Gmuma Camara is a correspondent at the Guinean Radio-Télévision in N’zérékoré in the mountainous, remote region of Guinea. It is in this dense forest region that the first Ebola cases appeared more than a year ago. Gmuma covers the surrounding villages and communities on foot and by motorcycle, when he can afford to. His reporting is an important link between these communities and the rest of the country, a vital lifeline in the fight against Ebola.
Journalists like Gmuma are the recipients of reporting stipends or equipment purchased from the 5000 USD raised in a successful crowdfunding campaign to support African Journalists reporting in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The campaign was a first ever collaboration between the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) and Hirondelle USA. These organizations have been deeply involved in the fight against the spread of Ebola.
In Sierra Leone, Cotton Tree News at Fourah Bay College is a teaching radio and the hub for a network of 26 community radio stations. With the crowdfunding from the campaign, correspondents are being supported with money for transportation to get to and from isolated communities, often deep in forested areas off poor, dirt roads.
“Top up”, or pay as you go phone credit, has been supplied to journalists in both Guinea and Sierra Leone, enabling them to call sources and transmit their interviews and reports via telephone to editors in the capital cities.
When schools opened again in Sierra Leone on April 14 after a 9-month closure, “visibly pregnant” schoolgirls were told by the Ministry of Education to stay home. With a reported increase in sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies during the Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leonean student journalist Mariatu Kabba knew this was an important story to follow up on. The small reporting stipend from the funds helped Mariatu get in touch with experts and explore the human rights implications of the decision. And she could put a human face on the story by speaking with girls who were directly affected. Several of them expressed feelings of stigmatization.
More than a year since the media reported the first cases of Ebola, there is still a critical need to support the journalists on the front lines. Gmuma from Radio N’zérékoré explained that lack of information and mistrust were still common in some of the communities where he is reporting. Last year, fear and misunderstanding led to the attack on health workers and journalists that killed eight people in Womé. “They understood nothing at all, hence the mistrust and the most absurd stories, leading to the attacks against the anti-Ebola teams”, explained Gmuma.
Supporting professional journalists as they continue to report on Ebola and address the aftermath- social, economic and quite possibly political consequences is as important as ever.
By raising critical funds to train and equip journalists, connect newsrooms to the Internet, and by providing transport this crowdfunding campaign was able to have a very direct and positive impact on the ground, where it counts most.
Executive Director – Hirondelle USA
“Press freedom and quality journalism requires decent working conditions. Numerous journalists unfortunately operate in environments of corruption, poverty or intimidation. The huge economic pressure many journalists face may also encourage them to compromise their independence from political power. As a consequence we need to make sure we not only provide them with a range of tools (Internet, cellphones, fuel for motorcycles, vehicles and generator, etc) to do their work properly but also make sure we continue helping them to face these daunting challenges by safeguarding their rights and livelihoods.
Continued support for journalists operating in a post outbreak period is ever more crucial. Journalists have the depth of knowledge to provide information that is truthful, trustworthy, and effective, in a language that is engaging and useful for the public at large. Without credible information, there will be no trust”
Executive Director – WFSJ
Copyright all photographs: Anne Bennett – Hirondelle USA