Sierra Leone 2013 – Medical Mission

Sierra-Leone-1It is very late in the evening when we arrive by ferry in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Our team of four, three medical students and our mentor, have travelled to work with the community and establish relationships to learn more about healthcare in this country. We are warmly welcomed by the two CHE leaders we will be working with for the duration of our stay. During the drive through the city, I feel an ironic sense of liveliness and vacancy as I watch the crowds of people and vendors on the sides of the street among the littered roads and old buildings. We have not quite reached our destination yet. The main area we will be staying for the majority of our visit is in the Mattru Jong village within the Bonthe District, which is several hours south from the capital. Our team will be working at the hospital, teaching CHE lessons on malaria, and providing health screenings for school-aged children. The drive feels like a long off-roading adventure. It is the rainy season, and the countless potholes on the dirt road are filled with water making for a wet and bumpy drive. We finally reach Mattru hours later and settle into the guesthouse that we will be staying at for the next two weeks. The peaceful and green scenery of the village is very different from the bustle of Freetown, and we are ready to start working. The first day at the Mattru Jong Hospital is exciting because it marks one of the beginnings to establishing relationships with the medical staff and community.

 

Sierra-Leone-2We spent the majority of our time at the hospital and formed closer relationships with the staff and patients as the days progressed. My most memorable experience while working at the hospital was spending time with the patients and taking steps to be active advocates in providing care. I spent much of my time with one particular patient, a 13-year-old boy with a chronic leg wound. Having completed only one year of medical school, I had not yet experienced being more directly involved in patient care; therefore, the time I spent with this patient left a memorable impression. When the time came for our team to leave, the challenge of short- term medical missions became a reality. It is often fairly easy to start the process of providing help; however, it is the end and the follow through that is difficult to do. Regarding this patient, we eventually decided that it was best to transfer him to another hospital that could provide more advanced care, and directly oversaw the process to ensure that he was left in the best hands. It was settling to a certain extent to see that he would be under good care, yet it was difficult to leave because of the relationship I had established with him and his mother. This pursuit of long-term impact was also reflected in the CHE teachings held within the village communities outside of the hospital. The initial action of meeting the people in the community and holding the discussions was easily started. By the end, we leave hoping that the community leaders will uphold the responsibility to make continual improvements.

 

Sierra-Leone-3Leaving is bittersweet…
The amazing people we have met, and the relationships we have established have made this an unforgettable experience. However, we are also leaving with a greater perspective on the reality of the complexity within the healthcare system and community. The issues with the government, access to resources, communication and poverty are just a few of the many challenges that still need to be overcome. This process will take time, but the exchange of knowledge and establishment of relationships show a glimpse into the beginnings of something fruitful.