And away it goes…first LEPP shipment headed to Sierra Leone!

October 2021

Earlier this year HealeyIRF was approved to participate in USAID’s Limited Excess Property Program (LEPP). After completing our training and squaring away our paperwork our first shipment is on its way to Sierra Leone.

The LEPP program has been around since 1987. It allows NGOs, like HealeyIRF, to access federal surplus property to support our work in Sierra Leone. Under the program we can request up to $1 million in surplus equipment and supplies. Currently, HealeyIRF is one of 16 organizations in LEPP.

Through our participation in LEPP we will obtain items for our three major program areas: health system strengthening, orphan and vulnerable children program, and emergency relief efforts. 

Items for health system strengthening

Our first order will support our health system strengthening efforts and includes folding table, lateral files, metal file cabinets, file charts, stackable and stuffed chairs, and wheelchairs. These items will improve the efficiency of the administrative operations of our partners, Caritas Freetown, and the Christian Health Association of Sierra Leone.

Hospitals and clinics expressed a need for items to support staff efforts to better organize patient records and to move medicines and medical supply items more efficiently from storage areas to the patients. So, the various file cabinets and metal carts are to support this request.

The stackable chairs and folding tables will be used by the hospitals and clinics in a variety of ways. Some facilities have requested chairs for their patient waiting rooms and others needed tables and chairs for use in their triage areas when checking in patients and taking their vital signs. Tables and chairs will support staff meetings and capacity training sessions for the staff’s professional development.

Valued partnership

The stuffed chairs and wheelchairs are for use by patients and their families. Many rural facilities have maternity houses where at-risk pregnant women come a few weeks before their delivery. Sometimes they will have a family member come with them. The large chairs are placed by the beds for the family to sit or sleep while they stay with the mom-to-be. Wheelchairs are always needed at facilities to assist patients. These wheelchairs are particularly useful as they are extra-large heavy-duty and will be helpful in certain critical situations for moving patients.

Caritas Freetown Health Administrator Sister Josephine Amara noted, “These items are very difficult for us to find, but they will help the staff at our health facilities be more efficient and organized. We are happy to be a partner with HealeyIRF and USAID in this program.”

Additional items included on shipment

In addition to the LEPP items we managed to squeeze in a few other items on the shipment. We are especially happy to be sending the children at St. Mary’s Fatima ICC copies of two books written by HealeyIRF supporter, Craig Beresin. We didn’t know we had a writer in the HealeyIRF family! Copies of Craig’s Michael Mickelstick Saves the Day and Michael Mickelstick’s Worst Birthday Ever are on their way. We know the kids are going to really enjoy reading them!

Finally, through our partnership with Seeds Program International we are sending over several boxes of Chinese cabbage seeds. Caritas Freetown uses these seeds to assist women in not only growing food for their families but increasing the number of food items they can take and sell at the market.

“The seeds that come from Seeds Program International are very good quality and much appreciated by the women,” said HealeyIRF In-Country Program Manager Ishmeal Charles. “With the added income from the additional crops they are growing they can afford to pay the school fees for their children. This gives them great hope for their future.”

The shipment will arrive in Sierra Leone in early December.

It’s been a while…

Little did I know that when I left Sierra Leone in November 2019 that I would not return for over 1 ½ years! I always enjoy my yearly visits. Catching up with friends and colleagues and just spending time in such a beautiful and welcoming country. So, once fully vaccinated and it was safe to travel, I set off.

The primary purpose of the trip was to visit the core facilities that we support with medicines, supplies, and equipment and assess if we are continuing to meet their needs. Four hospitals and ten clinics across the country was my goal.

I heard that what we were sending was highly valued. Sometimes it’s the things that you least expect that are really appreciated. For instance, portable commodes used in the delivery room and plastic bed coverings were very popular.

Partnerships provide positive results

With our medicine shipments we try to focus on the greatest need which is quality antibiotics. Through our partnership with MAP International and their Bringing Children Health we were able to provide a larger supply of amoxicillin syrup to children to treat pneumonia and other infections. This is critical to reduce the high under-5 mortality rate in Sierra Leone. Every facility pointed this out as a top item that helped them address health issues among children.

Our facilities also tell us that the Prenatal Vitamins, Vitamin A and Albendazole we provide them from Vitamin Angels really help improve the health of pregnant women and under-5 children. Zana, who I met at Monsignor Daniel Sullivan Clinic, was a few months away from having her first baby. She told me the prenatal vitamins really help her feel better and stronger.

COVID cases have not been high in Sierra Leone. Health facilities, however, are very much aware that this could change at any minute. They are following all the proper protocols and let us know that additional masks and other personal protective equipment would be welcome in case they do experience a rise in cases. Especially with the rainy season started this is a great worry.

Storytelling and spelling bees…..

