West African Ebola Education Material in Wrong Language


Are We Educating W. Africans in Pig Latin?

When some of us were children (pre-texting era) we would use “Pig Latin” as a coded language when we didn’t want someone within earshot to understand our secrets. Our elders simply talked in the languages from the “old country”.

Since local and international aid groups and health care workers are making important efforts to educate W. African communities about Ebola avoidance, reporting, and decontamination, one would assume they’re doing so in languages that the people can understand, right?

Not so, points out Don Osborn on the linguistics site Beyond Niamey, who has been making this irony clear to us for quite awhile. West African Ebola education material is often in the wrong language.

Several recent posts on his blog have highlighted the need to provide information about Ebola in diverse African languages. He mentions two important efforts to share material for communication on the disease, which include almost no information (yet) in African languages: the Ebola Communication Network (ECN), funded by USAID and run by the Center for Communications Programs at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and “Ebola and C4D,” a page on UNICEF‘s Communication for Development (C4D) website.

The need for translators and materials in appropriate languages and dialects (such as Krio, and various Mande, Limba, Kruan languages) is essential, as e.g. only 13% of Sierra Leone women use English.

He notes that on the “Ebola and C4D” page, apparently launched in August, all linked materials are in English, French, or Portuguese, with one item in Khmer and one poster from Uganda in “Bantu” (which is a language family – may be Runyoro or Luganda – seeking to identify).”

Osborn makes a valid plea for “any proactive effort to develop the collection of materials in African languages in affected areas that might otherwise be overlooked.”

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