faithful trusting that we will not go through another outbreak if we act compassionately and thoughtfully. As human beings, we have the capacity to do great things, to modify our behavior in remarkable ways, even if this means great personal sacrifice if we truly trust it will have a positive outcome for our family’s community, nation, and world.

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Hello GlobalGiving Community,

This month we wanted to share a little more about how the WeSurvive project came about and include some of our source material from the archive. As non-fiction filmmakers, we spend our lives telling stories based on the process of collecting moments: everything from intimate exchanges between family members, to capturing defining historical events that come to represent our collective memory. In most film productions, just a fraction of this recorded material is edited and publicly presented leaving the vast majority never seen by anyone outside of the filmmaking team. Our most recent project, the documentary film, Survivors, was uniquely collaborative. During production, we worked with a wide network of local Sierra Leonean filmmakers to gather an enormous trove of interviews with Ebola survivors, their family members and others in the community who were directly impacted by the disease. Working as an editor on the film, some of the most profound learning moments for me happened while reviewing these first person testimonials. These interviews not only played an important role in the film, but also led to an inquiry into how to make source material available as a public archive. 

One of the first interviews I reviewed was an interview with an ebola survivor named Yebua. Her story was told succinctly and powerfully. She describes not only her disease process, but a process of transformation around her ability to trust institutions like her own government and international aid. when naming our project we wanted to place emphasis on survival instead of victimhood, and Yebua also very much embodies that spirit. Bellow is a link to the entire interview, shared with the same first draft translation that we first saw. 


We are currently in post-production on WeSurvive working with a team Sierra Leonean translators to perfect the titles and beginning the design process. We began production on WeSurvive in 2014 as we simultaneously began production on Survivors. In 2017 we began to produce these as a separate project in early 2017 and have been both recording, editing and organizing the database ever since. To date, we have filmed 120 interviews, which total more than 80 hours of footage.

The material will be presented unedited with English subtitles translated from their original languages. We are prioritizing a simple, clean design, which enables searchability for use by professionals in numerous different fields including the arts, history, anthropology, psychology, public health, medical humanities, epidemiology, journalism, sociology, and public policy. Recently, thanks to working with project advisor Dr. Scully,  Emory University reached out to us with an offer to archive the collection in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, of the Emory Libraries. The University has one of the best global public health programs and is the perfect academic partner for WeSurvive. The material would be preserved in perpetuity at Emory University and we will work together with them to create curricula and make the material available to researchers, educators, clinicians, global public health as well as broad public audiences. Please reach out to us directly to discuss more.

Thanks again for your support!


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Organization Information

Mirabel Pictures / WeOwnTV

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @WeOwnTV
Project Leader:
Banker White
San Francisco, CA United States
$10,014 raised of $15,000 goal
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$4,986 to go
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