By Ishmeal Alfred Charles – In-Country Program Manager
The purpose behind every action determines its outcome. At the end and whole, the outcome of every medical treatment is birthed from the purpose of health improvement and gradual recovery. Only, this purpose is guaranteed when efficient medication is readily accessible. However, quality drugs are not always available in the medicinal market in Sierra Leone. As a result, there’s always uncertainty over the quality of medicines as much is counterfeit and substandard.
St. Anthony’s – A trusted treatment center
So for poor communities like Brookfield’s, Kroos Bay, Crab Town, Gray Bush, and Bololo most residents can only accept the quality of drugs sold by peddlers. These can often defeat the purpose of the treatment. Fortunately, there are a few trusted treatment centers, like St. Anthony’s Clinic for the Poor, where the hope of recovery shines bright. From Mondays to Sunday, patients with all sorts of complications queue. When interviewed, most of them commented on the “excellent quality service” available at the clinic.
Is it that St. Anthony’s Clinic manufactures special drugs? Is there some mystical power to make their drugs super-powerful? No! The secret is that the clinic is a beneficiary of medicines from the Healey International Relief Foundation (HealeyIRF).
On behalf of the clinics and hospitals in the Charity Health Network, HealeyIRF coordinates donations of medicines and medical supplies from organizations in the United States. After that, shipping the medicines and supplies to Sierra Leone and then distributing to the health facilities. That’s the magic!
Recently a shipment arrived with items donated by MAP International to HealeyIRF. Included in the shipment was paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen. It is typically used for mild to moderate pain relief and to relieve fever in children. Observing the positive impact of this particular drug supply was “immense” at St. Anthony’s Clinic. Staff and patients were pleased with the acetaminophen as patients said it improved their health.
In addition, Fatmata Kamara, a lactating mother, commented that the acetaminophen received at St. Anthony’s is “unusually effective and unlike what is locally available.” Such a testimony!
Therefore, thanks to all our partners for the quality medicines. Because they truly help improve health outcomes for vulnerable populations in Sierra Leone.
“Ialone can not change the world. But I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.” Mother Teresa
In 2016, Healey International Relief (HealeyIRF) was awarded funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to provide higher education for Holy Sisters in Sierra Leone West Africa in nontraditional professions. There was a need to address the training of religious nuns to meet the changing socioeconomic demands of the 21st century. In addition, it offered advanced education for those who otherwise would not be able to bear the cost.
When given the opportunity, the Sisters in Sierra Leone were elated. There was a wide range of interests. However, the focus of the program was to support study that would help strengthen their religious order and the work they did.
HealeyIRF received many applications from local congregations in Sierra Leone. With the help of Fr. Peter Konteh, Director of Caritas Freetown, twenty-five students were admitted into the program. Budgets were completed by each student, listing their tuition per year, school supplies, books, cost of laptop and other needed equipment, internet service, travel and transportation. Late 2016, the first group of students began their studies. Additional Sisters followed in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Great interest in the scholarship program
Three students enrolled in programs at universities in the United States; two students enrolled at schools in Ghana; one student in South Africa; and the remaining students studied at local colleges and universities in Sierra Leone. Since the beginning of the program, nine Holy Sisters have graduated. Of those graduates, their certificates and/or degree programs were in the areas of nursing (SRN) State Registered Nursing Program, teaching, bachelor of science in educational administration, four master’s degree graduates achieving their Master of Science in Psychology, Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Master’s in Business Administration, Master’s in Educational Management and two PhD students, graduating with their PhD in Educational Management and Organizational Leadership.
Students currently enrolled are studying in various fields and degree levels; Bachelor of Science in Medicine, Bachelor of Education-Guidance and Counseling, Bachelor of Education-English, Master’s Degree in Business Management and Administration, educational administration and management, teaching certificates, public health studies, public health-laboratory, public health-epidemiology, Master’s in Public Health- Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety, Master of Public Administration, Master of Education and Master of Education-Guidance and Counseling.
The Sisters have expressed great gratitude for this opportunity to learn and help better serve their congregations and missions. We are proud of all the Sisters in the program. To the graduate’s present and future, an investment in you is building a brighter future for Sierra Leone.
Read about two of our graduates and we know you will agree with us!
Sister Margaret Mary Happiness Osuji of the Handmaids of the Holy Child of Jesus Congregation in Pendembu studied at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana Campus. Prior to entering the scholarship program, Sr. Happiness earned her bachelor’s degree in Education for Accounting. These skills helped Sister Happiness oversee Pendembu’s school and health clinic. However she knew there was much more to learn. She worked hard throughout the master’s program and was rewarded for her effort. Walking in her graduation ceremony in August of 2019 in Ghana, Sr. Happiness received her master’s degree in Management and Human Resources.
