Speaker to discuss role of Liberia’s soldiers in Ebola fight

Stacey Connaughton
Stacey Connaughton

Next month Colorado State University will get a glimpse into the fight that Liberia has waged against Ebola.

On Thursday, March 5, guest lecturer Dr. Stacey Connaughton will present “Organizing to survive: The unwavering resilience of everyday Liberian citizens in combating Ebola.” Connaughton is an associate professor and director of the Purdue Peace Project at Purdue University. The lecture will be held in room 131, Behavioral Sciences Building from 7 to 8:30 p.m. A reception will follow in the Lory Student Center Grey Rock Room from 8:30 to 10 p.m.

Connaughton’s lecture isn’t just a tale about confronting the deadly epidemic that seized Liberia in 2014.

“It’s about how everyday citizens can affect change in a profound way,” she says.

Connaughton began working in Liberia in 2013 with what became known as the Pen-Pen Peace Network. The group, which is composed of motorcycle taxi drivers (known locally as pen-pen drivers) police officers, Liberia’s Ministry of Transport and pen-pen customers, originally organized to work on peace-building.

As Liberia emerged from its 14-year civil war in 2003, motorcycle transit quickly spread. Many former soldiers turned to pen-pen driving. By the time Connaughton got involved through the Purdue Peace Project, pen-pen drivers had achieved status in Liberia as social outcasts who staged political violence and other illicit acts at the bequest of criminals and political parties.

The Pen-Pen Peace network was working on a campaign to improve the perception of the drivers when Ebola hit.

Pen-Pen riders
Pen-Pen riders

“We were a year into that campaign when suddenly from within there was a strong desire to transform their efforts,” Connaughton says.

The extensive grassroots public health work this 22-member volunteer network embraced is the story Connaughton will share on March 5.

“What is remarkable about their story is that these are people, who themselves do not make very much money, but who care so passionately about their people and society that they were willing to risk their own livelihood to save their country,” Connaughton says.

Connaughton is the keynote speaker for the Department of Communication Studies 2015 Gravlee Lecture Series, created in honor of G. Jack Gravlee, who served as department chair from 1975 to 1985 and retired in 2004. The lecture series brings eminent communication scholars to campus for a keynote presentation and interaction with students, faculty, and the university community.