Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Rights of a Child in Sierra Leone...

Seeing as yesterday was “The Day of the African Child” I thought I would post something about new developments here in Sierra Leone regarding Child Rights…

UN Welcomes Child Rights Bill in Sierra Leone (UN News Service (New York), 13 June 2007)

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has welcomed new legislation protecting the rights of the young in Sierra Leone, where they suffer disproportionately from poverty and other social ills. The National Child Rights Bill, approved by the Sierra Leone Parliament last week, is a "huge step forward for children's rights," the agency said in a news release. Superseding all other existing national laws, the legislation offers an opportunity for aligning Sierra Leone with international rights standards for children, according to UNICEF.

With non-discrimination as one of the guiding principles of the Bill, it provides the overall framework for ensuring adequate standards of care for all children in Sierra Leone. These include prohibition of early marriage, of conscription of children in to the armed forces, the right to a name and nationality, free and compulsory education, protection against domestic violence and child trafficking, structures and systems for the protection of children at village and chiefdom levels, as well as protection against harmful traditional practices affecting children including female genital mutilation.

"The implementation of the Child Rights Bill provides us with an operational framework for the roll-out of child rights in Sierra Leone," said the UNICEF Representative Geert Cappelaere. The Bill "marks for all children in Sierra Leone one of the most significant events since the end of the war in 2002," said the Representative. "It is clear also from discussions in Parliament that many more efforts are needed to ensure a fully fledged culture of children's rights in all parts of society."

Poverty is endemic in Sierra Leone, which was ranked 176 out of 177 countries listed in the UN's Human Development Index. Infant mortality is estimated at 158 per 1,000 live births, under-five mortality rate at 267 per 1,000 and maternal mortality rate at 1,077 per 100,000 live births - all among the highest rates in the world.

Children are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation. Almost one half of children aged 5-14 years are engaged in some form of child labour. About 11 per cent of children are orphans and 20 per cent do not live with their biological parents.

UNICEF said despite this bleak picture, "much progress has been made," citing increased immunization coverage rates and the Government's commitment to give priority attention to cutting child and maternal mortality.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Our very own health education videos...

The Mercy Ship's outpatient clinic’s mission is to serve as a primary care facility for the children of Aberdeen and greater Freetown. Most of what I do in the clinic is diagnosing/treating the sick children. However, this is not the only focus of the clinic. Most illnesses seen at the clinic are readily preventable, making health education an important part of the clinic’s mandate. We have also implemented the national immunization program to aid in the prevention of disease.

Due to the high patient load in the clinic, the nurses no longer have time to sit down and teach the patients/caretakers during clinic hours. This is unfortunate, because you can’t find a more perfect time to teach these parents- they are sitting with their sick child, waiting to see the doctor, and might not need to come for the same illness next time, if they know how to prevent it!

So, we came up with the brilliant idea of making our own educational videos. I chose two topics- diarrhea/ORS & malaria and wrote outlines for the skits. I then asked my national staff (3 nurses & a receptionist) to come up with a full script (in Krio) and present it to me in the form of a play. Our communications ‘officer’ filmed the plays, each at a different location in the Aberdeen community. After some hours of editing we soon found ourselves with 2 top-notch educational videos.

It was a great experience; fun to see it through from start to finish, entertaining to watch it being filmed, exciting to see the finished products. What can I say? I’m proud of my staff and I am sure this will be a great tool!

On the left- a patient of mine- who lives in this community and came to take a look!
On the right- one of our staff's relatives - who actually stars in the malaria video

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sierra Leonean wedding...

Three of our employees got married in the past 5 weeks. Needless to say we got a good taste of what Sierra Leonean weddings are like J See for yourself…

Harriet and myself in our 'wedding outfits'. Yes, all Mercy Ships staff wore similar outfits...that is, the same material. It's amazing how many different styles you can come up with. At least we didn't have to decide what to wear for each wedding.

Last week's wedding. The wedding couple and the bridesmaids. This is our seamstress' wedding. She made her own wedding dress!

This is at the second wedding we attended. Bridesmaids walking up the aisle. Note the little colored flags hanging from the ceiling- this seemed to be a recurring decorative style.

