International Medical Corps’ Peter Ndoinje was showing me around the Sierra Leone town of Kailahun when I asked him whether he had set this up.
International Medical Corps seemed to be everywhere I looked. At the main entrance of Kailahun Government Hospital, I sat beneath a plaque that commemorated International Medical Corps for its work there. The International Medical Corps logo was still on the table across from me and the hospital’s head of logistics approached me to explain how working for International Medical Corps changed his life.
Ndoinje knew I was teasing and the question made him laugh. He slapped me on the back, shaking his head: “No, no no,” he said. “I don’t have to do that. Anywhere you go in this hospital, this area even, you will see International Medical Corps.”
Bordering Liberia to the east and Guinea to the north, Sierra Leone’s eastern district of Kailahun was a rebel stronghold during the war. The town of Kailahun was under control of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
During the war, the Kailahun Government Hospital was ransacked and destroyed. Rather than serving as a hospital for the wounded, it was a headquarters for the rebels. To make it into a functioning hospital once more, International Medical Corps rehabilitated it with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In 2004, the hospital reopened and today it is the main health care facility in the region.
The hospital’s very busy, very accommodating Chief Medical Director Dr. Prince Masuba, arrived in Kailahun only six months ago, but he was quickly aware of the work International Medical Corps did at the hospital. “I see a lot of things with International Medical Corps written on throughout the hospital, beds, equipment in the operating theater, the generators – even things in my house,” he said. “They supplied almost everything here, and it has lasted very well.”
“They left the hospital in a very good place – a new children’s ward, a scientific laboratory, quarters for doctors and nurses, a new water system,” he said. “[M]any of the things we do here are possible because of what International Medical Corps did.”
During their tenure at the hospital, International Medical Corps not only rebuilt the hospital, but also the capacity of its staff as well. The hospital’s head of logistics, Alpha Moorie, came to the hospital with International Medical Corps in 2002 and sees that move as the start of his career.
“International Medical Corps did so much for me,” he said. “I was very happy working for them. The International Medical Corps staff always worked so well together [and they] did everything for health care in the Kailahun district.”
When I told Moorie that I planned to visit other primary health care clinics in the district, he had a warning for me: “You need a long time. You can’t visit all the clinics International Medical Corps started here – there’s too many.”
It did take some time to get to Buedu, a village 20km east of Kailahun town on the border with Liberia. This was partly because we crisscrossed the dusty road to avoid cavernous pot holes, but mostly because we constantly stopped to see primary health care centers International Medical Corps had built along the way.
The centers are now run by the Ministry of Health and still serve their communities treating a wide variety of problems such as skin infections, scabies, malaria, acute respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and anemia.
“International Medical Corps opened lots of these health units treating all categories of patient[s],” Ndoinje said. “We created a health system here. [We] trained the staff, supplied the drugs and equipment, set up supplementary feeding programs, and a mental health program. [We] even set up a free ambulance service so that patients could be transferred to Kenema in the south or to the hospital in Kailahun, when we had refurbished it.”
Ndoinje started working for International Medical Corps in Kailahun in 2002 and has been with the organization ever since. In his tenure, he has filled a variety of roles, from Community Health Manager to HIV/Aids Program Coordinator and Primary Health Care Coordinator for two years in Darfur.
“My range of roles with International Medical Corps keeps growing, and I keep growing with them,” he said. “I’ve had so much training with International Medical Corps over the years. My progression’s been down to the training, and to a mutual commitment.”
When we arrived at the primary health care unit in Buedu, the head nurse, Zainab Mhamdalloi Abdulai, warmly welcomed us. “As you can see, everything that International Medical Corps built is still here, still working,” Abdulai said, with an expansive wave of her arm “Before International Medical Corps came, there was only very simple health care. We had to borrow buildings to operate in, but International Medical Corps gave us a home.”
Abdulai started working as a maternity nurse for International Medical Corps just after the war ended at a clinic in Daru, Kailahun. “I still work a lot with pregnant women, mothers, and children under five here,” she said. “We have such a problem with malnutrition and it’s so important to give these children a start in their lives.”
Abdulai introduced me to Joseph T. Getto, who has always lived in Buedu. Six years ago, his wife suffered complications during labor with twins and was rushed in an ambulance to hospital in Kailahun town.
“I was very worried when she had problems,” said Getto. “I didn’t want three lives to be lost in vain. It was very good International Medical Corps was there. The doctors were excellent and the operation went successfully, and after they looked after me and my wife, Christina, until she was well enough to go home. Now my boys – Moses and Samuel – are six years old.”
On our way back to Kailahun, we stopped at a supplementary feeding center in a village called Kangama, where I was approached by an elderly man who nodded slowly at the news that we were from International Medical Corps.
“You see NGOs come and you see them go, but people cried when International Medical Corps left,” he said. “They were the main NGO here in Kailahun after the war. They meant a lot to many people here.”
Ndoinje looked at me with a smile and a shrug: “I didn’t tell him to say that…like I said, there’s no need. Everyone knows what International Medical Corps have done here.”