It has been a while since I have posted an update, having time out in the field, problems with internet access, limited electricity and a week of training last week has meant that it hasn’t been possible. The fieldwork for our survey went well, we gathered a huge amount of data from households, Community Leaders, Traditional Birth Attendants and health workers. I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of the Community Health Volunteers (who work with Health Poverty Action to promote ‘welbodi bisness’ in their remote communities through facilitating weekly health club meetings. Covering topics relating to maternal and child health and raising awareness of issues such as human rights and sexual and gender based violence). It was a good team building opportunity all round, both for us working in Health Poverty Action and also developing links between the CHVs across the 5 Chiefdoms.
Our operational area is made up of some remote and difficult terrain and we have had some adventures along the way, breakdowns, flat tyres and some interesting river crossings involving many people knee deep in the water! During our 9 days of fieldwork, we covered large distances on some of the poorest roads in the country, the discomfort has been worth it though as the landscape is incredible we have passed through lush jungle, with mountains rising out of the early morning mist as the dew sparkles in the sunlight all around, gone through the rocky gold mining areas, through National Parkland and through the customs and immigration post at Sanya, which is almost on the Guinea border, the phone network and money used here are Guinean.
Everywhere people have been working on their farms as it is planting season with pepper, tobacco, cassava and cocoa all being nursed or planted out. Some of the remotest villages the researchers could only reach on foot and had to walk for miles, some villages sadly lack even basic sanitation facilities including clean water. The challenges that communities and health workers face in areas with poor road networks, no mobile phone coverage and long distances to the referral hospital mean that it is essential for organisations such as Health Poverty Action to work to support the government to improve health in these remote areas.
What village life in rural Sierra Leone lacks in luxuries it makes up for in abundance with what one of my colleagues describes as ‘solidarity’. He rightly said ‘isn’t Africa great’ as we arrived in a village at 6.30 and the nurse offered us a place to sleep, relit the fire and organised food to cook for us all without a second thought. I was constantly overwhelmed by the hospitality of people we met. Life here is more communal and seems in many ways friendlier than at home, everywhere we went we were given fruit, chickens or plates of food to share. It is the custom for a household to share from one plate and myself, Souleymane, Ibrahim and Moses who were supervising the fieldwork and carrying out the research with health workers have been one ‘household’ for the time we were away. Sharing all our meals in this way means that eating from individual plates begins to seem unfriendly. I am growing to love Sierra Leonean food, and rice which was never my favourite food is now my staple diet. In Sanya we had ‘pot roast’ which is a bit like satay chicken. We ate it with bread cooked by creating an oven by heaping hot coals onto a large pot. It was delicious and since then Ibrahim arranged for someone to teach me how to make it, so I will be able to recreate a taste of Salone for some of you later this year.
The last two weeks have been full with preparing proposals for funding, writing reports from our work in the field and carrying trainings. We have trained 30 women to be fistula advocates (more info on this here) and 10 women to become community hosts. Sexual and Gender Based Violence is a big problem and we currently have a one year project aimed at reducing SGBV and supporting victims. These community hosts will raise awareness in their communities of the issue of SGBV, its negative impact on victims and the community and the Gender Acts which came into effect in 2007.