Paul Smith Sr. faced a desperate decision in the fall of 2012. The 35 year old disabled single father was struggling to provide for his elderly mother and two young children, Hannah, age 8, and Paul Jr, age 4. Negotiating the pitted streets of Bo in his handmade wheelchair, Paul tried to support his family by working part-time as a blacksmith, but the work was brutal and he could never make enough money to make ends meet.
Paul paid school fees for Hannah when he could, but she was frequently sent home when the family fell behind on payments. Both children worked; Hannah babysat for neighbors, and even little Paul Jr. cleared tables at a local restaurant. They were exhausted and chronically sick with colds and fever. The family’s meager income was slightly supplemented by their grandmother’s garden plot, but there was never enough to eat.
Believing there was no way he could adequately care for his children, and determined for them to attend school, Paul appealed to the Child Reintegration Centre (formerly Child Rescue Centre) for help. The difficult decision was made to bring the children into the residential program until Paul could stabilize his situation. Paul Sr. frequently visited Hannah and Paul at the residential home, and anyone could see how he doted on his children, and how much they loved their father. He eventually remarried and had another child, named Mary.
In July of 2015, the Child Rescue Centre staff participated in a training for caregivers of extremely vulnerable children. As a result of that training, and in response to a global shift in the care of orphaned and vulnerable children, the CRC started the Family Strengthening Program to help families address the problems that made it difficult for them to care for their children. Plans began forming to phase out the residential program so that children could live with family or loving foster homes, in the firm belief that children belong in families.
The CRC began providing opportunities for the parents of children who had been placed in residential care to participate in workshops, devotions, and activities to strengthen their relationship and prepare them to be reunited. The children began visiting their families on weekends and holidays to get reconnected with their homes and communities.
The biggest obstacle the parents face is simply their inability to make enough money to support their children, so the CRC launched a micro finance program to teach parents budgeting and small business skills. Most of the parents of CRC students are subsistence farmers or petty traders, and many did not attend school beyond primary level. The skills they learn in the micro finance classes enable them to keep the money they earn and reinvest in their businesses, helping them become self-sufficient and stable.
The CRC staff urged Paul to participate in the microfinance class, where he learned budgeting, saving, and simple business concepts. He received a small loan for a startup, which he used to launch a home-based cinema where patrons pay to watch football matches. He continues to work part-time as a blacksmith. “I learned how to make a budget for my family,” Paul says proudly. “It’s helping me to save money, which I wasn’t doing before.”
With his newfound skills, increased income, and the continued support of the CRC for his children’s education and health care, Paul was ready to welcome Hannah and Paul Jr. home. The children are so happy to be reunited with their father. They both attend UMC-supported schools near their home. Paul Jr. helps his father with his blacksmithing business after school. Hannah teaches the family what she learned from morning prayers and evening devotions at the Child Rescue Centre.
“At first it was only father that was praying alone. Now we are praying as a family,” Hannah says happily. Paul Sr. is proud and grateful to be a father to his children again. “I thank God that the children are reunified with me, and we are living as a happy family,” he says. “We are now living an average life.”
(This story was originally published in the Helping Children Worldwide Fall 2018 magazine.)
“I thank God that the children are reunified with me, and we are living as a happy family,” Paul says. “We are now living an average life."
Hannah Smith has been named Senior Prefect of Methodist Girls High School in Bo. We are so proud of this Child Reintegration Centre student, and how she has overcome insurmountable obstacles in her young life.
Senior prefect is a big honor, but also a huge responsibility, roughly equivalent to being the president of the student body in a US high school. As senior prefect, Hannah represents the students before the administration, organizes events, helps maintain discipline and academic performance, and mentors other students. Hannah was selected on the basis of a written examination, a verbal interview with the school administration, and her excellent academic performance.
"I am very happy for this position," Hannah says. "I can now talk to my colleagues in school on issues affecting their education and other related activities. This has motivated me to study more to maintain my performance in school.
Hannah comes from a very vulnerable family, and her childhood was not easy. For several years, she and her brother Paul were separated from their handicapped father, who was unable to care for them until his situation was stabilized with the help of the Child Reintegration Centre's family strengthening program. Hannah and Paul were reunited with their father Paul Sr after living for several years in the residential centre during a very precarious time for their family. You can read more about their story in our Fall 2018 magazine.
Hannah has always wanted to be a leader in her home, community, church and school. "My aim is to be president of Sierra Leone," she says. Her best friend Elizabeth is proud of her friend. "I am blessed to have a friend like Hannah," Elizabeth says. "She has helped me change my negative behavior to a positive one. She is like a mentor to me."
While the Child Reintegration Centre continues to provide vital education support, medical access, and family mentoring to nearly 600 children and youth and their families, the busy staff is also rescuing unaccompanied children from the streets of Bo. CRC Director Olivia Fonnie spent some time getting to know these boys, while their situation is assessed. The Child Reintegration Centre is collaborating with local organization Street Child UK, which estimates there are as many as 6,500 children living on the streets of Bo.
Mercy Hospital is pleased to welcome Dr. Aruna Stevens to the staff. Aruna is an original alumnus of the Child Reintegration Centre residential program who was rescued from the Bo street as a small child in the wake of the Sierra Leone civil war. Aruna graduated from the University of Sierra Leone College of Medical and Allied Health Sciences and completed his housemanship (residency) at the University of Sierra Leone Teaching Hospital Complex.
"Today is a start of a childhood dream that I had to be a doctor to serve people, but specifically my people of Bo and its environs. I'm very humbled for this opportunity and grateful to Helping Children Worldwide, the Child Reintegration Centre, the United Methodist Church Sierra Leone Conference, and Mercy Hospital," Aruna says.
