The Greatest Miracle
The Freetown Media Center was founded in 2009 by Banker White and Arthur Pratt to help build up the indigenous media sector in Sierra Leone. The philosophy behind the project has always been that no one is more qualified to help Sierra Leone than Sierra Leoneans themselves. Over the past eight years WeOwnTV has grown to support the media literacy, civic engagement, and digital production skills that facilitate workforce development in Sierra Leone. Since the center opened, we have developed deep and lasting relationships with a group of young African filmmakers, and our collective work takes a step towards the urgent need to transform the perception of Sierra Leone and the region.
In June of 2014 we turned our full attention to the unfolding Ebola epidemic. The outbreak itself is now widely regarded as the most acute public health catastrophe of modern times and our approach of ‘storytelling from within’ challenged the dominant models of how the story of the Ebola outbreak was being told for international audiences. Filmmakers at the WeOwnTV Freetown Media Center and local media makers from across the sub-region (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) all played a major role in not only reporting on the crisis as events unfolded, but also in creating life saving Public Service Announcements and educational materials that were distributed throughout the country during the most critical moments of the crisis.
“We, as Sierra Leonean Media Makers, had a critical role to play in telling the world, and each other, what was really happening on the ground here, and also in communicating what needed to be done to stop the spread of Ebola. We began making PSA’s from the Sierra Leonean perspective, using what we know about what it really means to live here, to broadcast warnings and instructions to our Sierra Leonean people on our local Sierra Leonean television networks. Our PSA’s went into heavy rotation and were some of the first to gain traction with the public in getting people to follow international health protocols. This was a tremendously powerful moment for me – the realization that nobody knows how to do this better than we do. That we are the ones with the knowledge, and also the power to share that knowledge with our community and beyond.” – Arthur Pratt, Freetown Media Center Manager
As the world grows smaller, and the global travel infrastructure allows for more frequent travel between communities around the world, the possibilities for the spread of outbreaks like Ebola and Zika are only increasing. This means that there’s more at stake than ever before when it comes to understanding how best to communicate with the people on the ground about these kinds of outbreaks.
The Ebola Outbreak of 2014 was not only revelatory in the sense that it pulled back the curtain on a broken and disorganized public health system in the region, but it also shed some light on the fact that despite the involvement of dozens of international media organizations charged with spreading the messages about how to prevent the spread of the disease, that perhaps the best people to send these intra-community messages were Sierra Leonean’s themselves.
We at WeOwnTV are proud to have supported these efforts, along our supporters, and to have created an enduring home for these important local voices in the international conversation about public health.