On Friday, January 18, Mercy Hospital officially opened the doors of its long-awaited Surgical Wing. The celebration included remarks from various dignitaries and Mercy leadership, a welcome song performed by Mercy staff, the Act of Dedication performed by Bishop Yambasu, an official ribbon-cutting and tour of the new surgical wing, and refreshments. Bishop John K. Yambasu, District Medical Officer Dr. Roland Carshon-Marsh, UMC Health Coordinator Catherine Norman, UMC Bo District Superintendent Reverend Francis Charley, Chairman of the UMC Health Board Dr. Dennis Marke, and HCW Executive Director Melody Curtiss each shared remarks at the ceremony.
Reverend Charley opened the ceremony with prayer, stating that “this hospital is a state of the art hospital and is going to provide facilities and treatment for patients in the country and even beyond.” Bishop Yambasu shared that this day is the result of “the passion, dedication and commitment of our friends from the United States. Helping Children Worldwide has been involved in our work with the Child Rescue Centre and Mercy Hospital for more than 20 years.” Catherine Norman reflected on Mercy's history, saying “almost 13 years ago, a one-room health clinic with two health staff was established to provide first aid, nutrition and basic health care to the children of the CRC. In 2007, the building in front of us was transformed into Mercy Hospital. I am glad that today, the dream of a functional surgical building has come true. With this building, Mercy Hospital has now been empowered to provide quality care not only to the Bo, but the entire district, and even beyond.”
The Bishop performed the official Act of Dedication, asking God to “graciously accept this building which we now dedicate to thee, to thy service, and to thy glory, that in it skill and tenderness may unite to bring health and cure to those who come for aid…. Grant that those who come here in weakness may be made strong, that those who come in pain may find relief, and that those who come in sorrow may find joy and gladness.”
On behalf of HCW, Mrs. Curtiss recognized the contributions of all of its donors, particularly the large bequests of Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Stafford, VA, without whose generosity the wing would not have been built, and the Peterson Family Foundation, who sponsored the shipment of surgical supplies and equipment necessary for an operating theatre. Mrs. Curtiss also recognized the special contributions of Mercy Laboratory Technician, Joseph Lamin, who is heading up the launch of Mercy Hospital’s new Electronic Medical Information System (see story at bottom of newsletter).
Mercy’s surgical wing includes two operating theatres, a recovery room, decontamination room, sterilzation room, male and female changing rooms, medical supplies storage, reception and doctors’ consultation rooms. Second floor includes a private and semi-private wards, male and female wards, conference room and ICU. Mercy’s surgical program will operate on a limited capacity, as they await the arrival of a blood bank. Until this important piece of equipment arrives, Mercy will continue to provide the surgeries that it always has, now in a new, state-of-the-art surgical facility. Dr. Amara continues to work with Dr. Boima (a COMAHS professor and surgeon) to assist in surgeries beyond his current level of expertise, and now that those surgeries can be performed at Mercy, other staff will benefit in training opportunities as well.
Qualified surgeons who wish to perform surgeries at Mercy with Dr. Amara’s assistance, will be welcomed for the purpose of providing Mercy staff with teaching opportunities. This will include medical teams from overseas from time to time. Nonprofits utilizing Mercy OR for their own medical missions will do trainings as part of the privilege of performing surgeries at Mercy, and leave behind unused equipment and supplies for future use by Mercy.
Project CURE is scheduled to provide training in obstetrics and critical care to Mercy staff this year, and Dr. Amara and Matron August Kpanebaum will be attending GBGM training in obstetrics and Cesarean-sections in February-March.
Henry Kebbie works at the Child Rescue Centre (CRC) as the Assistant Coordinator for the Sponsor A Child Program. Henry is also responsible for a caseload of 70 children supported by the CRC’s programs. Engaged to be married soon, Henry is the proud papa of a young daughter. Henry’s story is unique in that he was a child supported by the CRC’s Child Support Program, which provided health and education support from primary through secondary school. After graduation, he applied for and won a Promise Scholarship which enabled him to attend university. Graduating with honors, Henry holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Njala University.
