Sunday, October 25, 2009

Visit to Gbonkolenken Chiefdom

On Friday, we (Jane, Nancy and Vaughn, the visitors from Canada, plus myself, TMT, Pa Fornah and Sallay) spent the day in Gbonkolenken chiefdom. I had a lot to do there in terms of work – teacher workshop, meetings with the women and with teacher training scholarship recipients, and delivering the PSI flags and certificates for the schools there that have become members. Jane, Nancy and Vaughn also wanted to visit Mathombo school, which is twinned with Parkview school in Ontario where Jane’s children go to school, and deliver some of the health supplies that they brought with them (the supplies were divided between the two chiefdoms, some to Gbonkolenken and some to Paki Masabong).

It was a good, although very long day. I’ve posted some pictures. The children at Mathombo school were singing as we arrived at the school – a very nice way to be welcomed! The last time I visited Gbonkolenken, school hadn’t started yet, so it was good to see the kids in class this time. Mathombo is a community school and all of the teachers there are volunteers. It’s quite inspiring to see their commitment to the kids, especially in the area of peace education. I could see when visiting the classes that the teachers there were practicing some of the alternatives to corporal punishment that they have learned, especially in terms of providing encouragement and praise to students for participating in class and getting answers right rather than punishing those who got answers wrong.

The teacher workshop we did was the same topic as the one in Paki Masabong last week. We had an excellent turnout – over 30 teachers and a few elders from the area as well. We started the workshop with a review of a previous workshop on alternatives to corporal punishment done by Carolyn, Hetty (van Gurp, founder of Peaceful Schools International) and Thomas. During this review, when I asked the teachers what they remembered from the workshop, one of the elders recalled the story of Hetty’s son Ben (Ben died as the result of an act of bullying by another child at school) and told it again as a reminder why it is so important to build peace at school. I thought it was very touching that he remembered her story.

We also had a very sad health-related experience in Mathombo. Since both Jane and Nancy are doctors, one of the village elders in Mathombo asked if they could examine his wife who hadn’t been feeling well for a few months. The woman was frail and elderly (I find it very hard to tell people’s ages here so I won’t hazard a guess), and was obviously in some pain. Jane and Nancy did the best they could to examine her, asking questions and checking her stomach, which is what was bothering her. In the end they thought that she likely had cancer and that a tumour in her stomach area was causing her the pain. They encouraged her to go to hospital (Mathombo is in Tonkolili District, so the nearest hospital is in Magburaka, about a 45 minute drive), but she said it was not possible because of the costs. All we could do is leave her a bottle of ibuprofen in the hopes of offering her some relief from pain. It was difficult to see someone in obvious pain and distress and not be able to do more to help.

The costs of treatment and the distance to health services are both major barriers to care for people here. However, even if she could get to the hospital, I’m not sure what they’d be able to offer in terms of treatment or pain relief/palliative care. I know that the hospital in Makeni can’t perform any surgeries requiring general anaesthesia for example. I suspect that unless she was able to go to Freetown it would be very difficult for her to get the care she needed. Unfortunately, the inability to access care is an all too common problem for people here.

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