Sr. Happiness sent the following update, “Presently I am still in the secondary school where I serve as the Head of Commercial Department, a Teacher. With my present knowledge in administration, I help out with administrative matters both in school and in our congregational health facility. This ensures smooth running within the institution. I want to use this opportunity to again express my appreciation to the Hilton and Healey teams for giving me the opportunity to acquire my Master’s degree. This has added value to my person, widening the scope of my ability to serve God’s people in a different capacity. Although I am done with my studies, I hope we continue to communicate as a family. I am willing to be of service to the team whenever the need arises. Thanks, and God bless!”
There is no waste in Sr. Juliana’s Work! Sr. Juliana Wangao of the School Sisters of Notre Dame Congregation sent an update on her studies and recent projects in-country. Studying for her Degree in Public Health majoring in Epidemiology she wrote, “I am in my second semester in fourth year. It is the last semester after which, I defend my dissertation and graduate in February 2021. This was the initial plan set by the school before the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, this plan has changed. I am hopeful that God willing we will go back to school and complete the remaining semester.”
Sr. Juliana said that “despite the current situation around the globe and not being able to attend classes, I am writing my dissertation on “Challenges of Understanding Informed Consent Among Patients at Holy Spirit Hospital.” Holy Spirit Hospital in Makeni is a health facility that HealeyIRF has supported throughout the years, providing medicines, medical equipment and supplies. “In addition, I have been participating in creating health awareness and education in my community surrounding the coronavirus and how to protect one another from contracting the virus. For instance: washing of hands, wearing of masks and social distancing. Before the coronavirus, I volunteered to help in chlorinating water wells around my community and educating the communities on how to keep the environment clean, especially the dangers of plastic bags in our surroundings.”
Thanks to all the Sisters who participated in this program. And a very special thank you to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for the funding to support this effort. In the coming months we will be highlighting more of the Sister’s educational accomplishments in our blog so stay tuned!
“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” AfricanProverb
When I discuss Sierra Leone, I find most people have never heard of the small West African country. I’ll mention “Blood Diamonds” the very famous movie in the 90’s, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, or child soldiers and the country’s ten year long civil war. It is those mentions that spark a bit of knowledge. But still, most are unfamiliar. And there’s so much more to Sierra Leone, so much to love about this country, its people and its varied terrain. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, there are beautiful, white sand beaches backdropped by mountains, several islands, coastal waters, estuaries and rivers, lush terrain, tropical rainforests and deep forest surroundings. “The original Portuguese name, Serra Lyoa (“Lion Mountains”), referred to the range of hills that surrounds the harbor. The capital, Freetown, commands one of the world’s largest natural harbors.”
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Sierra Leone a handful of times and while our days and nights are occupied with of course, work, we try to see something new each trip. If time allows, we explore the unknown in beautiful Salone. Reading about the country I came upon Bunce Island. I was ignorant of its history and wanted to learn more. We asked our Sierra Leonean friends and coworkers about the island. Very little was known. They knew it was there of course, its history of slavery, but none had visited.
Mind you, it’s not the easiest island to explore. You must rent a boat which takes about 45-minutes to reach the shores. You are limited on time because of the rising tides and access to the island. And it’s not cheap for those in Sierra Leone to visit. Sixty percent of the population live below the national poverty line, thus remaining one of the world’s poorest nations. Although many Sierra Leoneans express the longing to visit this historically significant site, it’s just not feasible.
Bunce Island – Link to North America
I had no idea the island accounted for one of the largest European slave trading sites. Fifty thousand or more men, women and children ripped from their homes, held captive and forced into slavery on boats set sail for America. Most of the slaves who went through Bunce Island from what they called the “African Rice Coast” were sent to South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida where knowledge of rice cultivation was in high demand. African farmers with rice growing skills were kidnapped from the inland and sold at Bunce Castle. Bunce Island has been called “the most important historic site in Africa for the United States”.
And it truly is, but sadly the history is nonexistent in schools. I would never know of this island if not for our work in Sierra Leone. The Yale MacMillian Center notes, “Bunce Island is so strongly linked to North America, though, that its connections go well beyond South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Recent historical research has shown that slave ships based in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts stopped at Bunce Island regularly in the 1750s and 1760s. New England slave merchants sailed the human cargoes they purchased at Bunce Island to Charleston and to various ports in the West Indies.”
