Sierra Leone - Part II of V

Downtown Freetown, Sierra Leone. The stormy clouds pack a punch - on average, Freetown gets over 26-inches of rain in the month of September alone!

Part II of V

Thurs Sept 8:
Today I went with the civil engineering team over to the far site, Connaught Hospital. Connaught is considered the top medical facility in the country. There is so much I could write today from our 4 hour visit to the site – the wastewater conditions were some of the worst I’ve seen on a trip: Raw sewage flowing out of the septic tanks right where the workers walk to hang laundry. The small amount of sewage that makes it into the designed system simply drains out into the ocean at the bottom of the site.

Believe it or not, this is the road we took each day to get to the far hospital. At times we had to stop for several minutes while people cleared their stuff out of the way so we could pass through. Remarkably, it's a two-way street!

But instead of telling all the stories related to that stuff, I want to share something else that happened since it had a bigger impact on me. At around 8:50am, an hour and a half after we arrived on site, as we walked through the center courtyard of the hospital I heard a young woman begin to wail in one of the hospital wards. It slowly got louder, as she was running/crying out of the building, through the courtyard and out the front of the hospital. The half-hearted cry and running struck me – it seemed that she was so emotionally devastated and physically spent that she couldn’t even muster the energy to do either full-hearted. Of course, I immediately wondered how I might feel if someone close to me died. But I was haunted by her cries, and I wondered, beyond the normal grief of a loss, what this death might mean for her? Will this be the day that her life changes forever? Undoubtedly. But with life being so difficult here, will she ever be able to recover?
Was this the loss of her husband, and now she has no means of supporting herself and her children? Will some of them be neglected and left to fend for themselves on the street, or sold into sex or slave trade? Or maybe she’ll have to sell herself for the sake of her family?
Or, was this the loss a child, and now she has to go on without her beautiful little toddler? Maybe this child was the one bright spot in her otherwise very dark and difficult existence.
Was it her sister who died, perhaps the one person who has been her rock in life since they were young girls? Had they clung to one another to survive the death of their parents at a young age? Or maybe she was the one lifeline this woman had out of her abusive marriage? These are all such common stories for the people who live in this tough place.
I don’t know the exact pain this woman was feeling, but something in me felt that it was a loss that cut to the very core of her existence. The depth of her half-strength sobbing created a momentary quiet in the otherwise bustling courtyard; I think everyone could sense that this was a monumental loss.
I’ll likely never see her again, but I’ll pray for her every time I think of those brief, haunting moments where I saw her at her rock bottom point. I’ll also pray that the work we’re doing will somehow, someway make a difference in this place. Maybe our clean water and sanitation design will prevent someone else from getting sick, and thereby save their loved ones from the agony this poor young woman faces now. It would be so easy to see the situation here and conclude that it was hopeless and therefore not worthy of any rehabilitation effort. But seeing people like this woman reinforces my belief that when faced with situations like this, if you have the ability to help you can’t just sit idly by.

The walkway at the far side of this picture is where I saw the woman, exiting the building on the left and heading right out of the campus. I snapped this picture later in the day - earlier the hallway was about 3X as full with people.

Later in the day, we were at the other site and I spoke to the Western missionary doctor who works there in a consultant’s role. She mentioned that it had been a tough week, as they had lost several kids there. The reasons for some of their deaths were frustrating to say the least – some had died because they hadn’t been given an I/V to be fed even though the hospital has those tools readily available. Why weren’t they fed? Essentially, it comes down to people not believing that they can make a difference by doing their jobs responsibly. Tragedy is a way of life here, and it almost becomes expected.
So what does this all mean? Is the situation really hopeless? As one of the Mercy Ships guys said at the beginning of the week: “The deficits here are massive. So we have a choice: We can do nothing, or we can at least make an attempt to do something. We’re choosing to try to at least do something, anything, to help.” We agree, and we’re honored to be partnering with them this week, equipping them with the technical knowledge needed to do the work they’re setting out to do.

Seeing the conditions of the wastewater system on site at Connaught Hospital was disheartening, especially given my experience earlier with the young woman crying.

