In 2014, I was lucky enough to volunteer with the Kambia Appeal – a medical charity in Sierra Leone. A week after our return to the UK, Ebola hit and the charity was only recently allowed to return.
I made a promise to the friends of the Kambia Appeal out there that I would be see them again, so I was desperately keen to go back. Luckily, it was an easy decision to make with Golin’s unlimited leave, as I wasn’t restricted by work holiday policy.
This is a boy (pictured above) I came across by the river when I visited in 2014. He didn’t speak English but held my hand and walked with me, and I tied up his raggedy vest. I thought about him now and then but didn’t for a moment think I would see him again. Three years on we recognised each other and he could tell me his name and show me where he lived.
The Kambia Appeal is close to my heart, my incomparable mum is part of the charity that sends medics to work in the local hospital – which has no electricity or running water and serves hundreds of thousands of people.
This is my mum and Aliki (a doctor who came out with us) teaching neo-natal resuscitation in the context of hygiene control. Although sadly, these skills aren’t always transferable to the surrounding districts as they don’t have the equipment.
Working closely with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, their main focus is on improving maternal and child health in the Kambia District. The Kambia Appeal teach and work in the hospital, but it also trains doctors, nurses and MCHAs (maternal and child health assistants) from all over the district. The benefits of effectively training local doctors and nurses to train other staff are endless. Not only does it mean that there is a continuous stream of learning, but the courses are so well-received. As a woman, it’s incredibly powerful to see these fervently determined MCHAs being taught and encouraged to pursue a career rather than be solely a child-bearer.
This time I visited, the team was facilitating training on infection prevention control.
The change in the hospital is quite something. Last time we were there, it was a bit of a shock to be greeted on the ward by goats and chickens.
The hospital where they are building a triage unit following the Ebola outbreak. Previously, nobody has been checked before entering the hospital, which, as you can imagine has caused havoc with the spread of infectious and/or deadly diseases.
This time around, however, there were hand-washing stations outside and on every ward – a positive outcome post-Ebola where the hospital has learnt the hard way about the importance of infection prevention.
Moving away from the charity itself, we have been supporting a school at one of the districts. Whenever we go out, we take stationary and equipment for the school as well as money for any repairs (last time, we repaired the well so that they children had clean water on site).
In October my parents funded a new school (pictured below) in a village that we visited for the first time. In order to get funding and to pay the teachers, the school must have a basic structure and benches, which we have now achieved.
The reason this school has been set up is because there have been four very young children killed walking to school on the newly tarmacked roads. The new school means the young children don’t have to walk so far, and they avoid the busy roads.
I love what this charity does and I have an enormous amount of respect for the volunteers that give up their own income and families (sometimes for up to 6 months) to go and help others.
But I also love the valuable life lessons the people I’ve met have taught me, the most compelling being to live in the now. Thinking about the future too much makes you miss out on the beauty of life that surrounds you in the present.
Plus, the friends I made are fuelled by love and happiness. You don’t need anything to embrace love or happiness; you just need to surround yourself with like-minded people who share the same values. And for me, that’s everything that humanity should be.
We all lead busy lives and work really hard, but experiences like these remind me of how important it is to step out of your comfort zone and meet amazing people.
I’m hugely grateful that I’ve been given the freedom at work to seize such enriching opportunities that I value greatly.
After all, life is fragile and time is precious.
Any support is gratefully received as funds are limited. You can donate directly to the Kambia Appeal here should you wish to support the medical work they do. If you would like to support the school we are setting up, please feel free to email me directly at email@example.com.