Situated in Freetown Harbor, the estuary of the Rokel River and Port Loko Creek, about 20 miles upriver from Sierra Leone’s capital city Freetown is Bunce Island. The British slave trading castle worked strategically for European slave traders because of its location, allowing easy navigation for oceangoing ships in Africa’s largest natural harbor. In 1670, the island was fortified by English slave traders and operated until 1808.
The quiet ride to Bunce Island
The day planned for our visit was met with rains in the early morning hours. A boat was reserved and about 15 Sierra Leoneans, coworkers and friends of the foundation were set to come along. We thought we would have to cancel the trip, and everyone was disappointed. But luck was on our side because the sun started to pierce through the clouds, the rain subsided, and we had just enough time to make it to the boat dock and jump onboard to visit this historic site. This was altogether a different kind of tourist site to take in. Aware of its history, I believe the whole group shared the same anticipation that was met with reflection and sadness. It was a quiet boat ride to the island, a respectful attribution for those that suffered at this site.
As we neared, I was surprised at how small the island was. It is surrounded by dense forest and has a small sandy beach that runs along its outskirts. The rocky waters began to settle as the boat pulled up to the islands edge and there was an eerie stillness in the air. As our group unloaded from the boat, the island’s tour guide and resident caretaker greeted us. He has been a staple to the island, providing maintenance and keeping a watchful eye over this important site.
Walking back in time
Rich vegetation fills the land with magnificent looking trees that look like something out of Narnia. Overgrown plants and shrubbery cover most of the island. Unique and beautiful flowers have made their homes in the trees, bushes and tall grass. We walked along winding trails to the varied sites. There is a calmness and tranquility on the island. It is hard to describe really, that feeling of walking back in time, through history where darkness prevailed, and thousands of innocent lives lost.
This was a tangible history lesson for us all and that kind of experience allows you to understand the true suffering and devastation of the past. One simply cannot grasp the brutalities that slaves endured. Thousands of men, women and children kidnapped, ripped from their homes, families divided never to be seen again, thousands killed. Innocent people treated as a commodity all for profit’s sake. I walked in the indentations of ghosts of the past and words just couldn’t suffice.
Somber History Lesson
Each step closer to the ruins on the island brought forth deep emotion, a feeling far exceeding empathy. Walking the paths and trails with my friends, fellow Sierra Leoneans, I witnessed the bereavement on their faces, saw the reflection of sorrow in their eyes, knowing family members could have been standing on this very site. Yet, like a Sierra Leonean person does, they smile stoically because while the past is important to remember and acknowledge, their resilience wants them to stand strong and keep moving forward. At times we separated and walked off alone standing at certain sites, lingering longer than others. Some stood in prayer, some stood in honor, but I think during those alone times we all stood in solidarity for the lives and loved ones lost to that island.
Canons still visible
Bunce Island House, the headquarters building where the Chief Agent lived with his senior officers, was at the center of the castle. Old canons with markings of the Royal Crest laid amongst the deep grasses on the island. The canons were placed along the islands edge to “protect” it from invaders. Gravesites, all dilapidated, show the names of British officers. We learned that any African who died on the island was not given a headstone, or any markings. It was as if they were trying to erase their existence, or maybe trying to erase their own brutality by ignoring the deceased.
We passed what appeared to be watch towers and holding cells. The tour guide showed us “the hole” similar to what they call “the hole” in prisons. Dug into the ground with very little light peering through, prisoners of the island who acted out were forced into this hole. They had no room to stand or stretch out. Some were held for days, weeks with little food or water. Many died in the hole, children included.
The buildings, or remnants of buildings have vegetation growing in and out of them from every direction. But considering the age and inclement weather the island endures, it’s pretty remarkable such structures still stand. I looked at these crumbling remnants, astonished at the fact that it was this vegetation keeping them alive. Massive tree roots intertwined and held together the fortress headquarters. The best way I can describe is like seeing someone use their back, arms and legs to lift something heavy. That was what these trees were doing. They were holding on, with all their might, to the remnants of this island. They were holding onto history. Nature has an incredible way of devastating homes and structures, yet here we are on this island that gets trounced with rains and winds and the roots just dug in and began lifting the past.
More need to visit Bunce Island
Some think the vegetation is swallowing the remains. I don’t agree. I’d like to think its nature’s way of not letting us forget. The trees hold up these structures for the thousands of innocent lives lost. The atrocities that occurred on Bunce Island will not be erased because buildings have crumbled and disappeared. Mother nature had its eyes on this island and now it’s the heart of what keeps its devastating past and truths alive. History books continue to ignore it, but it won’t be forgotten. It was a humbling visit, that provided great detail and history for not only Sierra Leoneans and Americans, but people all over the world.