Henry credits his being a CRC student with his path toward becoming a social worker. “It has always been my desire to be a social worker so that I could return to work with an organization like the CRC which is working to save helpless families and especially destitute children,” Henry says. Henry applies the lessons he’s learned to his work with the children on his caseload. “I always encourage them to take their studies very seriously, as I did,” he says. “I went through the same program at the CRC, and now I am working for the CRC. I believe it is important that children are educated and grow up to be a good example for others, just like I am.”
Henry Kebbie was drawn to social work out of a desire to help people - particularly those who are vulnerable. At the Child Rescue Centre (CRC), Henry found an opportunity to help the most vulnerable children and their families. He was deeply interested in community development and wanted to engage in work that would have a deep, lasting and positive impact. Being a case manager for vulnerable children and their families helps him see that impact every day. Henry finds the work at CRC particularly rewarding because of the CRC’s vision and focus to give something positive to the community of Bo.
Henry’s deepest hopes for the children on his caseload are that they all do well in school and find a bright future, and that they all know how deeply they are blessed by God.
Aminata Conteh is the caregiver of two children enrolled in CRC programs; Samuel B. Kamara and Abu Backrria S. Conteh. Aminata was fortunate enough to qualify for the CRC’s microfinance training program because of her ongoing commitment to the CRC, and her family’s extreme financial vulnerability. She completed the training, was presented with a certificate and given a small loan to launch or revive a business.
Aminata did well in the microfinance training, and has been able to realize her potential upon graduating, receiving her microloan and setting up her small business. She discovered that with the lessons she’d learned, she could be a good business woman, make a profit, save for emergency purposes and better support her children.
Members of the CRC staff recently visited her at her market stall to check on the progress of her business and microloan repayment. Aminata shared that prior to her participation in the microfinance training, her small business had failed as a result of poor management, and lack of understanding of simple budgeting skills. Discouraged, she had given up the business, and sat at home for some time, unsure of how to find success.
The class has taught Aminata how to manage her money much better, and now she is able to budget her money, save, and plan for the future to both grow her business and eventually gain her financial independence. With the small loan of approximately $90, she reestablished her market business, and is now making and even saving money. “Since I have launched my business again, I am doing well as a result of the training, “ Aminata says.
The Child Rescue Centre and Mercy Hospital continue to find ways to partner together to provide care to people in the Bo community. This summer, they worked together to diagnose, treat and then place a deaf and mute child who’d been sleeping on the street. That child, Joseph Deen, now lives with his caregiver, the headmaster at the local deaf school, and is also enrolled in the school.
Recently, on a home visit to two children in the CRC Program (Kula Sesay Lassie and Paul Lassie), CRC Case Managers and Counselors, Rosa Saffa and Emmanuel Lamin realized that their grandmother, Kula Sesay, seemed quite ill. Kula shared that she had felt sick for over a year. Kula has been caring for her two grandchildren ever since their mother, Hannah, died during an epileptic seizure.
Rosa and Emmanuel encouraged Kula to go to Mercy Hospital for diagnosis and treatment. She worried at first about her lack of ability to pay for her treatment, but the CRC staff members were happy to share with her Mercy’s policy to provide care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Mercy’s Community Health Officer, Deborah Boima diagnosed Kula with tuberculosis, and provided her with medicines and monthly treatment at Mercy Hospital. Grateful, Kula said, “I am really excited with the support of CRC, my health is now satisfactory.”
In May of 2018, at a regular meeting conducted by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs (MSWGA), Director Mohamed Nabieu was alerted to the case of child in need. According to MSWGA, a 4-year-old boy had been discovered by the local police, hiding in one of the drainage ditches in Bo. He was brought immediately to the Ministry to try to trace his parents. However, this was complicated due to the fact that he was apparently deaf and mute, and therefore unable to communicate any information about his family or home. The Ministry put up signs and made radio announcements, but after several months, no one had come forward to claim him.
