Travelling to Sierra Leone to start my assignment with Partners In Health was quite a journey as I only gave myself one day in between arriving from my Philippine vacation and departing on my flight to Freetown. That one day was the 4th of July which is usually spent celebrating U.S. independence with fireworks and family time. As an immigrant from Manila who grew up during Martial Law, I always valued American freedom and now that I was getting ready to leave for 6-months, it made this 4th of July celebration even more meaningful.
While settling in Freetown, I’ve learned the significance of freedom for this capital city of Sierra Leone. During British colonization, this area was used as a departure point for the ships that transported slaves from various tribes throughout Africa. After the abolition of slavery, this coastal settlement was named Freetown as it became a destination for liberated Africans from illegal slave ships, and Africans who were freed from America and other parts of the world. This created the diverse background of the people in Freetown who started a new life together since many (2nd generation former-slaves) did not know from which tribe they had originated. They did speak a common language called Krio (Creole) and shared in their hopes for a new start with their renewed freedom. In recent history, the people of Sierra Leone had their freedom threatened by the atrocities of civil war, an Ebola outbreak, and natural disaster when a mountainside gave way to a mudslide. But these experiences only deepened the people’s sense of community and spirit of perseverance as they treasure their freedom and do not take life for granted. I have already experienced such generosity and kindness from Sierra Leoneans within my first week here. I was particularly struck by how this place felt like home as soon as I arrived. The tropical climate, beautiful landscape and friendly people have made me feel comfortable & welcome. Kushe is the Krio (Creole) word for welcome and the first three days in the Partners In Health Admin office was an excellent start for my co-volunteer, Mary Catherine Weber, and me.
Partners In Health’s mission is to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. For the past 35 years, this Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) has been going to remote places where health care options barely exist where they deliver quality care, make house calls, build health systems, and stay for the long term in the communities they serve. In Sierra Leone, they are working toward their objectives to:
1) Raise the standard of health care delivery for the most marginalized & underserved districts in Sierra Leone.
2) Remove barriers that prevent the most vulnerable patients’ ability to access care by providing for their basic needs through Community-based programming.
3) Train the next generation of Sierra Leonean medical professionals & global health leaders.
4) Strengthen the national health system by partnering with the Ministry of Health to improve health care delivery through evidence generation, resource mobilization, & policy development.
Mary Catherine and I are in the process of getting oriented with all the facets of these objectives by spending time with each department head and get an overview of roles, responsibilities and expectations. After completing our orientation time in the administrative office, they surprised us with their traditional welcoming party with a cake in the colors of Sierra Leone’s flag: Green for the mountains range, Blue for the seas, and White for peace. Sierra Leoneans value their peace, enjoy their freedom, and exercise their basic human right to access health care… thanks to everything Partners In Health is doing. Pictured below is Mary Catherine and I cutting the cake with the PIH Operations Team in Freetown. These are just a few of their 400+ employees in Sierra Leone– most of whom work in the province of Kono where the hospital, clinics, and community programs sites are located. We will be spending the next few days visiting those sites and seeing their work in action so stay tuned for my next article on those adventures!