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Love and Light

Region 1 - Service in Sierra Leone: October 2013

Further to our previous article in Love and Light, the journey began with loading the 40 ft container from a residence in South London for its onward march to Sierra Leone. Six weeks later, the container arrived in Sierra Leone a few days before the medical camp was to commence and there was some frantic unloading to be done amidst thunderous lightning and torrential downpours. Makeshift tents were pitched up to unload the beds, Paediatric cots, Wheelchairs, Zimmer frames, Granite slabs, Bricks, Paint, Clothes, Shoes, Fans, Toilets, Shelving, Educational Books, Children’s toys ...to name but just a few. However the constant downpours in Sierra Leone often made our makeshift tents unusable and the above items had to be constantly shunted to avoid getting drenched.

“Care with Devotion, Cure with Compassion”

On Oct 16th 2013, a group of 30 medical and non-medical volunteers from the UK set-off once again to Yonibana Sai Hospital to conduct a Medical Camp incorporating: Surgeons, Anaesthetists, Nurses, General Practitioners, General Doctors, Paediatric Specialists, Gynaecology Specialists, Dentists, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapist, Vibronic Practitioner and Pharmacists.

This Oct 2013 Medical Camp is the 12th medical camp to be held at the Yonibana Sai Hospital. The UK Volunteer team took with them numerous boxes of medicines and equipment to be used to provide free healthcare to the local people. As per all the camps conducted at Yonibana Sai Hospital, the Local and UK volunteers worked on a united front to treat more than 4,700 patients, incorporating 46 Hernia & Hydrocele surgical procedures and over 7,000 patient consultations over an intense 7 day camp period.

Arriving in Freetown in the early morning hours of Thursday 17th October, there was a calm lull about the place –then suddenly in come our 89 boxes of medical equipment, 20 pieces of luggage and a coach full of buzzing volunteers. We then made a 3 -hour journey to Yonibana, a small town East of Freetown. Driving through the village there was a real feeling of serenity and simplicity; the beauty of Mother Nature had been untouched.

After a very bumpy ride, we safely arrived at Yonibana Sai Hospital, a small haven tucked away amongst the vast green fields. On first impression the hospital seems a quaint building with a few rooms, but inside each room is spacious and adequately equipped to provide care; with a theatre, a recovery ward and 5 rooms.

With all hands-on-deck, we quickly settled in, and started making preparations for the first day of camp. This involving cleaning the rooms, stocking all items, assigning medical equipment to their respective departments, setting up the computers etc. After all the preparations had been made for the start of the medical camp for the next day, we sat down for a scrumptious dinner and had an early night.

The following morning we were all thrown straight into the deep-end, with the assurance that Swami was with us every step of the way. An inaugural meeting was held with the local chiefs and various other dignitaries. After lunch, the camp officially started, and we saw scores of local villagers queuing outside the hospital gates, from the old to the new-born; all were seeking medical treatment. The camp commenced with full force, with teams of Pediatrician’s, Hernia Surgeons, GP’s, Physiotherapists, Pharmacists, Gynecologists, Vibronic and Dentists, all carrying out their respective work.

Each morning of the camp commenced with meditation and yoga, followed with a hearty breakfast of porridge and fresh fruits. Even before breakfast had finished, the teams of local volunteers were making preparations for the day ahead. At the same time, the queues of patients were building fast outside the gates of the hospital. By 8am the gates were opened and the endless stream of patients were registered and sent to their respective departments, depending on their presenting complaint.

As part of the dental team, we would treat acute conditions such as dental abscesses, facial cellulitis and pulpitis. This would primarily be treated with extraction of the tooth, but in some instances due to the severity of the infection, it was treated with antibiotics. It was shocking to see the extent of the infection in cases where patients were unable to seek treatment for months and walked for miles to the hospital.

The other departments were equally busy with endless number of patients from miles outside Yonibana. For the first time physiotherapists were providing patients with their much-needed services – their skills proved invaluable, as the majority of patients were local farmers and had work associated muscular-skeletal pains. The Paediatric department saw a number of unusual cases, which frequently had to be referred to other hospitals in the vicinity.

Vibronics provided by Aunty Pavalam treated a number of patients such as those wishing to conceive to those suffering from epilepsy. The General Doctor’s and Obs-Gynae teams saw a large number of patients. The Pharmacists were the back-bone to the camp, providing appropriate medication for the patients who had been seen by the other medical professionals.

During the week we had the opportunity to attend Yonibana Sai Centre. Behind the Sai Centre, Victor Kanu’s memorial grave has been laid. The energy in the Sai Centre was powerful – with this simplicity, it hosts a calm and serene atmosphere, where one can easily feel at peace. We were fortunate to celebrate Avatar Declaration Day on 20th October with a candle-lit bhajan.

As part of the health promotion programme, a group of GPs, Dentists and volunteers went out to the local secondary and primary school to provide advice on basic hygiene and dental hygiene.

Every day we had a feedback session in the evening, where a member from each team would talk about their day and discuss any challenges or achievements during the day. This was great way for the team to know what was happening across the hospital. The days flew by quickly, and before we knew it the final day had come. We were sent off with a heart-warming farewell dance provided by the local women. Getting into the spirit of things, a few of the girls in the group dressed up in the local attire and took part in the traditional Sierra Leonean dancing. We started packing up items ready to go home – although sad to do so, with all the bonds we had developed with local volunteers, we all felt a little tired and ready to come home.

We embarked upon our journey back home full of fond memories of our time in Yonibana. For me the camp provided a real sense of being, and understanding for our purpose in life – to serve. How when we surrender, and become that empty vessel, we become receptive to Swami’s calls. There were many a challenge during the trip – Swami would make sure we knew that He was doer. On more than one occasion the generator, that would power the entire hospital would pack up, leaving many departments with no choice but the wait. But quicker than we anticipated, it would be back to full working condition, and the departments were able to treat just as many patients, despite the interference.

Swami’s love would permeate through each patient, some of whom showed nothing but love towards the volunteers. They were so grateful for the services that were provided they would sing and dance for us! But even in that moment, Swami would remind the ego not to get too excited, as ultimately it was Him doing all the work.

As a group, the bonds of friendship grew over the days to the point we all became like family. Many of the brothers and sisters in the group did not know of Swami, yet they displayed the values that Swami encourages us all to be – thus confirming that each and every person on in the group had been hand-picked to take part in the camp.

On a personal note, this camp was the life-changing challenge I needed in my life. The happiness seen on the faces of those who we perceive to have so little in their lives, made me evaluate the true meaning of happiness and the source through which we should derive it. I am eternally grateful to Swami for the opportunity to be His dental-instrument, and pray for the chance to return to serve His people.

At one of our meetings with the local business residents, when asked if our model of the hospital was based on the ‘Eurocentric’ model (where we put our UK thinking hats on and decide what is best for the locals there) or if the model is an ‘Afrocentric’ model (where we put the African thinking hats on and decide what is best for them using their local resources).

The answer we gave is that it is a ‘Saicentric’ model where we are but instruments of the divine and the final results are in his hands.

Jitesh Patel & Abe Nadesan