Sierra Leone is a country filled with natural beauty, but thanks to a violent civil war that ended in 2002 and its recent outbreak of Ebola, very few people have had the opportunity to travel there. However Verity Boord spent over three years, in the country, developing a charity called ‘Enable the Children.’ She tells us about her experiences in the colourful city of Freetown.
Q. What was it like to live in Sierra Leone?
A. I lived in the Western part of Freetown, it was a very crowded and polluted place. A lot of people will leave the villages to travel to the City because they think they could make more money, but it meant they had to live in squalor. It was a little more luxurious where I lived, although we still had no running water and even though there was National Power (NPA) you’d never know when you could use it, some days it would be on for an hour, other days there would be nothing, which could be difficult at times.
Q. Can you tell me about ‘Enable the Children?’
A. I set up a charity working with disabled children and their caregivers. The children would normally suffer from long-term illnesses such as Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, head injuries and any neurological/ developmental problems. We were the only service in the area offering that kind of care to children with those illnesses and we would normally work with the families through home-based rehabilitation, which can be anything from occupational therapy to speech therapy, we’d try to use Western skills to teach the families about the child’s illness and how to look after them.
Q. What were your day-to-day responsibilities?
A. We trained local medical staff, who had the children’s best interests at heart, rather than those who just wanted to work with a white organisation. We’d start early to try to miss the traffic and the days were very long. We’d have to visit people in their homes, so we’d drive long distances and once there we’d have a long walk ahead of us, sometimes climbing mountains or through steep ravines. Normally their homes would be very small, so we’d have to work outside, under mango trees or in the porch area.
Q.What were the challenges you faced whilst working out there?
A. The language barrier was often a problem, a lot of the people we were dealing with were illiterate and there were cultural issues, especially when it came to the children’s disabilities. People would often believe the child is cursed or the mother did something wrong during pregnancy, we’d often have trouble teaching them about the medical reasons behind the disability.
Q. How do you feel the work you were doing affected the area you were living?
A. I think the biggest change came from re-educating the locals about what was happening to the children, they had all kinds of ideas, like maybe the Father ran off with another woman or the child had done something wrong which is why they can’t walk or talk. As we were strangers, people would want to come and see what we were doing and we’d often draw a crowd. This gave us the opportunity to explain to people in the village that the child hadn’t been cursed, there’s a medical reason for their disability.
Q. Why did you decide to go back to England?
A. I was exhausted a lot of the time and organising the charity from scratch took a lot of work. After 3 years I got to the point where I needed time out of Sierra Leone and during one of my visits home I met my husband, he’d sometimes come out and visit me. After a while we decided to pursue the relationship and we had plans on getting married, but for that to work I needed to be living in the same country with him, so I came back to England, I managed to run the charity for another 2 years, before we gave it up to another organisation.
Q. Do you plan on going back?
A. My circumstances have changed massively since I was last out there, I’m now married with kids. I don’t think we’d live out there, as it’s a difficult place to bring up children with western values and there’s a constant worry of sickness, but when the kids are older we would like take them out there to visit, so they can see that most people in the world live very differently to them, because the fact is we are very lucky to live as we do and it’s important for everyone to have a deep appreciation of that.
Find out more about Enable the Children