There were early mornings, long days, and many kilometers covered. However at the end of the two-week biomedical repair and assessment visit last November by the TRIMEDX Foundation, plans were already being made to return to Sierra Leone.
The World Health Organization estimates that between 50-80 percent of medical equipment in low-income countries is not in working order. A top request from the health facilities we support is assistance in repairing medical equipment. Thanks to the TRIMEDX Foundation, whose mission is to address the international need for medical equipment repair and support, we were able to begin meeting this need.
Repair and assessments conducted
Working with the Christian Health Network of Sierra Leone (CHASL), ten facilities were visited. Four facilities were in the western area and the remaining six in the northern and southern provinces. The TRIMEDX Foundation team of three biomedical engineers was led by Sierra Leone native Moses Baryoh. Facility visits consisted of repair and assessments of non-working equipment and an inventory of all working equipment. A total of 334 pieces of equipment were inventoried, 140 assessed or repaired and 40 identified for follow-up.
Florence Bull, Health Coordinator at CHASL, said of the visit, “We want to express our gratitude for the tremendous sacrifice and input you’ve made to improve service delivery in our facilities.”
In addition to repairing and assessing the equipment, the TRIMEDX Foundation team provides training during the site visits. Noted Mr. Baryoh, “TRIMEDX Foundation commits to provide as much training as we can during our site visits. We want to leave skills behind like basic preventative maintenance practices and trouble shooting of frequently used equipment such as oxygen concentrators, autoclaves, patient monitors and blood pressure machines.”
TRIMEDX Foundation Tradition
Few individuals in Sierra Leone have training in biomedical equipment repair, however, at each facility all were eager to learn. David Mattia at Serabu Hospital was one such individual who impressed the team. Working at Serabu since 2009 David was ready for the teams’ arrival. He reviewed all the issues with the non-working equipment.
Throughout the day David and the TRIMEDX Foundation team worked on the equipment and conducted inventory. A TRIMEDX Foundation tradition is to leave behind a tool box. David was the recipient. He was very appreciative and said, “I will try very hard to make very good use of it.”
Due to the coronavirus, biomedical technician visits have been postponed in 2020. As soon as it is safe to travel, we will welcome TRIMEDX Foundation back to Sierra Leone. Facility managers are already asking, “when will the maintenance team visit us?”
Many thanks to TRIMEDX Foundation and your partnership in helping us strengthen the health system in Sierra Leone.
The community of Moriba Town, Sierra Leone is located in a beautiful, rural setting but far from services, especially healthcare. Approximately 160 miles south of Freetown, nearly 12,000 people call Moriba Town home.
HealeyIRF is committed to supporting facilities in remote areas of Sierra Leone where healthcare services for vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and young children, are desperately needed.
The district where St. Mary’s is located, Moyamba, has a life expectancy at birth of slightly over 44 years. The national average is 55.5 years. It also has one of the highest under-5 mortality rates in the country.
Clinic forced to close during war
St. Mary’s Clinic opened its doors in Moriba Town in 1986. During the civil war (1992-2002), the facility was taken over by rebels and vandalized. It was forced to close. Bullet holes and graffiti were still visible on the clinic walls, when HealeyIRF did a clinic assessment in 2012.
The clinic reopened in 2007. HealeyIRF supports St. Mary’s Clinic with medicines and supplies. Without the clinic, access to healthcare in the area is extremely difficult. The closest hospital is nearly 35 miles away over challenging roads. During the rainy season these roads can become almost impassable.
Mary Gbandi, a resident, said, “I am happy that we have a clinic in our neighborhood and thank HealeyIRF for their support.”
Deliveries this year to the clinic include gloves, masks and other items to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, medical supplies such as bandages, sutures, lancets and biomedical waste disposal cans were sent to St. Mary’s.
Medicines & Supplies Delivered
Helping improve health outcomes in Moriba Town for under-5s and pregnant women is a key component of HealeyIRF’s healthcare focus. Treating children with diarrhea and respiratory infection is critical and antibiotics are given to the Clinic. Also, many children in the community suffer from parasitic worms. Through our partnership with Vitamin Angels we are able to supply the clinic with albendazole to get rid of these infestations. This partnership provides pregnant women with multivitamins helping them maintain their health and have a greater chance of delivering a healthy baby.
“This community is very near to my heart,” stated Health Administrator Sister Josephine Amara. “I am from this district and am well aware of the struggles of people to access quality healthcare services. We will continue supporting St. Mary’s Clinic as it will help improve the health of so many in need.”