US Exchange Alumni Using Story Telling as A Tool for COVID-19 Recovery in Liberia

Sunnie Antonio Marcar, Jr., one of three Young African Leasers Initiative (YALI) Liberia alumni, who are using radio and social media to step up Covid-19 awareness

Monrovia – Three alumni of the Young African Leasers Initiative (YALI) Liberia, a United States Exchange Program, have continued their campaign against the deadly Coronavirus disease by continuing to conduct more awareness via radio and Facebook.

The three YALI alumni, Ms. Gertrude D. Toezay, Mssrs Sunnie Antonio Marcar, Jr. and Amb. Emmett K-Max Paye, Directors of Lend A Helping Hand Initiative, i-YOCA and LYFT Africa respectively, have now taken their awareness to another level by getting the consent of Covid-19 survivors to come and share their recovery stories. This indeed is a tool for recovery and awareness as life in isolation during a pandemic, can be difficult.

These alumni also use the social media platform to conduct regular awareness.

The program dubbed “Survivors’ Spotlight” is a sponsored program by the United States Government through its Embassy near Monrovia.

Survivors’ Spotlight features the voices of COVID-19 survivors in Liberia as well as affords the public a chance to phone in and make comments.

The program’s goal is to raise awareness, inform the public about the dangers, risks and realities of contracting COVID-19, reduce fear, denial, stigmatization of victims, and primarily encouraging citizens to take protective measures and seek early treatment upon observing symptoms of COVID-19.  

This is timely as the rate of infection drops in the country more Liberians have begun to let their guards down by not fully adhering to the health protocols, including facemask wearing and constant hand washing.

To date, Survivors’ Spotlight has aired 12 episodes and have featured 24 COVID-19 survivors. By the end of the last three episodes, the program is expected to have interviewed at least 30 survivors, who are recruited in consultation with the Ministry of Health.

So far, 14 of the survivors, who have told their stories, have come from Montserrado County, four from Nimba, two each from River Gee and Sinoe Counties, while one each from Bomi, and Maryland Counties. Those survivors included health workers, journalists, farmer, students, businessmen and women, etc. During their individual narration, they called for the need to improve awareness of the coronavirus, especially in rural communities.

Telling her story, Kormassah Vankpanah, a survivor from Montserrado County, stated that she may have contracted the virus while creating awareness in her community. “I took my treatment at the 14 Military Hospital.” On how she contracted the virus, she narrated: “I can’t really tell how, but I was on an awareness team; we were carrying on awareness about the same coronavirus, and somebody on our team was sick. That person came in close contact with me and showed symptoms.”

Jeremiah B. Gayflor, a journalist and a survivor in Tappita, Nimba County, stated that he may have contracted the virus while interviewing families of a victim. “I went to the victim’s family to interview them. The community where the guy had died, some of the community members, who should have quarantined themselves, fled and came to my farm. We interacted before I came back to Tappita.”

Even though he hasn’t faced discrimination, Jeremiah stated he had faced a psychological effect. After he returned home from the 14 Military Hospital, he was accused by his community of conspiring with the hospital to admit to being a victim of coronavirus. Furthermore, his landlord issued him a notice to leave the house where he earlier resided.

Johnson Bernard in Fish Town, River Gee County, had doubted the reality of COVID-19 until he became a victim. When he showed signs, he was encouraged by a medical practitioner to get tested. His source of contracting the virus is unknown.

Massa Peral, 37, another female participant from Montserrado County, was pregnant when she contracted COVID-19 probably from customers while selling in her community. She was taken to the JFK Medical Center and placed under oxygen, before she was transferred to the 14 Military Hospital, Liberia’s main Covid-19 treatment center. Most of the 25 days she spent there, she experienced lack of fetal movement/quickening, joint pains and sore throat.

Unlike, Jeremiah, she has experienced discrimination from her community.

“When I returned home, some of my friends stopped me from entering their homes, including my best of friends and their husbands. I was so happy, when I went home, I started going to their houses but then some of them started ‘ehn, ehn, ehn ehn, ehn, don’t reach here oh. They say you get the virus, don’t reach here!’”

For Sianneh E. Badio, a survivor from Margibi County, she nearly committed suicide when she was told that she was positive. “I nearly killed myself because I was pregnant at the same time. But when my people talked to me and I went to the treatment center, I felt good because everything was there.” Her deepest regret is that she lost her child two weeks after she was discharged.

Rochester T. Gaye, a Sinoe County health worker, stated that though his knowledge about COVID-19 was high, he decided to get tested when he felt symptoms. Rochester stated that he may have contracted the virus during sample collection training in Buchanan. Unfortunately, his wife also came down with the virus and they both were together at the treatment center. “I stayed four days before my wife joined me.”

An elderly female survivor from Bomi County, Ma Tenneh Carter recalled that she contracted the virus from a stranger who visited her. She expressed gratitude to the caregivers and the Survivors’ Spotlight team and encouraged the public to follow health protocols.

All of the 24 participants expressed regrets that they did not fully protect themselves against the virus, a factor that led them to contracting the virus. Participants experienced similar symptoms like severe cold, headache and joint pain.

The 42 callers who phoned in during the September and October editions, appreciated the impact of the program and the survivors for sharing their stories. They also encouraged the survivors to be strong to overcome discrimination.

Survivors’ Spotlight is broadcasted live on Truth FM 96.1 and Survivors’ Spotlight Facebook page every Saturday at 4 PM.