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Posted By Dr. Yemah Bockarie on August 8, 2017

Labels: Sierra Leone , Global Health Expertise, Health Systems Strengthening, Volunteers

Volunteer in Sierra Leone

It was through a chance call from a colleague in Ghana that I first got to know about Project HOPE. My friend Jacqueline had volunteered for work in Sierra Leone, and was due to return for another stint but something had come up and she was looking for someone to replace her. Sierra Leone is my home country, and though I had left Freetown 14 years ago, with bittersweet memories of a serene childhood and searing images of a brutal civil conflict my heart surged at the idea of an opportunity to go back. Project HOPE was collaborating closely with UNICEF and the country’s Ministry of Health to roll out essential newborn care training across the country. Sierra Leone had suffered the gruesome hit of an unprecedented Ebola outbreak that had stripped the health sector of resources and manpower. Project HOPE’s instrumental role was to help in this badly needed restructuring of health services and support short and long term training needs.

Though I had left Freetown 14 years ago, with bittersweet memories of a serene childhood and searing images of a brutal civil conflict,
my heart surged at the idea of an opportunity to go back.

I work as a Pediatrician in a resource-limited teaching hospital in Cape Coast, Ghana. We have volunteers come in several times a year, but here I was, now having an opportunity to reverse the trend, to be a volunteer to others, and uniquely, to my country of birth. I was thrilled to give back with Project HOPE as the platform to channel my expertise.

The preparatory phase of team work leading up to the field work was fantastic. I was joining three American volunteers to spend up to three weeks in Sierra Leone as part of a team of expert trainers. The great part was that I didn’t have to ponder about what to expect in respect to climatic predictions and cultural perceptions. I didn’t have to acclimatize to the sweltering tropical heat or take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs. I didn’t have to worry about cultural “shocks” to process or dialectal dilemmas to cope with. What took me aback however was the quantum of tangible help that was needed in the health sector. In a country where the doctor : patient ratio is 0.02 physicians / 1000 population, and the country is still painfully reeling from the loss of many lives of health workers to the deadly Ebola virus, the subtle gains made in improving neonatal mortality had been rapidly lost. The fragile health system, now fractured by the devastating consequences of the outbreak, means there is little logistical support for neonatal and pediatric care. A visit to the Ola During Children’s Hospital, the only children’s hospital in Freetown, revealed how resources were stretched to beyond maximal limits in the provision of child care.

The doctor : patient ratio is 0.02 physicians / 1000 population,
and the country is still painfully reeling from the loss of many lives
of health workers to the deadly Ebola virus; the subtle gains made in
improving neonatal mortality had been rapidly lost.

The hands-on training experience was intense but provided new knowledge and skills and soon the thirty master trainers we had taken through the essential newborn care package in Freetown, were ready to roll out to the various regions in the country with a target to train one hundred and fifty district trainers. These trainers would then roll out the training package to the peripheral health units nation-wide. I accompanied one of the training groups to Makeni in the north of the country, and supervised the roll out of training to districts in the northern sector. Throughout, I was struck by the resilience and enthusiasm of all the Sierra Leonean health workers I came across during the training program. I could sense their passion to turn the tide and master the skills they had learned so they could teach others, and I could feel their innate gratitude to those who give of their time and talent to invest in their health needs. But more gratifyingly, I could sense the defiance among the participants and a desire to beat the odds and make every newborn’s life count. Indeed, that became our slogan through the training. Make every newborn’s life count. In what many have described as one of the worst places for a woman to give birth, Project HOPE was igniting flames of hope within the inner core of these health workers. Thanks to them, many Sierra Leonean babies would see the rising sun.

In what many have described as one of the worst places
for a woman to give birth, Project HOPE was igniting flames of hope
within the inner core of these health workers.
Thanks to them, many Sierra Leonean babies would see the rising sun.

It’s been a long time since I felt as satisfied as I did after the training. The catalyst call I had accepted a few months earlier from Jacqueline was now having its life-transforming effect. It had been almost 20 days non-stop on my feet.  My tired limbs were aching and felt like giving way. My eyelids were begging to close. My body was profoundly exhausted. But my spirit was upbeat. Through the long journey back to the capital, I was unfazed by the scars of the Ebola outbreak I saw through the many villages we drove by. Project HOPE was planting seeds of hope. And it was unfolding right in front of my eyes.

Volunteer in Sierra Leone

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