Friday Sept 9:
I think I need to introduce the team before the trip is over! It is an extremely talented and experienced team and I feel very blessed to have them here as this is a very high profile and challenging project.
Dan Mason – a civil engineer from Indiana with over 30 years of experience. Dan travels multiple times a year to Africa to do development and mission work and is very familiar with working in this context. Dan runs his own design and construction business and has incredible knowledge and practical advice to offer to the local maintenance workers here.
Marlin Keel – another civil engineer with over 40 years experience. Marlin is a quiet and humble man, but has great wisdom and experience, including his participation on the EMI trips that did hospital evaluation work in Liberia in 2007 and 2008. Marlin has been the city engineer for Nashville, TN in the past and current holds that position for the city of Mt. Juliet, TN.
Austin Hewitt – a civil engineer from North Carolina with around 10 years experience. Austin has written hundreds of assessment reports for all types of facilities, so his experience with the formal report writing side of things will be a huge asset for us.
Bruce Brubaker – From Pennsylvania, Bruce is actually a Mercy Ships volunteer for this trip, but in every way he is functioning as another member of the EMI team. Bruce’s practical knowledge in civil engineering has been a big help to us.
Wes Turner – an electrical engineer with nearly 40 years of experience and multiple EMI trips under his belt, Wes’s knowledge and confidence to work in the developing world has been a great asset and brings a lot of legitimacy to our team.
Geoff Watson – Geoff has nearly 15 years of experience as an electrical engineer from North Carolina. Geoff’s knowledge well exceeds his 37 years, and his fun personality has been great for the team. He has a great laugh!
Joe LaBrie – my brother-in-law, a structural engineer from the Los Angeles area. I’ve known Joe since I was 5, but the team has quickly learned how impressive of a person he is. His energy and enthusiasm for being here has been a welcome addition to the team, and his well-spoken and passionate demeanor has clearly resonated with the ministry. Joe’s ability to communicate in a way that makes you hang on his every word has definitely won over both the team and the Mercy Ships guys.
Mike Corsetto – intern Mike has been a great help to the team, and he has proven to be a very capable engineer and person. No task is too small for him, and no task is too big for him. He’s a very talented and intelligent young man and has impressed us all in a short time. Also, he's a UC Davis grad - so with me and Joe there are three UCD grads on this team!
This really is an impressive team and I feel honored to be working with them. They also are a lot of fun to be around, and team bonding has been effortless.

The team, from left to right: Joe LaBrie, Dan Mason, Geoff Watson, Bruce Brubaker, Wes Turner, Austin Hewitt, Marlin Keel, me, Intern Mike Corsetto

One note from the day – while we were walking around the children’s hospital today, we heard another person wailing – this time a mother who had just lost a young child. It again was haunting to hear the depth of despair, but this time the people around the hospital seemed to show little reaction. In talking with the local on-site missionary, she said on average that 4 young children or babies die at the hospital every day. Oftentimes, they are dying from very simple things that could easily be prevented, such as hypoglycemia and not being given an I/V or the medication they need (even though it’s available). Or as it relates to our work, a lack of basic sanitation is causing people to become sick, or the lack of water supply is limiting the quality of care that can be given, or the lack of consistent power to the hospital prevents the necessary equipment from running. The hospitals have the equipment and basic infrastructural pieces in place, but in large part they have just not been maintained or operated properly. We could easily come in and fix a number of things that are causing the problems, but without the buy in of the hospital personnel the systems would just break down again.
It’s so frustrating to see these people suffering and dying on a daily basis for reasons that often could be easily addressed. But it does underscore the need for us to lay out the technical solutions needed so that when the human resource and mentoring issues are addressed, the infrastructural systems can be restored as well. The structure and content of our report is beginning to take shape in our minds as we are identifying where the short-comings are with the water, wastewater and electrical systems at these hospitals.


terri labrie said…
Thank you Brad for this post. As someone who was praying for your trip, and struggling with hearing of the overwhelming needs of the people of Sierra Leone, I appreciate your heartfelt description of what the people face on a daily basis, and yet the hope and potential Mercy Ships and EMI can bring to them. Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things yet seen, I will pray this verse over the city of Sierra Leone, that faith and hope and love be multiplied thru the efforts of your teams and those to come. Thanks for opening my eyes to see thru another window that God sees daily. Thank you for your willingness Brad to be the hands, and feet of Jesus to the "least of these". God bless you Bro abundantly beyond!

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