Wrightsville Beach resident Nancy Faye Craig was part of a group of seven from North Carolina that journeyed to the West African country of Sierra Leone in May and said she still has trouble summarizing the trip.
“It is hard to put into words, everyone asks if we had a good time and I have struggled to find a simple answer for that,” Craig said. “It was rewarding for us, it was rewarding for the people we were there helping and it was life changing.”
The team of six from Wrightsville United Methodist Church and one volunteer from Cary made the 22-hour plane flight to Freetown, Sierra Leone, landing last month for a 10-day stay.
Craig vacationed in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa in the past, but she said Sierra Leone’s economic status as a least-developed country stood out compared to those other African nations.
“The need of the people was what stood out to me,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine any poorer than what we saw.”
While the country may have many needs, Craig and the rest of the team made the trek to assist in the rehabilitation of a severely damaged maternity clinic in nearby Rotifunk. Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone United Methodist Church recommended the team work on Rotifunk Hospital after the Non-governmental Organization Hagstad of Norway began the restoration of the facility.
The hospital is located in one of the poorest regions of the country and Dale Smith, another member of the team from WUMC, said it was renown in the country before it was destroyed during the civil war that engulfed Sierra Leone in the 1990s, ending in 2002.
“Before this hospital was destroyed it was known across the country and people from all over would come to be treated there. The idea is to eventually restore it back to that level,” Smith said. “They now have a surgical operating room they said is the nicest one in all of Sierra Leone.”
During their time there, the team members worked on painting the entire hospital. Some days the school children from the surrounding schools would help in the restoration by clearing the land around it.
With an average life expectancy of 47 in Sierra Leone, Craig said it came as a shock to the locals to see a senior citizen of her age, let alone working long hours in the humid climate. Craig said she would often begin a task only to have a local volunteer do it instead, because of her age.
The head chieftain in the region, the paramount chief, furnished lodgings during the team’s time in Rotifunk. While his guesthouse was clean, the team had to do without any running water or air conditioning, with the only electricity provided by a generator at night.
The climate was just as humid as Wilmington in the summer with high temperatures in the high 80s, Smith said.
“The difference from here is you can’t get out of it, because no matter where you go, you don’t have air conditioning,” he said.
While creature comforts may have been in short supply, Craig and Smith said there was no shortage of smiling faces, joyous songs and hospitality.
“The impressive thing is how wonderful the people are there and how excited they were to see us everywhere we went,” Smith said. “When I think about the trip now what comes over me is a warm, comfortable feeling.”
One of the highlights of the trip was a celebration and dedication ceremony for the hospital, where more than 1,000 locals joined a group of five from the Norwegian NGO and the seven from North Carolina.
Craig said one team member, Wilmington native Carter Jewell, sang a few a cappella songs like “Amazing Grace” in front of the crowd of Sierra Leoneans at the request of Bishop Yambasu.
“Bishop Yambasu is a very impressive man and has a tremendous vision for his country and a commitment to achieve this vision,” Smith said. “He has a written plan that is very well organized and this hospital is one of his highest priorities.”
While the team returned home from the journey on May 28, Smith said the trip was not the end of WUMC’s support of the Rotifunk community and Bishop Yambasu’s commitment.
“We have made a long-term commitment,” Smith said. “This is a multi-year effort because they need equipment like a sonogram, x-ray machine, good sterilization equipment, and more than one doctor and a few midwives.”
Craig said WUMC has raised more than $40,000 for the cause with the help of the community and that nearly half of those funds would be used to install a deep water well.
WUMC will also continue collecting medical equipment and supplies to send over in a 40-foot shipping container this year.
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