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
I am in charge of the outreach program. I make sure the schedule is planned and adhered to when we go on outreach. I make sure the mobile clinic is set up and supervise volunteers and staff to make sure their units are functioning well and doing what they are supposed to do. At the end of the month I ensure all statistics are collated and submitted on time.
Why do I like my job? Ah! It is the passion! It’s really a passion. I like serving people. I like saving lives. I like encouraging people. When they are sick they are stressed and I like to make them feel better. I really like my job as a whole.
This job is very, very important. One, we are targeting vulnerable people, particularly the malnourished children. We have seen that the cases are many so we need to rehabilitate them and help them recover. Many of the protein rich foods are expensive here and families are too poor to afford them. We give them the pikinmix food and health talks to make sure they are helping their children grow. We also do a lot to prevent the malaria prevalence rate, which is so high here. HIV is another area where we can help. Many villages don’t have the facilities so we give them quality counseling and make sure they have access to their medication. Also the prenatal program helps so many people. We advise them to come to Mercy and not give birth at home and give them multivitamins that otherwise they would not get.
On Friday, January 18, Mercy Hospital officially launched its Electronic Medical Information System (EMIS) - a database which will enable the hospital to use electronic medical records to track patient data. The first electronic records management system in the country, the database will have a positive impact on patient care as it will be much easier to access a patient's history and chart. Hospital Administrator, Jinnah Lahai, is thrilled about this new addition to Mercy. “It has added more value to Mercy in comparison to other facilities. It will lead to greater transparency and data security."
Joseph Lamin and the Mercy Laboratory team, has led the effort in creating the software that will be used. District Medical Officer, Dr. Roland Carshon-Marsh, is working closely with Mercy to supervise compliance with standards for medical records management and confidentiality. While paper will no longer be used for data entry, communication, or analysis, every electronic medical records system maintains redundant electronic and paper record back up copies - and Mercy's EMIS is no exception.
Once the electronic information system is fully operational, all units of the hospital will contribute to it, enabling all patient information to be stored electronically. The EMIS also tracks drug and supply inventory and staff shift time logs. EMIS produces valid research data on diagnosis as well as effective interventions and treatments. Under the current system, patients are tracked by a patient number, but if they forget or lose that number, the staff is forced to either sort through thousands of patient cards or start a new chart. Starting a new chart is easier, but it means the loss of all patient history that preceded it. The new system will make communication between units instantaneous which will mean that patients are able to receive input on their care from a variety of Mercy staff in real time.
Registration of patients will include fingerprint identification as an element to permit accurately matching patient charts with medical histories. Sierra Leone has a high rate of illiteracy and poor records in villages. Patients often do not know how to spell their names or have current address information or know their date of birth. Paper records often become damaged and unreadable or lost. Fingerprint identification mitigates against all of these challenges.
Creating reports based on the data will be much easier and more accurate. The database will greatly reduce the chances of error and leave more time for analyzing data and refining programs instead of painstakingly gathering numbers. Data will also be collected from the outreach programs, which will help Mercy identify trends in who is seeking care at Mercy or its outreach, what are the most concerning diseases, and how programs can be altered to best suit the needs of the community.
Lamin projects that the Mercy staff will be comfortable using the system within two weeks of its mid-January launch, and adept by week six. Mercy Dr. Sao Amara, is looking forward to the system becoming fully operational, “it will help with tracking patients, increase financial accountability, reduce patient wait times, assure patient confidentiality and and allow staff to be informed about patient status quickly.”
Emmanuel Moriba (7 months) was identified on the Mattru on the Rail outreach. He was acutely malnourished and had a fever and coughing for three days. He was given medicine and enrolled into the nutrition program. After two months in the program, he was discharged this month.
His mother, Kadijatu, says, “I was really worried with my child’s condition. I heard that the Mercy Hospital Outreach team will visit our village and I brought him to see them. Thank God, he will well now. They are really caring."
23-year-old Baindu Dukullay was identified on an outreach to Flawahun village. She was pregnant with twins and found to have pregnancy induced hypertension. She was treated for the hypertension and referred to Mercy Hospital for future care. She successfully gave birth to two healthy twin girls at Mercy Hospital.
Baindu expressed, “I really appreciate Mercy for their help and keeping myself and my babies safe. They have really been taking good care of people in my village.”
First-time mother Fanta Kargbo, was only 18 years old when she enrolled in Mercy Hospital’s Prenatal Program at one of the outreach team’s trips to her village in Bandajuma in July. Ever since then, she has attended each monthly outreach to check the progress of her pregnancy, and was encouraged to give birth at Mercy when the time came.
