FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - Two United Methodist Volunteers-In-Mission work teams from Indiana and Minnesota were in Sierra Leone in November 2007 as part of the Operation Classroom ministries' work in the West African country.

The Indiana team painted six classrooms at the United Methodist Preparatory School on the Kissy Hospital grounds in eastern Freetown making the classrooms a pleasant environment for students.

Rick Chandler, the team leader, also gave pastoral services by assisting the local pastors at the Mango Brown Memorial United Methodist Church.

"We also made a ten-year commitment to add a second floor to the pre-school building," said Patti Paynter, another pastor in the group.

The seven-volunteer Minnesota team, including a medical doctor, nurses, a pastor and other support staff, spent a week in Manonkoh village in northern Sierra Leone delivering medical services to more than 500 patients, some of whom walked as far as 15 miles. Manonkoh is 120 miles from Freetown, the country's capital.

The Minnesota Conference established the clinic in 2006. It serves the Manonkoh community in the village hall. The November team was the second medical team to visit Manonkoh clinic in 2007. Doris Acton, RN, was in the 2006 team that made the decision to establish a community clinic in Manonkoh.

She said, "We wanted to find a village that had no access to health care. We interviewed a number of villages and chose Manonkoh because it was off the main road. There is no clinic here. There is no health care here and there is a United Methodist church and school here. So we saw that Rev. Edward Kamara already had (established) a presence here."

Manonkoh is strategically located. Other surrounding villages also come to Manonkoh on Fridays to receive treatment. When there is no work team visiting the village, the clinic is run on Fridays by nurses hired by the Minnesota Conference.

Reported illnesses

Among the most frequently reported cases of illness during the visit were malaria, upper respiratory infections, diarrhea, malnutrition, worms and other parasitic-type infections. Pregnant women and nursing mothers ranked high on the daily attendance sheet.

"We encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding. We also give medical education that keeps them healthier and we enjoy a lot of good relationship with them," Acton said.

The Manonkoh community elders expressed delight for what Chief Abu Sesay described as "a blessing that we would not want to lose." Chief Abu said the clinic has created a positive impact on the community, and his people are much healthier and happier now than before.

Christopher Koroma, head teacher of UMC Primary School at Manonkoh, said patients come from even Makeni, the provincial headquarter town, because of the good quality of medication delivered at the clinic.

Need for permanent structure

Members of the Manonkoh community said they need a permanent structure for the clinic. They are apprehensive that the clinic might be discontinued at any time since the benefactors have not constructed any building and basically run the clinic from the community center. The elders say a clinic building will provide a better health care environment and security for the drugs while at the same time minimizing the need to transport drugs and equipment on clinic days. They therefore are appealing to the Minnesota Conference to construct a health center for the clinic.

The community is prepared to contribute labor, local materials and land should the Minnesota Conference decide to erect a structure for the clinic.

Limited health care facilities are among the key challenges with which the post-conflict Sierra Leone government is grappling. Sierra Leone is ranked second highest in infant mortality in a recently published Central Intelligence Agency report.

Phileas Jusu serves as director of communications for the Sierra Leone Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.