Sweet Salone

Traveling to Sierra Leone quite literally brought my work to life.  I’ve been here at the Healey International Relief Foundation for eight months and up until a couple of weeks ago, spending Monday through Friday in an office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey—about 4,300 miles away from Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown.  This week-long venture to Salone would leave me more connected to my work than ever.

On November 10th, 2019, I landed in Lunghi International Airport alongside my boss, Ben, his wife Flor, my coworker Vicki, and a representative from our partners at MAP, Jeff.  As we stepped out of the airport, luggage rolling beside us, a familiar face greeted us, Ishmeal Alfred Charles himself.  To me, this was wild.  I had communicated with Charles via emails, texts, and video conference calls but never became acquainted face-to-face.  My first night in-country was capped off with a Star beer and dinner alongside most of the U.S. and Sierra Leonian Healey International staff.

Our first two days, packed with visits to medical facilities, the ICC, and our warehouse, was very surreal.  I’ve been creating fundraisers to support Christ the King Hospital, Sullivan Clinic, St. Anthony’s Clinic, and others for months, but to drive through the surrounding slums and step into their respective compounds gave me a new understanding of the impact of these facilities.  The communities were visibly impoverished.  Each visit was miles from the nearest city clinic. We turned off newly paved tarmac roads onto uneven dirt roads,  packing anywhere from five to seven of us into a vehicle. We bounced around in the back seat, trying not to elbow each other accidentally.  As we neared the compounds, each scene was almost identical—mothers hanging damp clothes on a clothesline, children with ripped shirts and no shoes playing soccer,  and others sitting in the shade to trying to escape the humid Sierra Leone heat. I was told, but I couldn’t imagine, that many of these communities were much worse in years past.

Each of the healthcare workers I’d spoken with echoed the same sentiment.  The communities surrounding have seen only positive growth since having a clinic or hospital to care for its people.  Sister Josephine (another face I had seen on our monthly WhatsApp meetings but did not have the pleasure of meeting in person until my trip) was our eyes and ears on the ground.  She regularly visits each of the clinics and hospitals we support, ensuring that our medical supply and medicine donations are at the very least useful.  I understood Sister Josephine’s dedication to the success of these facilities immediately.  Good health can uplift a community.

Day three was the first day I was able to spend with the dedicated volunteers and staff on the Tzu Chi Foundation team.  It was also the first day I got to see Charles in action. I was in awe of how intelligently he articulated himself and always, always put the needs of the Sierra Leonian people first.  The most challenging and rewarding day was the following day spent doing distributions in Culvert.  In collaboration with the Partnership for Humanity organizations (my team at HealeyIRF, Caritas, Tzu Chi, and Lanyi), we distributed blankets and clothes to victims of the August floodings in Culvert.  After about seven hours of baking under the sun, dedicated volunteers finished handing out bags even after the sun had set, lit only by the glow of truck headlights.

I got to spend my final day at St. Mary’s-Fatima ICC in River #2 (yes, there’s a River #1).  Sisters Agatha and Bernadette shower all 27 children at the home with love, and you can see it all around the compound.  In the food they eat, the discipline they have with school and chores, the optimism they have for the future, and the pure joy they share through dance and laughter.  Each of these children had lived lives of hardship before coming to the home, many of them orphaned by Ebola, and yet all of them radiated positivity.

Before St. Mary’s-Fatima ICC, there was a St. Mary’s home for children.  Established after the civil war, St. Mary’s was born out of the efforts and compassion of Father Peter. When I had the opportunity to speak with three former residents of St. Mary’s, I was not at all shocked by the love and admiration they each had for Father Peter. That became a common theme throughout the trip. In the small communities I interacted with, Father Peter was a superstar. Those close to him would joke and call him, “Mister Mayor.”  For those who have never had the pleasure of meeting him, it’s hard to pin down his boundless empathy, charisma, and uncanny ability to find the humor in almost all situations—not to mention his tastefully cheeky jokes.

As I crossed the bay on a ferry to the airport, I felt overwhelmed with hope about the future of the country.  Many of the people I encountered had endured so much adversity, only to overcome it tenfold, driven to give back to their communities.  No matter where I went, I felt welcome.  Gratitude is the only word that can sum up the feeling of being in Sierra Leone.  I thought of the children at the ICC who declared their dream careers to be in service of the people and Ishmael from Culvert, who found the inspiration volunteer with the Partnership for Humanity through the loss of his brother in one of the floods this past August.  

The sky turned shades of red and pink as my plane ascended into Sierra Leonian skies.  Less than an hour later, I was watching the moon rise over Liberia.  Already, I felt a longing to return to Salone

Baby Mustapha’s Recovery

Over a year ago, we shared the story of Mustapha with you, our supporters.  At a fragile eight months old, Mustapha was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a deadly liver disease that required a transplant. There were no hospitals in West Africa that could undertake this life-saving procedure.

