From a Struggling Nation

This letter was received in December 1999 from Dr/Sr. Ann Stevens. Melbourne Overseas Mission continues to support rehabilitation of a shattered country.

Note: The original letter has been modified slightly to protect the safety of the writer and those involved however the impact of the letter remains clear.

Thanks for your faxes- it is good to get the news from home. As you’ve discovered already, getting through here is pretty much a hit & miss affair. I managed to get my first real proper dose of malaria last week- Not nice at all; I’ve much more sympathy now for people when they say they’ve got malaria. My previous thoughts of “it’s only a bit of fever- you’ll get over it” have been modified a tad.

The “lows” of October still come and go- I still alternate between “what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here” and “well-a-little-must-be-better-than-nothing”. If the SBS shown on Sierra Leone is the one I think it is you probably get some idea of the reasons for the frustration. Nobody, but nobody, gives a true picture of what is happening. In the last “incident” in Makeni official reports were that it was a minor skirmish, quickly settled. Even the Bishop in interviews with international press played it down. Heaven forbid that this precious peace process would be seen to be wavering. Friends & co-workers from Makeni say it’s not true. The opportunists raped every girl over 8 years old that they could lay hands on. Parents sent their daughters to stay in the swamps for 3 days- sleeping with the snakes was better than sleeping with the rapists! So why do they stay in Makeni? Where else can they go?

Sympathy for the displaced has worn thin when even the non-displaced are struggling to manage. Food supplies in the displaced & refugee camps are not quite getting there- well what’s the need- we’ve got peace- they should all go home now!

Since that last letter was written I’ve had the chance to spend 3 weeks in the southern province and there are some positive things happening. People are starting to rebuild- schools and businesses are opening. Then I had a brief glimpse of some of the diamond fields & pessimism reared its head again. Kids leaving school, farms etc to stand waist deep in muddy water- sure that they’ll be the ones who’ll make their fortune! They never do. The diamond traders are the winners.

I’ve got a temporary job designing an in-service training program for mission clinics supported by MEMISA. Working in, rather than alongside, the NGO system has been a real eye-opener. I’ve piloted the program in one urban and one rural clinic. The feedback from staff has been really positive. People here have so little experience of positive support, that just the fact of me spending time with them (I stay 3 weeks in a clinic) & asking them what their concerns are puts me ahead.

While I was in the south I was able to facilitate a one-day workshop for staff and parents of students in a school for children with intellectual impairment. Almost half of the students also have epilepsy. Both staff and parents have lots they wanted to be able to discuss. I enjoyed the day.

In Freetown, many of the war wounded I worked with in Makeni are catching up with me here. There are agencies “helping” amputees in Freetown, but none focussing on long-term rehabilitation. I’m being asked to look at what could be possible. Maybe the New Year will see me getting more involved in this rehabilitation business.

The prosthesis vs Kruckenbergs procedure is still going on- with the ones most affected by it all- the amputees, not getting much say at all. What the various parties don’t seem to be able to see is that there is room for both. There are so many amputees about who are not getting any help that neither the prosthesis suppliers nor the surgeons will be put out of business by the “other side”. The glamour bit is fitting the limb or doing the operation.

One of the Makeni lads (15 years old, Right hand amputation) is working in our garden here 3 days a week. He’s already learnt to manipulate basic farming implements with his good hand & stump while he was in the Makeni program. When Makeni got too dangerous he came to Freetown & was ripe for joining the street beggar culture here. The compound caretaker is from the same tribe as the lad & has been very supportive. Having him working in the compound also makes some of the many people who are in and out of here during the day think again of their perception of amputees.

Much Love