To say that healthcare in Sierra Leone is not the greatest would be an understatement. It is not unheard of for lab results to be confused or misinterpreted, x-rays to be misread and then mislabeled, unnecessary medications to be prescribed, simple surgeries (e.g., hernia) to be botched and premature babies to have a high mortality rates. Having said that, there are some bright spots in the medical care here and in Kenema we have one in a doctor by the name of Donald S. Grant.
A native Sierra Leonean trained in Freetown, in 2010 he became the chief physician of the Lassa Ward here at Kenema Government Hospital. Lassa fever is a rodent-borne illness that is endemic to parts of sub-Saharan Africa, including Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Guinea. The disease is named after the town of Lassa, Nigeria where it was discovered in 1969. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). For those who have been reading this blog, you may remember the post which linked to a story about Aniruh Conteh who was a pioneer in the care and treatment of Lassa Fever patients at the very ward that Dr. Grant now oversees.
In 2016, Dr. Grant received a master’s degree from Tulane University in the field of public health, graduating #1 in his class with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Doctor Grant is our go-to doctor here in Kenema. When a missionary contracts malaria, or a young man preparing for a mission needs a physical, he is the man that Sister Moomey (mission nurse) or we call. In addition to his role as the chief physician of the Lassa Ward, Dr. Grant is a “lecturer in the Community Health Department of the College of Medicine at the University of Sierra Leone in Freetown and is also heavily involved in clinical and research interests which revolve around infectious diseases. Dr. Grant is one of four doctors at the Government Hospital in Kenema who provide services ranging from primary care to surgical procedures. His work involves balancing both the clinical and administrative sides of medicine.” Needless to say, he is a very busy man. (Source: https://vhfc.org/consortium/people/grant-donald/).
This week, one of our zone leaders, Elder Roche (used with his permission), became quite ill early Thursday morning, experiencing multiple episodes of emesis (look that one up!). By mid-morning, Elder Roche could see he was not getting any better so he called Sister Moomey and she called Dr. Grant. He was not in town but referred Elder Roche to Ibrahim, the community health officer for Kenema. Elder Hadlock, a missionary in the same apartment, then called us and asked if we knew where Dr. Grant’s office was. What we heard was, “can you help me get Elder Roche to the hospital?” I jumped into the truck and made my way to their apartment, picking up Elder Roche and Elder Hadlock and off we went to the hospital. (Elder Dube, Elder Roche’s companion was on an exchange with Elder Dunn, one of the Assistants to the Mission President, so Elder Hadlock, who is currently in a threesome, was elected to accompany Elder Roche). As expected, Dr. Grant was not there, but Ibrahim saw him immediately, and then sent him to the lab next door for a malaria test. In the meantime, I called Sister Moomey and had her speak with Ibrahim. They both agreed that Elder Roche was dehydrated and needed some intravenous fluids.
Ibrahim arranged for a bed in yet another building and after getting Elder Roche to his room, he had me sit down with the nurses while he prescribed the medications and supplies the nurses would need to administer the IV. Interestingly enough here in Sierra Leone, the hospital doesn’t stock these supplies. It may be due to lack of security, lack of ability to refrigerate or lack of resources. We are not sure, but in any case, the nurses sent me to the pharmacy to pick up EVERYTHING required to administer the IV, from saline solution to antibiotics to latex gloves to shot needles. As soon as I got back with the supplies, I was told the lab results had come back and he had malaria. That meant I needed to go back to the pharmacy to pick up additional medication. The cost of all of that was Le 155,000 or $18.50. The labor was an additional Le 95,000 or $11.50 bringing the total cost for a 5 hour IV to $30. We picked up Elder Roche and Elder Dube (after the exchange he came and replaced Elder Hadlock) around 7 pm and returned them to their apartment. From the time I left the hospital (around 2:30 pm) after retrieving supplies from the pharmacy until we returned at 7 pm, the difference of the color in Elder Roche’s face was easily noticeable. He was beginning to look like a missionary again instead of a ghost! We had zone conference the next day in Bo and he really wanted to attend as it would be his last one before going home next month. The good news is that the IV and antibiotics seemed to work and by morning he was well enough to go. Elder Roche faithfully takes his doxycycline every day, and while taking the doxy is no guarantee of not contracting malaria, it is quite effective. The mission does have experience with those who take their doxy and still get malaria. As a general rule, the malaria is much milder and will only run for 1-3 days instead of 7-10 days. I have wondered more than once whether Elder Roche actually had malaria or whether he ate some bad food. Whenever anyone is sick, malaria seems to be the throw-down answer. Regardless of the cause, we are all grateful that he is again feeling well and able to finish his mission strong. We are grateful for the healthcare that is available here, even if it is not what we are used to back home.
