I have been back for more than three months now after spending over one year directing our programs in Sierra Leone. Schools were opening when I left and, thanks to the help of many of you, our donors, over 100 children are now attending school with help from Africa Surgery. When I return after my next visit, I will have photos and gratitude letters from all of our sponsored students.
Our in-country teams continue to provide free medical and surgical treatments, orthotic supplies and braces to needy Sierra Leoneans. At this end, I am repairing sewing machines and will soon be collecting wheelchairs, crutches, clothing, shoes, and other items to fill a 40-foot container that we plan to ship, possibly in May. We have already collected half of the $7,000 needed to ship the container. You can easily donate toward the cost of this shipment by visiting the Assumption website, assumptionparish.org, and scrolling down to “Africa Surgery – Shipping Container Campaign.” In March I will post a list of needed items and directions for donating.
Thanks to hard lessons learned five years ago during the Ebola hemorrhagic fever epidemic in West Africa, Sierra Leone was already well experienced in the practice of quarantining, contact tracing, and lock downs. But the measures taken to stem this more recent Covid-19 crisis have had a devastating effect on the life of the average Sierra Leonean who cannot store up food supplies for more than one or two days. Most Sierra Leoneans do not have regular jobs as we understand them, but must work on a farm or sell in a market, and in the cases of a disabled parent, must beg today in order to feed his or her family tonight.
Mosques and churches have already been opened and schools will likely resume classes in September. Africa Surgery will be hard pressed to send the students it has already been supporting through its student sponsorship program to school. In many, if not most, cases we will now have to include some extra feeding assistance because as one student once told me, “an empty bag cannot stand.”
We are well aware that Covid-19 has been and is still dealing havoc on the economy of the United States and of much of the rest of the world. But if those of you who have so generously been supporting one or more students can afford to continue to help, please do so with your gift of $200 per student per year. And if you can afford to add an additional gift of $20, $50 or even $100 dollars per student, your gift will go very far in helping your student or students to concentrate and to learn.
The majority of people in Sierra Leone are too poor to amass food and other supplies for more than even a few days. This makes it impossible to enforce a hard lockdown for 14 days, as required for the Coronavirus incubation period. The alternative would be either malnutrition or mass rebellion.
The Government’s attempt to control Covid-19 with travel restrictions and two three-day lockdowns disrupted most people’s lives. However, life goes on for farmers, who are planting small crops of sweet potatoes, Chinese yams, rice, and peanuts, or harvesting palm oil kernels and mangos. Food and produce markets are open and as crowded and busy as ever.
Two barefoot youths are pictured treading on freshly-harvested and boiled oil palm kernels, in a cement lined pit. This is the second step to render red palm oil. A staple ingredient in most Sierra Leonean dishes, palm oil is rich in vitamin A and also high in cholesterol. It is an often maligned but a true source of energy here, where other rich foods are either not available or not affordable to most people. As water is added, oil will rise to the surface, where it can be skimmed off to be boiled and further refined.
Currently Covid-19 is present in Freetown and in other towns of Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea. But without adequate testing it is still unclear how prevalent it is.
Travel restrictions bar movement between districts, making it impossible to travel to Freetown, over 100 miles away, or even to two up-country hospitals where we have five patients. We managed to get three emergency surgeries done by sending funds by phone. In one case, we even paid for blood from an anonymous donor.
At the doctor’s compound, Tom managed to make some positive progress with the help of Emanuel Bangura, whose mother is the household domestic. Together, they treated well water to make it safe for drinking.
On April 6 Sierra Leone imposed a nationwide, mandatory, three-day lockdown. Four cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Freetown. Not many so far, but the neighboring country of Guinea had confirmed over 100 cases at the time. Tom decided that it would be safer for him to stay in Makeny, away from the risks of capital Freetown. He spent the lockdown time in the home of Dr. Turay, Medical Director of the Holy Spirit Hospital, where he also got some deserved rest.
Two days before the lockdown, Tom instructed the tailors at our sewing center in Freetown to begin preparing face masks.
Africa Surgery sent Osman Kanu to Ghana three times for spinal surgery over the past 13 years. He was subsequently trained as a tailor. He is now sewing face masks to be used as COVID-19 spreads throughout Sierra Leone.
We are a unique organization in that we use 100% of of the funds donated here for the medical and surgical care of Sierra Leonean children and adult patients. No part of these funds go for administrative costs.
In Sierra Leone, simple surgeries cost slightly over $100. No donation is too small. Every dollar counts.
Africa Surgery, Inc. is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit. Your donations are tax-deductible in the United States.