She arrived at Mercy one morning in October, experiencing labor pains (which had been going on for some time). She was suffering from prolonged labor and finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy after 5 pm. According to the Mercy’s State Certified Midwife, Christiana Tommy, “it was not easy because she is a first time delivery. She was having trouble pushing and we had to encourage her. We thank God for her being at Mercy where we were able to provide her so much assistance. There were five of us helping her!”
When asked what the fate of Fanta and her baby would have been had she attempted to give birth in the village, the normally cheerful midwife became unusually solemn. “It would have been a problem because she was having difficulty pushing and she needed help. They would have forced her to push and that could have led to a fistula or even the death of the baby. We were able to encourage her, give her a catheter, and stitch up her tear so that she did not get fistula or any other problem.”
Christiana is referring to a basic lack of qualified personnel in the villages. While a village may have a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA), this person is someone who likely has very little to no formal education (not even primary school), but has some basic training in childbirth, and can deliver under normal, uncomplicated circumstances. Many of the village clinics do not have midwives or TBAs, and may only be staffed by a nurse not necessarily trained in childbirth.
Fanta, clearly still exhausted the next day, was also very excited to welcome her new baby into the world. She could not stop smiling as she shared, “I am okay now, thanks to Mercy. I am so happy that my baby is safe."
Foday Koroma Jr. (12 months) is enrolled in Mercy Hospital’s Nutrition Program, and has been receiving Pikinmix (a healthy meal supplement) when Mercy’s Outreach team comes to his village each month.
On a recent trip, the Outreach staff discovered that Foday had a runny nose, cough, and headache. Mercy Outreach staff were able to quickly diagnose and treat him for an acute respiratory infection.
According to his mother, Florence, “I am very happy with the medication. I really saw great improvement. I am impressed with Mercy and the free treatment.
The Child Rescue Centre has expanded its vision to serve children and families who live in the villages of Pujehun and Manguama.
Last month, children from these two villages were enrolled in the Child Support Program so they can begin receiving support for their education. Both underdeveloped and politically marginalized, these small villages suffer from extreme poverty, lack of services and inaccessibility.
Manguama is one of the villages served by Mercy Hospital outreach.
CRC Director Mohamed Nabieu spoke to the new vision to expand to the villages. “We are not only to focus on our comfortable zones, but if we want to make meaningful impact, we have to be ready to reach out to the unreached, speak out for the voiceless and help the underprivileged,” he said.
Over several days in September the CRC team visited the newly established operational areas to distribute school supplies. “The children are all set and ready for the new school year,” CRC Case Manager Victor Kanu reported. The CRC staff counseled the parents to support their children’s education by encouraging them to study and take good care of their school supplies.
If you would like to sponsor one of the children from the new village initiative, please click on the link below.
Theresa Pillar is a 35-year-old blind woman who came to Mercy because she was having difficulty breastfeeding. She and her husband, who is also blind, were so happy to have a baby together, but were distressed when breastfeeding became difficult and painful for the mother. They are extremely poor and cannot afford to provide formula for their baby. Mercy provided the mother with medication to relieve her symptoms and educated her on proper breastfeeding methods, at no cost to the family. Now, the baby is able to breastfeed properly.
“I am feeling so overwhelmed about all that has been done for me at Mercy," Theresa says. "We are very pleased by the help we got from Mercy.”
Ten-month-old Isata Sandy, a twin, was referred to Mercy Hospital by the outreach team for an acute respiratory infection. Isata and her twin sister had recently graduated from the nutrition program when they reached a healthy weight. After treatment at the hospital, Isata made a full recovery.
Her mother, Isata Sandy, expressed her thanks for Mercy's care of her baby. “I am very grateful for Mercy Hospital for treating my child. Mercy Hospital nurses are very nice and treated us very well.”
Mohamed Khadar and Ismael Vandy, members of Mercy Hospital's outreach team, were on a community mapping exercise to understand the needs in some of the villages reached by Mercy when they intervened to save the life of a woman who had just given birth to a stillborn baby.
The woman had given birth in her village and was walking the four miles to Kassama to seek medical treatment at the Maternal Child Health Post (MCHP). As she was walking, the woman began hemorrhaging and sought shelter in a hut by the side of the road. When Mohamed and Ismael encountered her, she was lying in a pool of blood and quickly losing consciousness. Mohamed immediately began treatment to stop the uterine bleeding and sent for help, which certainly saved the woman's life.
This story is far from typical for women giving birth in villages without MCHPs. The Sierra Leone government mandates that each village should be within four miles of a MCHP where women can seek treatment for themselves and their babies; but four miles is nearly an impossible distance to walk for a woman who has just given birth, let alone a woman who has had a complicated birth.
Thanks to Mohamed and Ismael's intervention, this woman survived. Clearly, there is a desperate need for more MCHPs in the villages served by Mercy's outreach teams.