Rescuing an Orphan in Sierra Leone

10/01/07

Since leaving my home in the UK and joining my husband Ian in Sierra Leone, I have been working at the Shepherd’s Hospice in the capital city of Freetown. The hospice is situated on the east side of the city, a poverty-stricken area which was badly affected by the terrible civil war of the late 1990s. The hospice was established to try and provide palliative care services for people dying from life-threatening illnesses, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and cancer. Since Sierra Leoneans have little access to healthcare services, many living their entire life without ever seeing a doctor, the hospice also functions to provide primary healthcare services free of charge to the local community.

In January 2007, one of the hospice community volunteers brought in a little girl. As soon as we saw her we knew that she was seriously ill, malnourished, and in need of urgent medical care. Olive, we learned she was named, was seriously ill with tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. She was so anemic her heart was failing. Although we were told she was five years of age, her malnourished body gave the impression of a child no older than three. The doctor seeing her wanted to admit her urgently for a life-saving blood transfusion. I left Olive at the hospital, fearing that her frail body would not be able to recover. To my delight she responded well to the blood transfusion and commenced treatment for TB.

Over the following weeks we regularly visited Olive to monitor her condition and ensure that she received all the care necessary for a chance of survival. During this time I learned more of the details about Olive’s short life. At three days old she had been abandoned by her mother. A couple had taken Olive in but subsequently had both died of AIDS. Up until the time she was brought to the hospice, another daughter living in an area known for its sex workers was trying, unsuccessfully, to take care of Olive. I began to wonder what would happen to Olive once she was well enough to leave the hospital. I feared that if she returned to this environment, she would become yet another statistic—one of the many children in Sierra Leone that fail to survive into adulthood.

I had previously visited an orphanage run by Children of the Nations (COTN) and I knew that the children in their home were genuinely loved and cared for, receiving food, clothing, medical care and an education—things that in the UK we take for granted but are often sadly missing in the lives of many Sierra Leonean children. After hearing of Olive’s plight, a social worker was asked to investigate further and establish whether Olive was truly destitute. During this time, Olive was moved into a nutritional unit to treat her malnutrition. Two months after I first met Olive and after social services completed their investigation, she was fit enough to leave the hospital and begin her new life at COTN’s Children’s Home.

Upon arrival she was met by the manager and her new “aunty.” I left Olive with a bewildered look on her face, sitting on her pink bed which was covered in toys chosen by her new roommates as welcoming presents. Olive now had a hope for the future and a chance to fully recover from TB. Olive’s story is unique to me, but in many ways her story is a tale all too familiar to so many children here.

I was later approached by COTN–SL’s Country Director, Rev. Angie Myles and asked to help raise funds for the furnishing of the new children’s homes at Banta Mokelleh, COTN’s new ministry site where the children in Freetown are to be relocated later this year. By telling Olive’s story to friends and family back home in the UK and through an American friend here in Freetown, who also told people about COTN, we have found that people have spontaneously wanted to donate. To date, through various fundraising efforts my sister Nina helped organize in the UK and with the support of St. Matthew’s Church in Redhill, Surrey we have raised over £3,000 (with funds still coming in), plus over $2,200 from our American friends.

As I write this, I have just come back from spending a morning at the orphanage in Olive’s class at school. It was wonderful to spend time with her and to see her fit and well again, happily playing with her friends. I reflect upon the images in my mind—when I first met Olive and while she lay helpless in the hospital, comparing them to my visit today. The contrast is amazing.

I am now one of Olive’s sponsors and will continue to support her and the work of COTN in Sierra Leone for as long as she is there. I look forward to watching Olive grow and feel blessed to have the opportunity to do so. I am excited to see what the future holds for her, especially given the realization of what fate might have been.