It was at that point that the Ministry shared the case with the child protection agencies attending the meeting. After discussing it, the CRC Director Nabieu, Mercy Hospital Administrator Jinnah Lahai and Lead Doctor Sao Amara agreed to take responsibility for the boy. He was brought to Mercy for a proper medical check-up, and the CRC was able to find him a safe and loving foster home with the principal of the local deaf school. The CRC has committed to continue providing for his educational, spiritual and counseling needs, while Mercy will take care of his medical needs.
Named Joseph Deen by his new foster family, he now lives with his foster father, the principal of the Ebert Kakua School for the Deaf, where he is also enrolled. He is learning sign language, and enjoys going to school with children like himself. According to his foster father, Joseph enjoys playing with the other children at school, playing with his toys and helping out with household chores. He enjoys going to his family’s farm and helping there as well. His father shares that Joseph’s happiest time of day is when it’s time to go to school.
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."
Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs praises CRC for their contributions in nation building
The Sierra Leone Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs (MSWGA) is the government agency in charge of ensuring that vulnerable children and people are cared for appropriately. As a child welfare organization, the Child Rescue Centre participates in monthly meetings held by the MSWGA. These meetings allow MSWGA representatives and the leaders of various organizations involved in the care of vulnerable children like the CRC, Joshua Child Care, and SOS Children’s Home to share information, best practices, and to receive updates.
At a regular meeting held in October, the MSWGA commended the CRC for the work it has done in the areas of child protection, education, health, child safety, final reunification of children in the residential program, and the microfinance program.
“The Child Rescue Centre has been very proactive in addressing child welfare issues in the Bo District,” says Michael James, Senior Social Service Officer in Charge of Trafficking. James shared that the Ministry considers the CRC an exemplary child welfare program, particularly in the fairness and lack of bias of its intake practices. He particularly cited the case of Joseph Deen, a deaf child that the CRC and Mercy stepped in to help, reflecting that the CRC does not discriminate against any child in need regardless of circumstance.
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.”
The staff of the Child Rescue Centre has provided training on human sexuality in a Christian context to students in its programs for years using a curriculum called Honoring God With Your Body (HGWYB). The CRC counselors, Emmanuel Lamin and Rosa Saffa, organized a two day workshop for the CRC staff to brush up and refine their teaching skills on this important curriculum. The workshop was led by Milli Jantz, a missionary and expert in reproductive health. Milli facilitated discussions on selected topics that included the male and female reproductive systems, HIV/STDs, and the value of family spacing for child wellbeing, reproductive health and health practices to prevent disease transmission and early unplanned pregnancies.
The CRC staff were also able to participate in a question and answer session designed to help them teach the curriculum to students as effectively as possible. “It was a great workshop, especially learning about the specific topics. I learned about the female reproductive system, particularly when pregnancy occurs. I also learned it is important to encourage people to visit counselors or health professionals for any sign or symptom,” reflected Johanese Baun. “It was especially good to be able to ask questions and get answers. It was good for the staff, and it will be good for the students,” said Mabel Mustapha.
Written by Dr. Laura Horvath, Helping Children Worldwide Program Development Specialist
In August, newly-elected Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio announced the launch of the Free Quality Education Programme (FQEP) for 1.6 million primary and secondary children across Sierra Leone, with an increased budget allocation of 21% of the National Budget in August of this year, up from 12.5% in 2016. The first phase of the program went into effect on September 17th, and President Bio has said that the program will take five years to fully implement, though the government has committed to funding this program for at least 10 years. An FQEP Coordinator shared with Sierra Leone News that the government has paid tuition subsidies to over 4,000 schools amounting to 28 million leones.