The HealeyIRF team jumped into action and reached out to various children’s hospitals in the area, in hopes that someone would help precious Mustapha.

“We called the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital, St. Jude, all of them—nobody would take him unless he lived here so he could have follow-up treatment,” Executive Director Ben Parra recalled, “We found out there was a hospital in India that could do the transplant, but they told us it would cost $30,000. We didn’t have the money to cover it.”

Despite encountering difficulties in the beginning, this story has a happy ending.

You, our compassionate supporters, helped us to raise $45,000 for Mustapha’s surgery. In June of 2018, Mustapha’s mother, Christiphine, donated part of her liver to save her child’s life. After a successful surgery, Mustapha and his family stayed in India temporarily to ensure a healthy recovery.

With a huge thank you to those who support and continue to support the efforts of Healey International Relief Foundation, Mustapha is now happy, healthy and home.

Ibrahim’s Story

Education is, undoubtedly, empowering for young children.  Ibrahim is one of our residents at St. Mary’s Fatima Interim Care Center.  When asked to write his own story, his focus was on his education.

“Before coming to the home, I was not going to school,” Ibrahim told us. He came to the ICC at only nine years old. Now thirteen, he is enrolled in junior secondary school, “The school I am presently attending is one of the best private schools along the peninsula, and we are getting the best in education. 

“Our teachers are very nice and lovely they know how to teach and we always understand what they teach us.”

At home, he loves the outdoor compound, “beautified” with flowers with space to do laundry on the weekends. 

“We the boys have a very big space to play football and other outdoor games. With all this, I am always feeling at home and am always happy especially when I am with my brothers and sister[s].”

I am very happy to be [at] St. Mary’s Fatima Interim Care Centre. – Ibrahim

Emergency Flood Relief Needed in Freetown

Once again Sierra Leone is battling torrential rains with fears of impending mudslides that could bring as much devastation, if not more to poverty-ridden areas previously hit in 2017. Flash flooding in Freetown is affecting thousands with five deaths reported thus far.

Our partner, Caritas-Freetown, have assigned teams to areas hit hardest by the storms. They have been working vigorously on the frontlines giving their all to provide immediate relief and care for flood victims. Father Peter Konteh reported that “many have become homeless and we are very much overwhelmed at the moment.”

The rains began in early August and since that time we have been inundated with emails full of desperation; “Portee is flooded, Abdulai Lane is underwater…three killed at Wellington Bottom Oku, two young boys disappeared, suspected dead.” Our in-country manager, Ishmeal Charles expressed his fears to us and the feeling as though the rain would never stop; “the rains were so heavy it was scary and causing me to shake.”

Unfortunately, the rains continue to fall. The Meteorological Agency of Sierra Leone has warned of further heavy rains over the next two months stating that this may be one of the highest rainfalls in years. Nearly 100 homes have been destroyed and families displaced, and those numbers continue to climb. HealeyIRF and Caritas Freetown have been providing necessities and warm meals for the displaced families, something very much needed. However, communities are in desperate need of clean, dry clothes, food and temporary shelter.

Cleaning materials, linens, towels and blankets are in demand for those who have suffered damage to the interior of their homes. Although our warehouse was fully stocked, due to overwhelming requests we are rapidly falling short of such critical supplies. “These are simple items, but they will mean a lot to the families who receive them as they may be the only possessions they have as they start to rebuild their lives” noted Fr. Peter.

Your donation will send immediate help to Sierra Leone, enabling us to restock and continue distributions, in turn helping those families who have already lost so much while providing aid for new victims during the remainder of this very long, very arduous rainy season. Please know 100% of your contribution will go directly to purchase the abovementioned needed items and we ask you to remember this, “While natural disasters capture headlines and national attention short-term, the work of recovery and rebuilding is long-term.”

Donate to Relief Efforts Today

Catholic Health Network to Be Formed in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has Catholic Hospitals and clinics throughout the country.  The mission of these facilities is to provide healthcare for the most vulnerable and needy. Recently, the Bishops Council in Sierra Leone made a decision to form a Catholic Health Network. The purpose of the network will be to better coordinate services among the facilities.

Similar networks operate in Liberia and Ghana. The National Catholic Health Service of Ghana and the National Catholic Health Council of Liberia work to ensure all facilities speak with one voice and that services reach those most in need.

Fr. Peter Konteh, Executive-Director of Caritas-Freetown discussed the formation of the network in Sierra Leone recently on EWTN. He explained that by forming a network facilities will become more sustainable and improve the quality of care. In addition, best practices can be developed. Finally, a network will allow the facilities to access funding from larger donor organizations. 

HealeyIRF will work closely with the Catholic Bishops in Sierra Leone on this project.