Also similar in all of the weddings was when the couple had to stand at the front to perform their first duty: time for an offering. Actually, make that two offerings. The first one was for the church, the second one is for the couple. Aisle by aisle people go forward with their donation.

Typical shot at a SL wedding...the bouquet of artificial flowers, the glove, the ring, painted nails...It actually does look quite amazing.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sad news from my Aberdeen neighbors...

I’m happy it’s Friday evening; it’s been a good but tiring week. We ended our work day at a beach ‘bar’, visiting with friends who just came back from the USA. It was a great way to end the week, amazed again by the sunset.

On a different note- I was saddened today. I was walking from the beach road to the center and stopped to visit my two little ‘running buddy’ friends on the way. I used to go running frequently and would run past them, stopping briefly to play. However, the runs have been non-existent lately, so I decided to drop in.

Usually the kids are outside playing or taking baths, mom is preparing dinner and father is sitting outside with their 4 month old son. Not today. I was deeply saddened to find out from family that the father died last week; very suddenly, in the middle of the night. I went inside to talk to the mom. She was sitting in their dark one-room shack, with her baby boy lying next to her and one of her other children eating dinner. It was hard to know what to say. Words just weren’t enough. The words “osh ya” mean “sorry”. It sounded very cheap. But I hope that she knows I genuinely care and feel her sorrow. I hope to stop by there again in the next few days.

Unfortunately this story is just one of many that take place here everyday.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Beginning of rainy season...

The pictures say enough…rainy season has started!

Rainy season = getting wet!!! It also means: less beach trips, more/bigger potholes, the permanent presence of my rain jacket and/or umbrella, staff arriving late to work, flooded streets, watching people being carried across flooded streets, patients coming in soaked, lots of thunder and lightning, the impressive sound of a huge storm at night, leaking roofs (for our staff), deserted roads during a storm and traffic jams when it clears up, slippery walkways at the center, rain water collection, dashing to the car, weekends at the house, requests for raingear and hopefully some rainbows now and then. That pretty much sums up rainy season : )

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Helicopter crash...

Hard to believe that a helicopter I’ve been in, crashed yesterday, killing 22 people.

At about 2030 hours a Paramount helicopter burst into flames as it was landing at Lungi airport. Most of the passengers were Togolese, including the Togo’s Sports Minister, who had come to Freetown to watch an African Nations Cup qualifier. Only the co-pilot survived and is said to be in critical condition.

Paramount is one of the two helicopter services that shuttles passengers between Freetown and Lungi International airport; a 7 minute flight. We always knew it wasn’t the safest mode of transport; the helicopters are old Russian models and by the looks of it not well maintained, but there are few other options- one being the ferry- which is often overcrowded. Every time I had to take a helicopter it made me nervous, now I know why.

Fortunately we were not directly affected by the crash. It’s a scary thought though as we had 6 Mercy Ships people coming and going today on various flights, 2 of which were my parents returning from a surprise visit to Holland. Also scary because the heliport on this side of the bay is adjacent to our Aberdeen Clinic. Thank God the helicopter didn't crash on our centre.

My sympathy goes out to those who lost loved ones yesterday...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Seeing Hawa again...

Today I decided to join two colleagues on a trip to Waterloo, about an hour drive from the Center. We have someone visiting from Switzerland who sponsors a patient I referred to the Anastasis in 2005 for surgery. He wanted to see how she was doing and talk to the family about her future.

In October 2005 a 7 year old girl came to the outpatient clinic with a grotesque tumor growing in/out of her mouth; desperate for help. Fortunately I was able to send her to the ship in Liberia for screening, and a month later she had surgery onboard. After a three hour surgery, the non-malignant tumor was removed. When Hawa came back to the clinic in December to visit, I was amazed to see the difference. Not only her appearance was changed but her life had been changed. No longer an outcast; she can go to school again and play with her friends.

Unfortunately over the past year this little girl has been orphaned, as both her mother and very recently her father died. Yet, she is full of smiles. Her life had been changed forever. Her future looks bright…

More info on Hawa (third story from right) can be found at:

~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~