Meet the Campaigner: Wannie Ngaujah
Wannie is a Speak Your Mind Campaigner and Journalist at Radio Democracy 98.1 Sierra Leone. She recently made a powerful documentary about COVID-19 and mental health which has already been watched and promoted by many, including Alison Brunier from WHO.
You work at Radio Democracy 98.1, the most listened to radio station in Sierra Leone. What’s your role there?
I’m basically a health reporter, even though I do other reports on other issues sometimes too. I have my own programme called Health Talk, where we talk about different health issues. I go to hospitals and clinics and get information and then bring it to my programme.
You must be incredibly busy at the moment then?
Yes - I’ve been doing health reports every day about COVID-19. There is a press briefing to inform the public about what’s going on every day - so I attend that and do a report on it.
Are you covering mental health in your programmes?
Yes of course - even in my programme today we discussed the psychological impact of COVID-19 on people.
“I noticed that people watch documentaries more than audio or a written piece. It’s like watching a movie - people want to watch until the end.”
What inspired you to make your documentary about COVID-19 in Freetown?
This is not my first documentary - I did my first documentary in 2018, when there was a tremendous increase in rape and domestic violence in Sierra Leone. It created a lot of impact. Before then, I was doing audios and posting them on social media, but it didn’t have much impact. When I did the documentary, I had human rights activists and civil society groups calling me because they were interested in it. I noticed that people watch documentaries more than audio or a written piece. It’s like watching a movie - people want to watch until the end. When I attended the Speak Your Mind campaign last year, I learnt a lot from other campaigners about mental health. I thought I could do a documentary about mental health that could create a similar impact to my other documentaries. I thought to myself - when I leave this meeting, I have a lot of work to do. And this is just the first episode, I’m working on another one, although it’s hectic at the moment because of my job.
The documentary has created an impact already. I have a good relationship with the government’s communication lead for COVID-19 and at the press briefing today he said he’s now working on psychosocial facilities for people who are affected by COVID-19. He saw my documentary and thought it was a good idea, so now they’re working on it. We now have five isolation centres, including some district isolation centres. They now have some counsellors there. He promised me that they would also work to improve psychosocial services after COVID-19.
What topics are you planning to cover throughout the rest of the series?
I have a lot in mind, but my next one will be about human rights. Even though we have COVID-19, people should not violate human rights. Last week, the President put out a notice that people are not allowed to go to certain districts for an indefinite amount of time. This is affecting people and I want to look at the human rights aspect of this.
“The government officials are my main target. I want them to listen and know what people are going through.”
Who are you trying to influence with this documentary?
The government officials are my main target. They listen to our programmes at Radio Democracy, even the President. I want them to listen and know what people are going through. We don’t have psychosocial facilities in Sierra Leone - it’s really disheartening. Especially for the Ebola survivors, who have been through trauma before. As I speak, this documentary is on our website and social media - and I know some government officials have seen it.
Your documentary touches on how the COVID-19 outbreak is triggering for many Sierra Leoneans and brings back painful memories of the Ebola crisis. Do you feel there was enough psychosocial support for people during and after Ebola and if not, what would you like the government to do differently in its response to COVID-19?
After the Ebola crisis, the government did not give people what they promised them - they said they would give them free medical facilities and take care of their livelihoods, but it didn’t happen. They had no psychosocial support whatsoever. So this time around, I hope the government will deliver on their promises. Medical professionals who lost their relatives during Ebola were promised that their salaries would be increased or they would receive some benefits, but they didn’t, so this time around they don’t want to risk their lives or the lives of their family members to be at the front of this fight when they know at the end they won’t get what they are promised. However, the government has developed a series of advocacy programmes for the nurses and has agreed to increase their salaries, which is good news.
Are there any specific types of programmes would you like to see the government implement to better support people in Freetown?
Government programmes don’t work well here. It’s sad to say, but the politicians are self-centred - they care about themselves and their relatives. Any time we have programmes that might benefit the majority of people - they tend to benefit the relatives of politicians - so it doesn’t work. They could implement agricultural projects to empower the youth but it might not work for these reasons. For now, I want the government to provide psychosocial support for people. We don’t have it - but if we did, it would really help.
You can watch Wannie’s full documentary here.