Thursday, March 31, 2011


Friends in Sierra Leone, I hope to see you again some day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More starts

I have been wanting to write about this for a long time now, but I have been hesitating. There is just too much to say, too much to convey, and these words won't really do.

I mentioned before that mental illness is a serious but largely ignored issue in Sierra Leone. I saw obvious, severe cases every day, and there are many more cases that sit just below the surface. There was a man who wandered our neighborhood, some days alert and asking for food, and other days slumped over on the side of the road and unresponsive. I would buy him bread or hand him a few plantains, ask him his name, attempt conversation. I asked people in the neighborhood if they knew him, but no one did.

In order for him to get long-term care, we would have to find his family. I asked him if he had family nearby and where they lived, and he pointed down the road. I flagged down a taxi and David and I went with him to find them. After driving all around Freetown, it became clear we weren't going to find anyone. The taxi driver told us that the man's directions didn't make sense and what we thought was Krio was actually nonsense. Perhaps his family was in a different town. Perhaps he didn't have any family left.

City of Rest, in the middle of Freetown, is the country's only mental rehabilitation facility. It is run by locals and receives no government funding. I spent a couple of hours there one afternoon, taking photos for an article and meeting the residents. City of Rest is building a new facility outside of town that will allow for more residents and more room for rest and rehabilitation. But until they raise more funds, it is filled to capacity and unable to accept more people.

The only other option is the government mental hospital. When you mention this place, everyone has a rumor to share. People chained to beds. One small meal a day. Abuse by guards. Bribes and cruelty. But, is it better than being on the street?

City of Rest is not perfect. There is no running water and there is not enough medicine. But there is love there, and diagnosis and therapy and a desire to see people healed. The staff is fighting to get the right medicines and to learn how to better treat the residents. And then there are the residents themselves, the woman who was once unable to care for herself and is now healthy and smiling. The former soldiers who have found a community and a sense of home.

No, it is not perfect, but it is a start. I think we need more starts.

Thursday, March 3, 2011