It is with some relief that the only queue outside my bedroom door tonight will be my children wanting a cuddle. Most nights I was up till 2am treating patients or sterilising equipment in my makeshift practice, with a 6am start for the next day of treatments – the next line of people begging for some relief from constant, agonising pain.
I saw people dying – literally – from easily preventable diseases. Simple oral infections that had developed into Osteomylitis or other related conditions that left untreated will mean you will die. I worked in huts, in schools, on the street, in my hotel room, in hospitals that people were too scared to attend and wouldn’t have found the medical expertise required anyway. It was heartbreaking.
I took pictures, but pictures don’t tell half the story. They don’t tell you how these people live, what conditions they have to put up with. They can only hint at the poverty, devastation and general despair that surrounds them. The hundreds of homeless orphans turning up for treatment. The joy on a small child’s face when being given their first toothbrush. Such a simple thing, yet it might just mean a better future for them. The hope given to a family by paying for an operation for their child. Or just being there. Doing something.
There are glimmers of hope. There are a handful of people – locals and outsiders – trying to make things better for the children. Inspirational people like Tim Kellow at The Craig Bellamy Academy helping to raise educational standards, the Teeth Savers project who supplied the young adults (barely more than children themselves) that made up the team for my stay, Street Child (an organisation to get children off the streets – supported by companies like African Mineral). And last, but not least, the long-suffering staff at the Connaught Hospital who have to fight an abject lack of funds, medicines and equipment (and in some cases, training) in the face of overwhelming need.
The civil war may have ended, but the effects are still felt everywhere. I urge you to drop in the clinic to view some of the photos I took (if you have the stomach for it) and check in on the White Dental website for updates. I will be setting up a separate website devoted to children’s health care in Sierra Leone shortly.
I feel that there is more that I can do. That is why I have made it my mission to return to Sierra Leone and treat more children. Thank you for your kindness and generosity in helping to make this visit a success – it wouldn’t be possible without your continued support. Together we can – we do – make a difference.