September 23

Cultivating Connections

This past weekend marked the halfway point of my stay in Sierra Leone and I have a feeling the second half will fly by even faster than the first. While it hasn’t been easy being so far from home, the people I’ve connected with have made such a huge difference in making me feel at home.

Getting embedded into the Partners In Health team has been a wonderful experience. When I attended a Quarterly Review Meeting with the leadership team I found several things quite familiar. The meeting was facilitated to include presentations from the head of each clinical area and after each section, a panel of leaders sat in the front of the room and everyone was encouraged to ask questions. While a for-profit business would look at how sales are tracking, the department heads of this non-profit organization hold themselves accountable for Key Performance Indicators and Quality Measures. They openly discussed gaps and challenges while everyone participated in offering solutions. It was quite evident that everyone trusts each other and shares the same vision… much like the GSK leadership team in the US.

Quarterly Review Meeting with PIH-SL Leadership

Then it was time to celebrate the end of the fiscal year with all 435 employees. A bus brought the Freetown employees to Kono and a football match ensued with players representing each site. The friendly competition was so much fun to watch with the co-founder of Wellbody Clinic scoring the first two goals! It was close game with a score of 3-2 and Kono winning for the third year in a row. Later that evening, we celebrated with the annual party which had entertainment, an award ceremony, dinner and dancing. Other than the Africana outfits we proudly wore… we celebrated much like we do at GSK.

PIH Annual Football Match:  Freetown team in orange and Kono team in yellow 
MC and me at the party with Mani who is also called “Christmas” because of how he lights up a room with a such a great personality.

To begin the next fiscal year, the Director of Policy & Partnerships hosted a team retreat at her coastal home. We spent the day working on her open balcony which overlooked the ocean. The sea breeze fed into our creativity as we put our ideas together to plan for fundraising, grant management, communications, program execution, and government relations. It was a productive day and we bonded as team… much like my Vaccine Contracts family at GSK.

The Policy and Partnerships Team

Besides writing in my communications role, I was asked to connect with our Administrative Officer who is motivated to learn new skills and take-on additional responsibilities. I initially started mentoring Abel to take over coordinating the Friday Feeling newsletter & Monday Motivation feature after I leave. Now I’m also coaching him through his recent appointment to coordinate the local logistics of a two-week training session that will be attended by 60 mental health professionals from Sierra Leone and other African countries. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my work here is helping Abel through this development and watching him expand his capabilities… much like many of the GSK field reps I’ve worked with who are eager to learn and succeed.

Abel receiving recognition at the year-end celebration for going above-and-beyond.

One unique way of connecting is something the PIH-SL Executive Director created: Anniversary Chats. These small group forums are meant for the Executive Director to celebrate employees and keep a good pulse on how they’re doing. I’ve recently had the privilege of organizing these meetings and witnessing the way employees are energized by this hour-long conversation with their leader. Through this experience I am learning how the investment of time, focused listening, and responsive action goes such a long way to inspire people… much like the way my fist-line leader at GSK has continued a monthly touchpoint with me throughout this journey.

An employee from MEQ (Monitoring/Evaluation/Quality) is asking a question as the Executive Director, Jon Lascher, listens intently.

The most heartfelt connection I’ve experienced is with a college sophomore named Ramatu who is close to the age of my own daughter and son. She tragically suffered a spinal injury after she got trapped under a collapsed wall in her dorm during a torrential rainstorm. After hearing about her predicament, MC (my co-PULSE volunteer) and I decided to raise funds for her to get the surgery and rehab she needs. We’ve been especially touched by the outpouring of our friends, family, and workmates as they’ve been responding to our plea to Help Save Ramatu’s Life. When we visited Ramatu at the hospital, we met her parents, extended family, and close friends. I instantly connected with her mother as we cried together. I learned how much all moms are bonded—regardless of race, religion, culture, or economic means. It was clear that Ramatu’s parents will never lose hope for her recovery and will do everything they can to help her… much like my own family at home.  

While I’ve missed my family terribly, the people of PIH and Sierra Leone have truly touched my heart and I will always remain connected to them. In the meantime, be sure to read my next blog where I will be sharing developments on our fundraising efforts for Ramatu’s care.