Williams Pledge Transcript


Williams Pledge Transcript


[T]hat was the start of the Big Idea of the Week campaign. What we realized was a dead body was a lot more infectious than somebody with Ebola because, as you can imagine, the dead body was teeming with virus. I remember when we were trying to put together a message that would resonate. Jenni and some of the others were like, I wonder if we can get this to be a pledge? I was like, I think we should think about that. And so I started writing it down and trying to make it understandable to the public. I remember that evening, I went up to my mom and I was talking to her, and she was saying, "What are you guys going to do about this Ebola outbreak?" I said, "Well, we have to provide the information for people to understand that Ebola is a terrible disease. What it does, it infects people who you love. What it does is it infects people who have compassion for you." We have a word for that in Sierra Leone, it's called ajo. "People who have compassion for you are the people who get infected with Ebola. Because they come, they touch you, they try to help, and then they get infected." And she was like, "Oh! That's a terrible disease!" I said, "Yes." So, I was just joking with her. It started off as a joke. I said, "I'm working on this, and I've been trained, and I don't think I'm going to get infected. But just in case, don't come near me." And she's like, "You like talking nonsense!" [laughter] And I'm like, "No, but it's true. It's true."

I left from my mother's house and I went to the radio station with Joe Abbas. We sat there and we were talking about this, and he said, "Tell me a little bit more about this. Why is it important for us not to touch dead bodies?" I explained that by the time the person dies, the body is teeming with virus. Because of our traditional practices, or caring for the dead--washing the dead, grooming the dead, presenting the dead to the rest of the family and people touching, kissing, and all that kind of stuff--it provided an opportunity for the virus to jump from that dead person into the people he loved. I said, "I was talking to my mom, and I told her." I said it in Krio, and I'll try to do it here. I don't know if I'll be able to get the exact words that I said, because it just came out that way. But I said something like this. "So ar tell me mama, say--lek how ar dey wok pan dis ting so if me die, if me die mek ee no cam dey. If ar die ar no wan mek none me fambul dem touch me bodi. Because de ting wey go mona me pass all pass de die wey ar don die, nar if ar lay don nar me grave ar know say me infect me compin people dem wit Ebola." And in English, that would be something like, "If I die, I want my family to know that they should not touch my body. They should call"--I don't remember what the number was. Again, the numbers are different. "They should call the Ebola hotline and report my death, and let the dead body management team people come and take my body away and bury it safely. Because the last thing I want is for me to be responsible for infecting my loved ones."

That took off in a major way. It was covered all across the world. The ministers and some of the other permanent members of the Sierra Leone community also made similar pledges. People started realizing--because this is something that's sacred. We all grow up--I mean, the last respect and honor you can give to your parents or your loved ones is a good funeral. For prominent people to come up and actually say, "If I die, do not touch my body. Call the response team, for them to come and get my body and give me a safe and dignified burial"--I think it was a very powerful message, and one that resonated across the country.


“Williams Pledge Transcript,” CDC Museum Digital Exhibits, accessed June 14, 2024, http://cdcmuseum.org/items/show/783.