AWC-Purdue student chapter advisor receives humanitarian award for Ebola awareness campaign

Stacey Connaughton Headshot-sm

June 12, 2015 | Stacey Connaughton, associate professor and associate head of the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University and director of the Purdue Peace Project, has received the inaugural Humanitarian award from the Association for Women in Communications Lafayette, Ind. chapter.

Connaughton, who also is the AWC-Purdue student chapter advisor, has been advising a group of Liberians working with their government and NGOs on Ebola awareness.

“Stacey, along with her graduate students, Kai Kuang and Liliya Yakova, has worked tirelessly to help people halfway across the world in reducing the threat of Ebola in their country,” said Angie Roberts, AWC-Lafayette president for 2014-15. “As a board, we wanted to recognize the significant impact her communication efforts have made on the health and safety of Liberians.”

Under Connaughton’s direction, the Purdue Peace Project facilitated the establishment of the Pen-Pen Peace Network in 2013 to reduce the likelihood of violence among police, Stacey in Liberia_May 2014community members and pen-pen taxi drivers, many of whom are ex-combatants from the Liberian Civil War in 1989-2003 and are perceived as being overly aggressive. Last August, network members refocused their efforts on Ebola awareness and prevention.

“The network members felt it was important to address education and safety related to the Ebola outbreak, and they were positioned to mobilize quickly,” said Connaughton, who last visited Liberia in June 2014, before the Ebola outbreak became severe.

One of the cultural barriers the volunteers faced was the country’s traditional hands-on burial practices. “It’s incredibly difficult for them to try to convince fellow citizens they shouldn’t touch the body, not say goodbye in a traditional way,” Connaugton said. A second challenge was the distrust of government as a result of 14 years of civil war. “Sadly, well-intentioned government workers and international aid workers are sometimes not the individuals that an everyday Liberian wants to listen to,” she added.

Beginning last September, volunteers set up 25 sanitary stations in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia; disseminated Ebola awareness messages (in English and eight different local dialects) in person, in print, and on radio, including more than 500 brochures, around 200 posters, and 65 flipcharts for house-to-house health education; and reached more than 900 households door-to-door. Connaughton and her students advised the network via Skype and email.

“Liberians to whom the campaign message was spread have said that they know Ebola is real and they are taking preventive measures, such as washing hands more regularly, as well as avoiding hugging and handshaking,” Connaughton said.

On May 9, 2015, the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free.

AWC-Lafayette established its Humanitarian Award in 2015 to honor local AWC members who have promoted human welfare, peace and/or cooperation on a local or global level through communication activities, including strategic communications planning, creative execution, teaching and/or mentoring. The award will be given annually as appropriate.