No trip to Sierra Leone would be complete without a stop at St. Mary’s Fatima ICC. Visiting the children is always fun and they always make you feel so welcomed. Between braiding my hair and playing with my camera the afternoon went by fast. I am always amazed at Sisters Agatha, Bernadette and Felicia and their calmness and patience in dealing with 23 active, inquisitive and at times rambunctious children. During the time when schools were shut down for coronavirus, they used all their skills to challenge the kids and keep them engaged. They held debates and spelling bees and implemented evening story time. At the end they said they grew stronger as a family and they appreciated their time together.

The timing of this trip allowed me to attend one of the quarterly epilepsy outreach visits that Loreto Health Services holds throughout the year. Held in Moyamba Town I talked with several beneficiaries that told us how this outreach had changed their lives. Our partnership with ROW Foundation provides the epilepsy drug Roweepra to support the work of Loreto Health Services.

Capacity training improving service delivery

I also received reports from facilities on the benefit of the capacity training we supported last year. At Stella Maris, Princess, told us of a recent delivery where she and her nursing team used what they had learned through their Emergency Obstetric Training and successfully conducted a breech delivery. She said prior to that she would not have attempted a delivery. But, the training gave her the knowledge and confidence to do so.

Time truly does fly, and it seemed as soon as I got there it was time to go. Zoom is not a replacement for in person contact and visits and it was good to get firsthand reports from our facilities and share laughs with old friends.

25 Years & Counting – Happy Silver Jubilee

April 2021

By Megan Smith – Program Manager HealeyIRF

On the 9th of April 1996, at the peak of the brutal ten-year civil war that was ravaging Sierra Leone, Peter Alpha Leo Konteh was ordained a Catholic Priest. This year marks Fr. Peter’s Silver Year of Jubilee — 25 years in the service of God and the people of Sierra Leone. Happy Year of Jubilee!!

Father Peter is how he is known to the world. A name very much recognized and adored throughout Sierra Leone and here in America. I call Fr. Peter the “Mayor” of Sierra Leone, because everyone knows him, and he knows everyone by name. Traveling with Fr. Peter there’s always a hug or a handshake, a listening ear, guidance, support, love. He is a man that is truly adored and respected. There’s always a story of how he’s helped someone, or their family, or their friend. It seems there is always someone thanking him. It’s remarkable being in his presence, yet he carries humility throughout.

There is something unique about the man, the myth, the legend. As great a force that he is, you immediately feel like a part of his family. He is your friend and you are his. My first meeting with Fr. Peter I saw the love in his eyes and warmth in his smile. I was in awe and he became an instant friend and source of guidance. His smile, and contagious laughter lights up a room. But what elevates Fr. Peter is his heart, love and devotion to God and the people of Sierra Leone.

How it began

So here we are – all of us celebrating 25-years of Fr. Peter as a Priest. It seems like he’s been helping people all his life. And basically, he has. Fr. Peter grew up in a devoted Catholic household. He began his career in social work before deciding to enter the priesthood. The priestly formation led to academic degrees in Philosophy and Humanities and have been further enhanced with professional training and hands-on experience in various aspects of pastoral, humanitarian and relief work. He has always seamlessly blended his social and pastoral work.

Fr. Peter’s stories capture and enthrall any and all audiences. And he tells a great joke as well, even laughing before reaching the punchline and then repeating the punchline back to you at least three times, continuing to laugh like it’s the first time he’s heard the joke. But it’s his own life-story that could be a blockbuster movie. Each visit to Sierra Leone we learn more and more about our friend. His description of the ten-year civil war and what he personally endured was truly unbelievable. His life during that time, so very young and a brand-new priest facing harrowing circumstances was extraordinary. Fr. Peter doesn’t choose to relive the horrors, as is the way for most Sierra Leoneans, but he was a hero, risking his life multiple times to bring help to his homeland.

Telling the story of the war

During the days of the conflict, all journalists and media houses in the country were closed or destroyed by the rebel army. All other international medias fled in fear for their lives. It was extremely difficult to reach out internationally for help and let others know what was happening in Sierra Leone.

Fr. Peter served as a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondent, providing updates and information about the conflict and the atrocities the people faced daily at the hands of the fighting forces. Being a young priest, he spent most of his time delivering the reality of the war to the wider world in hopes the international community would intervene and help find a permanent solution to the brutal and senseless fighting in Sierra Leone. He had to move from location to location frequently as rebel forces were seeking him out. They knew he was the BBC source and he was a wanted man.

It was an “edge of your seat” thriller that was real life for Fr. Peter. (My colleague Vicki and I have already decided that Idris Elba would play Fr. P.) And throughout his BBC reporting and escaping from the rebel army, Fr. Peter served those in need. He protected people, he helped whoever he came across in his travels and was a haven for so many children whose parents lost their lives. He put the lives of others ahead of his own. God called him into this vocation at this particular moment in his history, yet it was just the start of his priesthood.

