Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ebola education materials in African languages need an archive

We are approaching the second anniversary of the genesis of the ebola epidemic in West Africa in Meliandou, a village in the "Forest region" of southeastern Guinea, and hopefully also its end in that country. The the epidemic of course also ravaged neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have recently been declared ebola-free, and threatened to expand across the region before concerted local and international efforts turned the tide.

During the worst of the crisis I tried to highlight some of the ebola education efforts in African languages, with attention to some aspects that might affect their effectiveness to communicate messages. In that process I suggested that it is helpful to make health education materials in these languages widely available not only for their intended purpose, but also to facilitate improving them for future use, as summarized in "2Ds+4Rs: Why repost ebola info in African languages?"

At this time, with the peak of the epidemic thankfully behind us, it is important to find a way to archive ebola education materials in African languages. Other materials and lessons learned in English and French are certainly also important, but certainly won't lack for attention. It seems that there are three challenges for materials in African languages:
  • The languages are many, but materials in each relatively few
  • Materials are dispersed in different virtual and probably physical locations
  • Although some materials are accessible on internet, other materials on local or national levels are not, and in fact may in time be lost
So for instance the Ebola Communication Network and International SOS sites each have some posters in African languages (along with other languages) and a few in the same languages. That's fine, but why not also bring all the African language materials from those and other sites, to a site only on African languages, and group the materials by language? Such a site could be maintained by one or more of language organizations like the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), health organizations like the WHO Regional Office for Africa, or academic organizations such as the African Language Materials Archive (ALMA).

In addition to the digital materials shared on websites - text as well as audio and video - I imagine there must be more materials in diverse languages on national levels. How to gather those is another question.


Matthew Heberger said...


Here's a great article from The Atlantic magazine about how web content can just disappear:

Don said...

Thanks Matt, That is an excellent article. "If a Pulitzer-finalist 34-part series of investigative journalism can vanish from the web, anything can." Especially materials in less widely spoken languages from poorer countries and without policy or sometimes even full technical support. Think practically about "right to be remembered"!