Local Girl Scout Troop 3327, led by parent volunteer Jenny Bradshaw, assembled 90 layette kits for Mercy Hospital's maternity ward. Every woman who gives birth at the hospital receives a layette kit, including two each of cloth diapers, shirts or onesies, washcloths, diaper pins, and a receiving blanket. The layette items were donated to Floris United Methodist Church's alternative giving initiative this past Christmas. The kits are deeply appreciated by the women who give birth at Mercy, most of whom have very little money. We are grateful to Troop 3327 and Floris UMC for their generous donation of time and materials.
If your organization is interested in assembling layette kits for Mercy Hospital, please contact Missions Specialist Linda Reinhard at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the guidelines for the kits:
Cesarean section deliveries save lives
The busy Mercy staff continues to deliver babies, through normal deliveries and cesarean deliveries when necessary. Since the operating suite opened in 2018, the hospital has been able to provide life-saving emergency c-section procedures, saving the lives of mothers who are not able to deliver vaginally.
The need for cesarean sections can be aggravated by a range of issues such as delays in accessing the appropriate level of care, and transportation delays. Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, with 11 mothers dying of pregnancy-related complications for every 1000 live born babies. The ability to perform c-section procedures at Mercy Hospital is a critical element of the global movement to reduce maternal mortality.
Simple hernia procedures save the lives of babies and toddlers
Two-year-old Saidu's family brought him to the hospital suffering from an inguinal hernia, a condition that Mercy sees very often, possibly due to premature birth. Untreated, inguinal hernia can lead to permanent intestinal damage.
Successful surgery was performed on Saidu to correct the hernia. His family couldn't afford to pay for the life-saving procedure for their son, and were grateful for Mercy's excellent care, which was provided for free.
Inguinal hernias look like a bulge or swelling in the groin or scrotum, and may be seen more easily when the baby cries. A hernia can develop in the first few months after a baby is born. It happens because of a weakness in the abdominal muscles. To correct the hernia, the surgeon puts the loop of intestine back into the abdominal area and stitches the muscles together.
The Child Reintegration Centre contacted Momodu and Momoh's Aunt Betty, with whom they had hope to live when they first came to Bo (see earlier story.) The CRC offered to enroll the family in care, so that she can bring the boys into her home. With the CRC's support. Auntie Betty happily agreed to take in her nephews, and Momodu and Momoh were reintegrated to live with her and their other two brothers.
CRC Director Olivia Fonnie, along with CRC staff David Musa and Mabel Mustapha, brought the boys to their new home, equipped with a brand new mattress and duffles, plus backpacks and school supplies so they can go to their new school, SLC Primary-Dambala Road.
CRC case managers Emmanuel and Abibatu visited the boys at school to see how they are settling into their new classroom. Momodu and Momoh are happy to back at school. They proudly shared their writing workbooks with Emmanuel and Abibatu.
Obedience leads to an extraordinary blessing for a missioner as she returns to Sierra Leone.
by Tina DeBoeser, Director of Missions & Outreach, Ebenezer United Methodist Church
I had no plans to go to Africa in 2019. I will say that again - I had no plans to go to Africa in 2019. My year was simply too busy. A year of too much going and too much going on. Although I had been part of a team in 2018 and fell in love with the mission and people, I was not going back in 2019.
That was final.
Ever heard of the old Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs”? I should have known my head’s very reasonable reasons for staying were no match for the Holy Spirit whispering ‘go’!
So I went back to Bo to embrace the people, beauty, dignity, promise, and the mission.
I am no stranger to international missions; I am in fact the Director of Missions & Outreach at a large suburban church. As such, one of my key roles is to recruit, prepare, and send teams around the globe to work with partner organizations like Helping Children Worldwide. I recognize and appreciate what a privileged position I hold, one where I have the freedom to choose to experience these opportunities.
I am also no stranger to the criticisms of short-term mission trips. Many of the concerns raised are valid. When done poorly, a short-term mission trip can actually cause harm and prevent healthy development.
But when we start a trip well prepared, with a humble heart, and the expectation of developing a mutual relationship, it can be a thing of beauty. This has been my experience with HCW.
Returning to Bo in 2019 was especially exciting for me. Part of the trip was devoted to visiting and developing an agreement between HCW, my church and two (of an eventual five) villages. This new formal relationship is the brainchild of HCW and we are thrilled to be the beta test!
Visiting Samie and Fengehun villages was a surreal experience. We were greeted by the senior residents and chiefs, welcomed with song and given the VIP tour of community resources and liabilities.
Once we sat down to hammer out an agreement, it was fascinating to hear the villagers’ hopes for their community’s future. I was so encouraged to hear strong women speak about their aspirations for themselves and their children.
One thing I have learned from short-term missions is the truth about mothers. All mamas, regardless of where on the globe they happen to stand, want the same thing. They want the opportunity to raise their children in a safe environment, free of fear and disease. They want their children to have the opportunity to learn, pursue their purpose, to know that they are valued and loved, and to fall asleep with full bellies.
I believe that much division and fear in the world could be solved with proximity. Taking the time to be in authentic give-and-take relationships with others who do not look, act, buy, speak, think, vote, love, or live like us is the only way to remove the fallacy of ‘otherness’. Sometimes it takes going to the other side of the world to open your eyes and heart to those on this side of the street.
Africa imprints on your soul, just as surely as the beautiful, deep, organic smell clings to your clothes and suitcase long after you have returned home.
Although I have no plans to return in 2020, I believe I can hear God laughing right now.
Learn more about joining a mission team to Sierra Leone: www.helpingchildrenworldwide.org/mission-trips