Helping bring peace

He was a pioneering member of the Inter-Religious Council, formed during the war and an initiative that brought together all denominations of Christians and Muslims to design a plan and pray jointly for peace in his beloved country. This Council grew into an integral part of the peace architecture that facilitated the dialogue between the Government of Sierra Leone and the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). During the civil war, he also worked in the management of camps (for both refugees and internally displaced persons) and with the resettlement of refugees. His successes were duly acknowledged by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as an outstanding example of remarkable integrity in Camp Management.

As he grew in pastoral and social work, he did not lose sight of his passion for child protection, and established the St. Mary’s Children’s Home in 1997 in Bo, to care for war orphans whose parents were killed, maimed and disabled or unable to care for their children. St. Mary’s Children’s Home thrived over the years and produced university students among its alumni.

Ebola epidemic

In 2014, when the Ebola Virus Epidemic spread in Sierra Leone, it was Father Peter who raised international awareness through his highly publicized presentation for the United States Senate and similar speech for the British House of Commons. Fr. Peter’s leadership in the Caritas organization helped to initiate a campaign to bring awareness and mobilization at the onset of this most deadly virus.

His hard work led to further direct Ebola response efforts like training, sanitation kits, in home education and respectful interments. At great risk to his own life, he traveled the country to personally assist families and to not only teach others about this virus but help in the healing process. He and his faithful team distributed food, water, clothing, blankets, hand sanitizers, medical supplies, personal protection equipment to health facilities and communities, set up wash stations and so much more. Fr. Peter worked around the clock for months on end. It was physical and emotional adversity that he never once complained about. He got up every morning and went out there to reach as many in need as he could.

The work continued and continues to this day for Fr. Peter and the Caritas Freetown team as they face natural disasters in the country from torrential rains and flooding, mudslides, COVID-19 and most recently devasting fires. Fr. Peter is a man who likes a good selfie but remains the humblest throughout all his great work. He will smile for the camera, but he doesn’t acknowledge his accomplishments. He just keeps going and never stops working for the people.

Many accomplishments

Amongst his many accomplishments, Fr. Peter served and still serves as the following:

  • Founding Member of the Inter-Religious Council
  • Archdiocesan Development Office Bo-Director
  • Director and Founder of St. Mary’s Children’s Home Bo
  • Director and Founder of St. Mary’s Fatima ICC at River No.2
  • Caritas Freetown – Executive Director
  • Vice-Chairperson for Caritas Africa Humanitarian Group
  • Chair President of the Fraternity of Priests in Sierra Leone
  • Chairman of the Advisory Board and Technical Advisor for the Healey International Relief Foundation
  • Board Member and Technical Advisor to the Fig Tree Children Foundation, an Australian organization based in Brisbane for underprivileged children (especially orphaned and vulnerable children) in Sierra Leone.
  • Member of the International Catholic Child Protection Committee based in Rome.

And on his downtime, in between his priestly duties, confessionals, masses and saving the world, he has completed studies in following areas:

  • Development Studies at the University of Dar es Salam Tanzania
  • Development Management in MDF (Management Development for the Future) at the Institute Arusha Tanzania
  • Diploma in Child Protection from Rome

He attends seminars and workshops for continuing education and educational advancement classes, courses and trainings for Public Health in Humanitarian Crisis, Conflict and Disaster, Communication, Child Protection, Humanitarian Aid, Community Health and Social Activism.

Telling the story of Sierra Leone

Fr. Peter has traveled the globe to tell Sierra Leone’s story. He advocates for children, women, and young girls’ safety. He believes in the power of education and providing the tools to create sustainability. As a result, in April 2019 Fr. Peter Konteh was honored by the Sierra Ovation Awards as one of the 100 most outstanding Sierra Leoneans. The award recognizes inspiring and influential young leaders in Sierra Leone.

Before I sat down to write this, I thought to myself, how do you describe the life of a man like this through a blog? It’s easy. You try your best to tie in all his accomplishments and recognize that the eyes of the Lord shine through the eyes of Fr. Peter. In the way the children light up when he comes for a visit. Or a parishioner thanks him for taking time for their needs. Or through his service and dedication to his peers, advocates, partners and loved ones.

No one wears their heart on their sleeve more than Fr. P. No matter the origins of your faith, Fr. Peter is there to love and support those in need. He is a true friend, a great travel companion, music lover, master selfie taker, Cool P, great joke teller and a light for all in Sierra Leone and around the world. Fr. Peter listens to and guides you and a simple conversation can become enlightening.

One of a kind

Ordination means grace for Fr. Peter. He doesn’t care about the awards or use his educational knowledge as a pulpit. Nor does he try to stand higher than his brother or sister. He chooses to stand next to them, hand in hand, to walk together in this world. I’m very fortunate to have Fr. Peter in my life; as a friend, mentor and priest who oftentimes forgives me for my lack of mass attendance.