There are three types of schools in Sierra Leone, private, government, and government-supported. All schools in Sierra Leone require that students pay tuition and various school fees. These can include fees for furniture, classroom materials, extra classes, and other supports the school needs to function. Additionally, families must cover the cost of required uniforms, textbooks and all other learning materials. The first phase of the FQEP provides only tuition, a few exercise books (composition notebooks), pens and pencils; and this only applies to schools that are either government or government-assisted schools. Even these schools must apply to receive FQEP benefits, and some schools are still awaiting government approval. Some of the CRC students are enrolled in schools to which the program does not apply, but these students will be transferred to schools that do in the fall of 2019. Kindergarten is not covered by the program, nor are private schools, so the CRC is bearing the tuition costs for these students. Government-supplied exercise books and other necessary learning materials are also in limited supply, so once these supplies run out, the remainder must be provided for by the parents (or in our case, the CRC).
The rollout of the plan has not been without its challenges. The promise of tuition-free education has caused enrollment to skyrocket, and many schools have been forced to turn students away for lack of space. Teachers in Sierra Leone sometimes go without a paycheck at all for months at a time; new teachers may not show up on the government rosters for up to two years - and cannot be paid until they do. Although the plan stipulates an increase in teachers and teacher pay, it has not been clear about how or when this will be addressed, or how schools are to manage increased enrollments and higher student/teacher ratios, and according to the Sierra Leone News, teachers report no change in their pay.
“The government is collecting millions of dollars for this program from donors, but we, the teachers don’t see any extra,” one teacher shared with Sierra Leone News. Parents report being asked to pay additional fees to support teachers whose names are not yet on the government payroll (since the government does not pay teachers until they are officially on the payroll, and this can take up to two years). “Some schools are not yet phased in,” says CRC Director, Mohamed Nabieu. “It’s also important to understand that ‘Free Education’ is not universal. There are many villages that don’t even have a school.” The CRC staff reports that the increases in class sizes have led to the addition of new fees as well. Some of the schools attended by CRC students are now asking for “furniture fees,” to help to cover the cost of desks for newly enrolled students.
An additional wrinkle has developed that directly impacts UMC schools, even those that are government-supported. “Not all schools apply,” explains Mohamed Nabieu, “and it’s not clear which schools apply and which do not.” For example, according to the United Methodist News, “while the new UMC school in Kabala awaited government approval and funding, all but 12 students transferred to government approved schools so their parents would not have to pay fees for administrative costs.” Bishop Yambasu acted quickly and was able to provide funding to cover these fees for the Kabala school, but it seems that many religious schools, even those that are government-supported, have not yet been approved for the program, and may not be.
In related news, on November 28, US Ambassador to Sierra Leone Maria Brewer spoke at the launch of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education School Lunch Project in Kabala. In partnership with USDA and Catholic Relief Services, this project seeks to aid the government of Sierra Leone in scaling up a national school lunch Program. The project will invest $25 million to expand the provision of daily school meals to nearly 70,000 children, as well as support improved school infrastructure, training and literacy over a period of four years (Sierra Leone has a total of 1,600,000 students currently enrolled in primary and secondary education). The package will include capacity building of teachers, rehabilitation of primary schools, construction of water wells and boreholes. This program is focused on areas in the northern part of the country.
While having the government provide free tuition to approved schools is extremely helpful, it doesn’t cover all the education-related costs associated with school. In addition to providing tuition for CRC students in non-approved schools and those enrolled in kindergarten, the CRC continues to provide school uniforms, textbooks, learning materials and all school fees for all of the students in the program. The CRC also provides others kinds of educational support to students in the programs, including tutoring, exam prep classes, life skills and other types of training, computer classes and workshops, career and guidance counseling. Parenting classes and workshops are also provided to parents of students in CRC programs, and extremely vulnerable families are encouraged to enroll in the CRC’s microfinance program for basic economic and budget training and the opportunity to receive a microloan to launch or improve a small business. Case Managers and Counselors provide ongoing support to students as well through home and school visits, and both individual and family counseling opportunities.