Tag Archives: Zoonotic Diseases

Sorry Mr. Gates…it takes a village not a Sultan!

My name is Cynthia Moses, and about five years ago I had the zany idea that I could start a non-profit organization. Here was the motivation. My mom left me $65,000. I didn’t have a real job at the time, but I did have many years of news and filmmaking experience, especially in making wildlife films, primarily in the Congo Basin region of Africa and mostly on Great Apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos.

It was a great way to make a living, but something happened. There was an Ebola outbreak and a group of gorillas I had known over 5 or 6 years of making films about them (and lots of people whose families I knew) died during an Ebola epidemic. I was struck with the idea that the films I was making were not going to make a difference in a situation like this. My work was for Americans and Europeans. It neither encouraged the people who actually shared their habitat with Great Apes to conserve them, nor did it have any effect on preventing zoonotic (diseases that pass from species to species like Ebola) diseases. In fact, I participated and then withdrew from a production by National Geographic that only made Ebola look like another hopeless African disease that came from a continent riddled by frightening dark diseases.

So fast-forward to 2010. I am now Executive Director of a 501(c)3 non profit called INCEF (International Conservation and Education Fund) and I work with teams of local media professionals in the Congo Basin (and sometimes in other places) who make videos and with local education team who then literally walk these videos from village to village using portable rechargeable projectors, ipods and speakers.

Technology for INCEF isn’t internet, iPhones or iPads. We go where there is no wifi, no cell phone coverage, and deliver to people who have no idea that they are considered part of a global community. In fact our education teams walk, bicycle, and sometimes boat or even occasionally hitch a ride thousands of kilometers and reaching 100,000’s of people.

Here’s what we do: locally made videos for local audiences in local languages. Most of the people who see these videos have never even seen a live chimpanzee except as smoked meat!
Almost 94% of the audience we reached say they won’t eat Great Apes after watching our films. That’s probably pretty high, but even if they are thinking about it, we’ve made a difference. 92% said they would no longer harvest, or even touch carcasses they find in the forest. This is huge since they have no idea how those carcasses died or what diseases they might be carrying. Is Ebola present, probably? Has our work prevented a possible outbreak, maybe – but since 9 in 10 people die from the disease can we afford not to see this as progress.

So, I thought by reaching the audience who is most responsible for wildlife, most at risk of passing diseases back and forth to them, I could actually make a difference. And we have.

Visit our website: See our performance report on our website, watch a few films.

I also thought people would want to support it, that we would provide a service to the bigger organizations working to save these species by supplying them with an expertise they didn’t have. They are great at creating websites, making films that promote their work and raising funds. They are not great at involving local audiences in their own issues.

Well, perhaps you already know the end of this story. We’re broke. Why are we broke? We’re broke because first of all I suck at raising money. But we’re also broke because none of the money to save gorillas and chimpanzees or prevent Ebola or other zoonotic diseases (look it up if you missed it above) is available to our work.

This is where Mr. Gates comes in . Did any one read how 700 million dollars couldn’t prevent polio? I went to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website and it says specifically that they will not fund projects that provide Exclusively social or behavioral interventions — well if you want people to take a vaccine, shouldn’t you educate them about it first, change their attitude or any superstitions and then get them to change their behavior toward taking that vaccine?

Its called bottom up, grassroots, involving people in the determination of their lives, empowering the locals with information that can well, save their lives. Sultans don’t care. Even governments don’t care. One country we work in has just 3.5 million people. They’ve received about 100,000 million dollars to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. Do the math. 65% of the population we’ve reached in that country have never received education on AIDS, Polio, Malaria – It takes a village and until everyone realizes that education has to start at that end of the spectrum – well 700 million in one decade, 700 million in another… and on and on.