I’ve never experienced such a full range of emotions as I have in the last 4-weeks. From pure joy to deep sadness; feeling grateful to feeling bitter; being angry about social injustice then being in awe with the determination to make it right.
On November 21st I received a care package with a sweet note from my 21-year-old daughter, Catherine. I was totally elated and touched by how much thought she had put into gathering each item. Receiving this gift brought me more joy than words can ever express.
A few days later, I was preparing to leave for the beach to spend Thanksgiving on a 2-night solo retreat, and I was looking forward to reflecting on how grateful I am for the time I’ve spent in Sierra Leone. I was feeling particularly thankful for how everything worked-out for Ramatu as we had recently announced her successful surgery. The latest pictures we saw showed her sitting up and a note from the doctor said she has some neck control during physiotherapy.
Then on November 27th, I was told that she died, and my gratitude turned into bitterness, and my beach retreat turned into a time to mourn. I tried to soak-in the beauty of my surroundings while deep sadness washed over me, and I wrestled with questions like…
In the following week, when the month of December began, life went on as I returned to work at Partners In Health (PIH). I continued to serve on the planning committee for celebrating the 5th Anniversary of PIH in Sierra Leone, and everyone pulled together to plan several events. In the meantime, I was also attending to many details for upcoming parties with my Filipino Community. While experiencing the excitement of birthday and holiday parties, I realized that healing can happen as you live-out your purpose and treasure the love of those around you.
During my last trip to Kono to attend the events commemorating PIH’s 5th year in Sierra Leone, I allowed myself to truly see the social injustice that is so embedded in this country. I felt anger for all the lives lost due to lack of access to basic needs like nutritious food, clean water, and quality healthcare. Then the energy of the parade lifted my spirits and I got swept into the festive mood that surrounded me.
I also got to have lunch with Abel– the Administrative Officer I had been mentoring throughout my assignment– and one of his staff members who will be taking over organizing Anniversary Chats. They both thanked me for how much they learned during our time together, and Abel recalled what it was like during the civil war when education was not available in Kono. They reminded me of how much Partners In Health has accomplished in the past 5-years and I was in awe with the determination of every employee to keep up the good fight.
At the celebration party, the PIH-SL Executive Director, Jon Lascher, declared that their commitment will last “for as long as it takes, even if it takes the next 50 years!” After recognizing all the employees who had served with PIH for 5 years or more, Abel took the mic and called MC and me up on stage to thank us for our volunteer work these past six months.
As I rode the shuttle back to Freetown, I was struck with the realization that while I was mentoring others, there were others mentoring me. The PIH team is full of talented and dedicated people willing to make personal sacrifices to fulfill their commitment toward their mission and they each had an impact on my development.
One of these real-life heroes is Emma Minor whose footsteps I followed since she was last year’s volunteer from GSK in the communications role. Emma decided to stay with Partners In Health at the end of her assignment, and she filled the first communications position created by PIH outside of the Boston Headquarters office. Due to the impact of her work, several other countries have added a communications role to their site. While she has been my direct supervisor, she has also been a mentor and a friend. Her passion for writing is infectious, and I truly value everything I’ve learned from her. Emma poured countless hours into creating the PIH SL’s 2019 Annual Report and viewing this site helped me find my way back from the rollercoaster ride my heart had been experiencing. Having gone through so many emotions this past month I found that the best way to stay centered is by remembering our purpose.