On Monday we received a call in the morning from President Clawson asking us if we could leave right then to go to Bo and exchange vehicles with John Conteh, one of the mission drivers. As I mentioned last week, the 7th seal on the right rear tire had broken and it needed to go to Freetown for some major work on the back axel. John Conteh happened to be in Bo picking up some missionaries who needed to go to Freetown, so President Clawson asked if we could go to Bo and trade vehicles with him. We were thrilled at the opportunity to get something going quickly to fix the truck so we hurried and left. The license plate to the truck we have been driving is ALT 074. The one on this truck is ANT 271.
For obvious reasons this truck, which is a couple of years newer, is simply referred to as the ANT. (Does that make me Elder ANTMAN?). So for now we are driving the ANT and appreciating the fact that it is a better, more reliable vehicle. Maybe they will want to keep ALT 074 in Freetown?
In the afternoon Elder and Sister Moomey came to Kenema to do a couple of medical checks and while here we invited them to dinner. LaDawn makes these delicious tortillas that then make the most delicious fajitas. Sister Moomey made a scrumptious chocolate cake. What a meal! It seemed like we were transported to another world for an hour. How we love to be with the Moomey’s and how we love a great meal!
On Tuesday morning we had scheduled some time with a local member who will be taking on the responsibility for managing the Liahona magazine subscriptions for Sierra Leone. Unfortunately he had a problem with his bike and had to turn around and get it repaired. We rescheduled for later in the evening and spent the entire morning working on the documentation for the software and the process we have adopted for managing the data. That evening we spent almost 2 hours going over the details of the program and how it works (some of which we are still learning).
In the afternoon we met with Sister Mabaindu Kongoley of the Burma Branch and trained her on Book 2 of Gospel Literacy. Sister Kongoley has been a star gospel literacy teacher in the past and is now serving as the Branch Primary President. When Melissa was here, she asked her if she would start to teach Literacy again after church each Sunday. She agreed but wanted some training on Book 2. We were finally able to get together on Tuesday and show her a video about how to run the class and then talk through how the lessons are structured. She is an intelligent woman and it didn’t take long to review the process with her.
While we were out on that end of Kenema, we dropped by IDA and managed to catch the Burma Branch elders in their apartment who had just come back for a quick bite to eat before heading out again. Elder Winters had received a package from home that we delivered to him. A very happy elder indeed!
We also stopped at Airfield apartment and dropped off a garbage can and a new ironing board. The elders weren’t home, but one set of them was close by so they came to the apartment to collect the delivery and then left again. We love the missionaries that are here in Kenema. They are committed, hard-working and dedicated servants. Such a privilege to work with them!
On Wednesday we made a quick trip to Dauda Town as the AC Adapter for their solar freezer had stopped working. We picked it up and brought it home in hopes that Eku might be able to fix it. The quality of nearly everything that we have to buy here from China is just simply poor. In the meantime, the elders will have to run the freezer during the day and then try to avoid opening it in the evenings so that things will stay cold overnight. We have this same problem now at Airfield, Dauda Town and the Sisters apartment. What is clear is that this is still much better than running a generator for 3-4 hours a day to try and keep an AC freezer cold. With the solar freezer we have about 6 hours of good sun which freezes everything inside during the day.