There really is no other like Fr. Peter. All of us at HealeyIRF are blessed to have him in our lives working together through the years. The love of God is seen when looking at Fr. Peter. That is a love that is unconditional, unshakable, unforgettable, and infinite. His world of knowledge, depth and understanding of the human soul is his gift.

Join us in congratulating Rev. Fr. Peter Konteh with a spirit of joy and gratitude for his priestly vocation on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. We love you Fr. Peter!

Gratitude Tour

March 2021

There are many ways to put gratitude into practice, but the children at St. Mary’s Fatima Interim Care Center (ICC) decided on a gratitude tour.

HealeyIRF provides educational fees and operational support to the 23 children at St. Mary’s Fatima ICC.  In addition, the surrounding community and local parishes have also taken the children to heart and provide resources.

“We want to ensure the children grow to be good citizens and appreciate the blessings they have received,” noted Fr. Peter Konteh, Executive Director Caritas Freetown. “This tour was a way for them to show and share their love to the many people who have supported them.”

Many of the churches send donations of food to help the children. Others provide clothes or funding for items the children need, like backpacks, books, and notebooks.

Visits to churches appreciated
Children outside church

The children’s first stop was Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Juba.  After Mass they had a chance to say thank you to the parishioners. Over the next several weeks, visits were paid to six more churches: St. Luke’s in Wilberforce, St. Anthony’s in Brookfield, St. Elizabeth’s in Aberdeen, Blessed Michael Tansi in Godrich, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lakka, and Sacred Heart on Siaka Steven Street.

St. Mary’s Fatima ICC Social Worker James Nyamawa said, “The tour ended successfully. The Priests and parishioners appreciated the initiative and commented on how it had really brightened their day to see the children and how well they were doing.”

Girls standing in front of building at Don Bosco
Learning about work at Don Bosco

The gratitude tour also included a visit to the Don Bosco Center in Tombo. The children wanted to learn about the work done by Don Bosco and to meet the children at the center. James explained, “It was lovely as the children had the opportunity to interact with children from another ICC and to see the work of Don Bosco.” 

Don Bosco runs several shelters in Sierra Leone, and they have a program called Street-work. For this effort they take a bus at midnight into slum neighborhoods for outreach to at-risk children. They let them know about programs that can help them get off the street and training so they can find employment.

“It is important for the children at St. Mary’s Fatima ICC to say tenki to those who support them and to get a broad understanding of the world and the challenges others face,” commented Fr. Peter. “I am always encouraged by their grateful hearts and I was happy to share this gratitude tour with them.”

O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.

-William Shakespeare

MAP International – Bringing Children Health Program

Medical Supplies

February 2021

Thanks to MAP International and their generous donation of amoxicillin through their Bringing Children Health Program. Now, hospitals and clinics across Sierra Leone received much-need medication to treat children suffering from infections.

Noted HealeyIRF Program Manager Ishmeal Charles, “Amoxicillin is essential in today’s healthcare service in Sierra Leone and our efforts to address our high under-five mortality rate. Reducing deaths, especially from pneumonia, will save a lot of young children’s lives. MAPs donation of amoxicillin is life-saving.”

The 2,400 bottles of amoxicillin were distributed to 18 private facilities throughout Sierra Leone in late 2020. Stella Maris, a faith-based clinic in the Juba community outside of Freetown, was very appreciative of the supply they received.  Under-fives represent 47% of their patient visits and for those suffering from respiratory infections, 60% are under-fives.

Children’s health improves

Fatu Sesay, a lactating mother, came to the clinic to seek care for her baby who was suffering from the early stages of pneumonia and a cough. Given the amoxicillin she said joyfully, ‘‘We thank all for providing these medicines as they benefit our children’s well-being.”

Another mother, Sallay Dumbuya, brought her five-year-old son Abdulai to Stella Maris as he had a throat infection. Within a few weeks, she was happy to report that her son was well. ‘‘It may have taken a long time if we relied on what is locally available but today my son has recovered and we can now sleep well at night.”

An issue that many facilities struggle with is counterfeit drugs that are in the market place. Nurse Aminata explained that the quality of the amoxicillin supplied by MAP supersedes what is available locally. She added, “The quality of this drug has provided Stella Maris with a reputation of having effective drugs for treatment and this is increasing the inflow of patients. There is really a difference between this amoxicillin and what we used to buy from local pharmacies in Sierra Leone.”

Thanks to MAP International and their Bringing Children Health program. It is certainly bringing improved health to vulnerable children in Sierra Leone.

By sending medicine to those in need, our assistance leads to more than improved health because a healthier population means stronger families and communities

Steve Sterling, President & CEO MAP International