Palm Oil Rendering

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.  

Covid-19 is hitting harder

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.  

Emanuel Bangura filling bottles of freshly treated water.

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. 

Clean water at the Pentecostal Nursery School

Last February, Africa Surgery delivered a portable water purification device to the head mistress of the Free Pentecostal Church Nursery School in Wellington, Sierra Leone.  This was one of several machines donated by the Carmelite Sisters at Villa Walsh in Morris Township, New Jersey. This solar-powered device is easy to use, and the school staff quickly learned how to operate it. The device only requires a small amount of salt to treat several liters of water at a time.  

Pentecostal Nursery School children’s first experience with their school’s new safe-drinking-water system.  

We also delivered a device that allows each student to fill his/her cup with safe, clean water.  This device is based on the same principle used by our gardeners when they bend a garden hose.

A nursery school child trying the safe-water-delivery device provided by Africa Surgery. 

The risk of waterborne diseases, such as typhoid, dysentery, and rarely cholera, are a part of life for most people in Sierra Leone, especially during the rainy season.  Children at this school are now guaranteed safe drinking water while at school.  Africa Surgery will soon deliver the same devices and training to teachers of the primary, junior and secondary schools as well.


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.