We continued to work on the simplecirc.com instructions (no small task we are finding). I had been asked by the zone leaders to lead a discussion on Accountability and Attitude at the combined Eastern Zone conference on Friday in Bo we also spent some time talking through a number of thoughts and ideas. How grateful I am for LaDawn when it comes to preparing for something like this. Having a thinking partner (and an inspired one at that) makes it both rewarding and fun!
On Thursday morning we were up early, leaving Kenema at 6:30 am with the Sister Training Leaders who reside in Bo but come to Kenema each transfer for an exchange with the sisters here. Sister Gbashie and Sister Odoom are both excellent sisters and great examples of both missionary work and discipleship. It is always a pleasure to be able to spend an hour with them in our truck as we delivered them back to their apartment in Bo.
It was sometime around noon that I got the call from Elder Hadlock about taking Elder Roche to the hospital. By the time I got back home it was after 3:00pm. We had branch presidency training scheduled at 5 pm with the relatively new Dauda Town Branch Presidency. Joseph Aruna, Maxwell Foday and Philip Musa constitute the President, First Counselor and Second Counselor respectively. Robert Anthony remains as the clerk. They are already doing so many things right plus they are all three very quick on the uptake. It was a delightful two hours as we talked through their responsibilities as a branch presidency including their role as the presidency of the Aaronic Priesthood. In preparation for this training, we once again went through the handbooks and adjusted for a few additional recent changes. I am in awe of the number of things that have changed since I served as a Bishop 15 years ago. We are grateful for the Handbooks that help us to stay current on the changes.
Friday was the combined zone conference for all 4 eastern zones in the mission. It was wonderful to be together with President and Sister Clawson, Elder & Sister Moomey, Elder Dunn & Elder Myeni, the assistants to the President, as well as all of the missionaries in all four zones. Many of missionaries now in Bo have served in Kenema, so it was a homecoming of sorts to see so many that we have come to know and love. Here is a high level summary:
1) We have missionaries doing work in pioneer cities which is quite well reflected in the hymn “They, the Builders of the Nation” . The first stanza of that hymn describes well the work being done in Tongo as well as the work in other cities across the mission. “They, the builders of the nation, blazing trails along the way; stepping stones for generations were their deeds of every day. Building new and firm foundations, pushing on the wild frontier forging onward, ever onward, blessed, honored Pioneer!” Truly we have pioneering missionaries! 2) The importance of focusing on Jesus Christ and what that means for each of us as missionaries. 3) Living the highest standards of obedience. 4) Accountability and Attitude. The main takeaway? In the premortal existence we not only “voted” for agency, but we also “voted” for accountability, for without accountability there is no progress. 5) The whole purpose for teaching faith is to teach repentance. Too often we skip over repentance because we fear that it will turn those we are teaching away from the church. But the opposite is true. If we want to effectively teach repentance, we must constantly be using repentance in our own lives. Such a wonderful and inspiring conference!
After the conference the sister missionaries gathered with Sister Clawson, Sister Moomey and LaDawn and spent some time talking about how to use their time wisely as well as women health issues. Afterwards they made these cool looking necklaces out of cloth and a few beads. They really seemed to enjoy the time together and they enjoyed making something that they could wear to enhance their missionary wardrobe.
On Saturday morning I went back to Dauda Town with President Cobinah, President Paul Aruna (1st counselor in the district presidency) and Francis Kamara (district clerk) where we spent a little over two hours with the branch presidency, this time teaching them about church finances, integrity and even marriage, including how to treat our wives.
It was great to be with them again so soon as they continue to absorb and apply any and all instruction they are given. One of the big issues in Africa as a whole is problems with the misuse of fast offerings. President Cobinah is doing a great job as the district president in making sure that all of the branch presidencies understand church policies for handling sacred funds. We are grateful that this has not been much of an issue here in Kenema. Problems have existed in the past, but since we have been in Kenema (this has nothing to do with us being here) we are not aware of any fraud. We are grateful to work with good, honest, hardworking and dedicated leaders in the district and in the branches.
