Church agency uses animation to battle Ebola

Note: Ebola: A Poem for the Living” is now available in 16 languages, with more coming. If you would like to assist in providing additional translations, please contact Neelley Hicks.

Just before he dies from Ebola, the sick boy in the animation video pleads with his mother: “I know you yearn to hold and care for me … to bathe your child in the cool shade of our home. But because you love me, Mama, I need you to be stronger than your tears.”

Phileas Jusu Jr., 11, reads the script with the conviction of someone who knows the story is true. Thousands have died of Ebola in his home country of Sierra Leone.

Young Jusu is one of the voices used for the animated video “Ebola: A Poem for the Living,” created by Chocolate Moose Media and mobile-health-education innovator iHeed in collaboration with United Methodist Communications.

His younger brother, Peter, 9, reads the Krio version. Krio is one of the country’s indigenous languages. Both boys are sons of Sierra Leone United Methodist communicator Phileas Jusu.

The video is available in eight languages, all using young voices.

“It was our biggest problem,” said Chocolate Moose Media founder Firdaus Kharas. “We had to get the exact age and accent because we were speaking directly to West Africans. The emotions would be the toughest because this was a life-and-death situation. I didn’t want something too flat or too emotional; the balance was crucial.”

“I feel proud that the whole country will be listening to animations from The United Methodist Church done through the voices of my children,” Jusu said.

The video was created for use in West Africa to help dispel myths about how Ebola is spread and promotes prevention of the disease. The video can be viewed and downloaded free at ebolavideo.com. United Methodist Communications provided partial funding for Chocolate Moose Media to create the video, which will be produced in various languages. iHeed served as executive producer.

“Our goal is to provide education that leads to better understanding of the disease and how to prevent infections,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. “Ebola gains its foothold in poor communities where mistrust, resistance to proper care, and lack of understanding of the virus and how it is transmitted is widespread. The church’s advantage lies in its grassroots network of trusted clergy and leaders who live in the affected regions.”

Kharas said he co-created the animation to “give Africans a voice.”

Kharas is an award-winning animator whose shorts addressing health, violence, literacy, malaria and cultural differences have been shown in more than 150 countries and adapted into more than 90 languages. He said the 30-second spots are the easiest way to reach large numbers and are accessible directly by the end user, the person whose behavior he’s trying to change.

“I create a cultural shift,” he said. “As human beings, we share values in common, so it is possible to communicate across borders and cultures using things like humor and animation.”

Kharas was one of the keynote speakers at the September 2014 Game Changers Summit hosted by United Methodist Communications. He debuted the script at that event.

iHeed is an Irish social enterprise dedicated to innovation in global health worker training.

“Digital media and animation can help fill the awareness and educational gaps in regards to the Ebola epidemic,” said Dr. Kunal D. Patel, medical director of iHeed. “In combination with technologies such as mobile phones, mobile cinemas, projectors and tablets, animated information can rapidly help counter the spread of Ebola."

Communication aids prevention

United Methodist Communications, the global communications agency of The United Methodist Church, is using a variety of approaches to help educate people in Ebola-affected areas about prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease, including providing text messages to clergy in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where nearly 70 percent of the population owns cell phones. Commentaries on television, radio and in print by trusted leaders are helping to correct misinformation and encourage cooperation with health programs to halt the spread of the disease.

The United Methodist Church is also responding to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa in a number of other ways, including treatment and prevention. The response is a joint effort by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, West African United Methodist church leaders and regional health boards, denominational health facilities, and others. For more information, visit umc.org/ebola.

Hollon said that United Methodist Communications is increasing its focus on using communications technology for humanitarian aid. “Lack of communications capacity has exacerbated this crisis. Those concerned with humanitarian assistance to people in crisis situations must be at the forefront of this new era of technology,” he said.

“The world has evolved the wrong way in regards to health. We’re better at treating disease after it happens. We should work on prevention,” Kharas said. “Ebola will rear its ugly head again unless we engage in preventative education before the next outbreak.”

Primarily accessed through download for local playback, all partners will use their various networks and channels to distribute the video widely in order to reach as many people as possible. Distribution channels include many international organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society and churches and through social media using the hashtag #Ebolavideo.

Jusu said the idea is “brilliant.”

“I think the Ebola animation is a brilliant idea and will influence many people in Sierra Leone, especially when it will be in children's voices.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. 

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