Liberian UM videographer thankful for Ebola response

Joseph Zeogar, left, and the Rev. Bob Hager on April 24 met with members of the Arkansas Conference Center for Technology team. The Liberia Conference videographer visited United Methodists in Arkansas, Texas and Wisconsin during his time in the U.S. AUM PHOTO BY MARK EPPERSON

Joseph Zeogar, left, and the Rev. Bob Hager on April 24 met with members of the Arkansas Conference Center for Technology team. The Liberia Conference videographer visited United Methodists in Arkansas, Texas and Wisconsin during his time in the U.S.
AUM PHOTO BY MARK EPPERSON

By Amy Forbus
Editor

Joseph Zeogar came to the United States this spring to thank the United Methodist Church and U.S. citizens for saving lives in his home country. But as the official videographer for the Liberia Conference of the United Methodist Church, he is a lifesaver himself, too.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak that affected the Republic of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia created widespread concern and confusion. Zeogar saw the effects of the deadly virus, as well as denial that it even existed, let alone had reached Liberia.

While the U.S. military built treatment centers to help deal with the crisis, Zeogar made videos about the precautions advised by the Liberian health minister and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He traveled by motorcycle across Liberia, sharing life-saving messages about preventing infection. He also stressed that Ebola victims could survive by going to a treatment center.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC deployed testing equipment so workers could separate those who tested positive for Ebola from those who were sick for other reasons. That capability made a huge difference, Zeogar said.

The United Methodist hospital was the only one to remain open throughout the crisis, and the church’s presence went beyond caring for the sick: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) helped prevent exposure to the virus.

“Our church, [an] UMCOR response unit, came in,” Zeogar said. “They brought a whole lot of food for our members and non-Methodists as well. Because having food into your home is one of the measures of preventing the virus. You don’t go out.”

Zeogar’s videos gradually helped build trust and spread the word about the work of UMCOR, the CDC, WHO, and the U.S. Army. Liberia on May 9 was declared Ebola-free.

After he documented the good being done, Zeogar wrote to the U.S. Ambassador requesting to come to the U.S. to tell the story of lives saved.

“The government did not send the troops on its own,” he said. “It depended on your taxes to send them to West Africa to save lives. I just came to the States to let every American know that indeed, they have impacted somebody’s life. They have saved lives in West Africa.”

Zeogar also emphasized that United Methodists’ generosity “gave UMCOR the power to move in rapidly into that country to save lives. So United Methodists across this country also saved lives in Liberia. That’s the reason why I am here.”

When Zeogar received approval to travel, he contacted his Arkansas friend the Rev. Bob Hager. The two filmmakers had a professional connection because Zeogar had helped Hager with footage for his 2013 documentary “Black Marks on White Paper.” While in Arkansas, Zeogar helped Hager shoot video for the 2015 Arkansas Annual Conference. He also spoke at several local churches.

The Liberia Conference doesn’t have a budget for video equipment; Zeogar has used his own aging videotape system rather than newer digital tools. Hager rallied financial support from a number of United Methodists in Arkansas to help change that situation.

“We are purchasing a Canon 7D camera, a Canon EF 50 MM 1.4 lens as well as a bag and a 32-gig memory card,” Hager said on May 26. “I hope to order the equipment in the next day or two, so Joseph can take it with him when he returns to Liberia in June.”

Zeogar wants to continue to help find ways that the world can come together not just to stop the outbreaks, but also to prevent Ebola from resurfacing in the future.

To watch a Zeogar video, visit www.tinyseedfilms.com.