In the late afternoon we loaded up our empty gerry cans and headed to the Total station to fill all seven of them back up with 20 liters of diesel each. Probably one of our least favorite things that we have to do every week to ten days is to replenish the fuel for the generator. This time the supply truck was unloading diesel so they could not sell any. We drove around for about 30 minutes and when we came back, nothing had changed so we decided to head on over to Food Masters and have a nice dinner of barbecue chicken. We needed fuel as Clawson’s would be coming on Sunday evening and we knew we didn’t have enough to run the generator Monday morning. We enjoyed our meal together and by the time we returned to the station, the truck had finished and within minutes we were able to fill up the gerry cans and head back home. Although the evening out wasn’t planned, we did enjoy our spontaneous date night!
On Sunday we attended the Kpayama Branch. The sacrament meeting speakers were two young women and the young women’s president (also happens to be the branch president’s wife). It was an absolutely lovely service. Sarrah Fomba (she also spoke at District Conference) spoke on virtue and Edna Kemokai spoke about integrity. Sister Hawa Kemokai then spoke about individual worth. All of the young women sang an intermediate hymn “Teach Me To Walk In the Light”. It was just an outstanding sacrament meeting. For Elder’s quorum, Prince Saiffa taught a lesson out of the April 2019 Liahona titled “In times of discouragement, remember the widow of Nain”. He did a brilliant job teaching the class the content of the article. We continue to struggle here in many of the branches with teaching the lessons from the General Conference issue of the Liahona for both Relief Society and Priesthood, but we are making progress. As we see it there are two main issues: 1) A very small number of people are receiving the Liahona in their homes and reading them before coming to church. 2) Communication during the week is extremely difficult because of the cost of texting and the lack of email and internet access. This makes it difficult to communicate which talk will be covered on Sunday. And yet, we came away from the branch meetings edified and spiritually fed. Just one more reason our testimonies of the gospel continue to grow here in Africa.
After church, I joined the district presidency in teaching the same financial training to the Kpayama Branch Presidency as we did to the Dauda Town Branch Presidency. While they are new, all three of them are seasoned and dedicated leaders. They also happen to have one of the best clerks in the district in Ibrahim Saffa. I was only able to stay for the first hour as we had to get back to our apartment so that Elder Sparks could call home for Mothers Day at 12:30 pm, but what a wonderful hour it was together with these good men.
Following Elder Sparks’s video call with his family, we left to meet the Hangha Road elders who had setup an appointment with Wuya Kandeh to input her family history in FamilySearch. It was wonderful to be with her and with the missionaries as they helped her.
We provided the equipment, an occasional tip here and there, but nearly all of the work was done by Elder Rydjeski and Elder Marava. They were able to enter information for grandparents and all eight great-grandparents. While some of the names required a permission request, they were quickly approved and returned by Monday morning. All in all, Wuya (pronounced WeeYa) was able to submit over 50 temple ordinances for 11 ancestors. LaDawn made the comment that Wuya may have been a bit bored while the elders were inputting the data, but when she pushed those buttons to submit those names she was smiling ear to ear. How we love to see the spirit of Elijah as it descends on these family history loving saints!
We got back just in time to make cook dinner and then prepare as the missionaries began to arrive to call home.
The American missionaries were the ones video calling home while the African companions who came stepped outside to call their families on their mission phone. Since most of their families do not have internet capability, receiving a phone call is the next best thing. The Clawson’s arrived about 7 pm and while missionaries were calling, President Clawson did a few interviews outside on the porch and LaDawn, I and Sister Clawson ate a delicious foil dinner. Quite a Sunday! It was busy, rewarding and for a few hours, felt like home with all of our children visiting.
Healthcare in Sierra Leone is not great, but it is improving. On the other hand, spiritual healthcare has never been better. We are blessed with amazing missionaries, a mission president and his companion who work tirelessly on behalf of this entire country, devoted and dedicated leaders who continue to teach, nurture and minister to the growing membership of the church and members who are growing and developing into multi-generational families. What an exciting time it is to be in Africa, in Sierra Leone, and especially in Kenema. Truly, new and firm foundations are being laid. We are so grateful to be a small part of this work. We recognize His hand in the establishment and growth of the church in this part of the vineyard. How we love working hand-in-hand with all of the saints here in Kenema!