Caritas Freetown Begging on Sierra Leone Streets to Facilitate Children’s Surgery Abroad

An official of Caritas Freetown begging for funds on the streets of Sierra Leone to support sick children in the West African country who need specialized treatment in India.
Credit: Caritas Freetown.

For nearly three years, members of Caritas Freetown have been begging for funds on the streets of Sierra Leone to support sick children in the west African country who need specialized treatment in India.

 

They show up every week on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. clad in their official sleeveless brown khaki jackets and navigate the narrows of heavy traffic shouting in west African pidgin English, “donate for save lives!”

The little boxes they carry, with a small opening at the top are labelled ‘Sick Pikin Project’ and ‘Sick baby’s donation project’ and they rush with them to any motorist who stops to donate. Their voices are mostly drowned in the loud music played in the moving vans.

The children benefiting from the street donations are those with complications related to biliary atresia needing a liver transplant, hydrocephalus with water in the head, imperforated anus, congenital heart disease, encephalocele and many other diseases, which can only be treated outside the country.

The children are drawn from families around the country who cannot afford the expensive management and treatment of the diseases.

Caritas Freetown Programs Manager, Ishmeal Charles told ACI Africa in a Tuesday, September 29 interview that the Sick Babies Donation Project started in 2018 as a one-off activity with the sole aim to raise funds for baby Mustapha.

“Mustapha was suffering from complications that were related to biliary atresia and he needed an expensive liver transplant in India,” Charles said.

He continued in reference to Mustapha, “His mother approached us and we thought that the only way to help her was by rallying for funds and that’s what we did. It took us a very long time but we finally succeeded and baby Mustapha received a liver transplant in India with the mother being the donor.”

It took Caritas Freetown five months to raise about US$10,000.00 before the country’s First Lady, Fatima Bio came in, did a short video clip to support the funds drive and attracted more donors who topped up the amount that was required for the medical procedure, Charles recalled.

After the first successful surgery, which attracted nationwide attention, many other sick babies were brought for help.

Charles then spoke to Fr. Peter Konteh, the Executive Director of Caritas Freetown and the two set up an organization “to standardize things and change from individual cases to collective organizational format.” 

Since inception, 40 children have benefitted from the project by undergoing successful surgeries through which the charity arm of Sierra Leone’s Archdiocese of Freetown had forged partnerships with top hospitals in India.

The India-based hospitals now give children under the “Sick Babies Project” generous discounts on their respective treatments.

Unfortunately, six children under the “Sick Babies Project” succumbed to complications of their ailments and 20 are waiting for funds to undergo treatment, according to the Caritas Freetown Programs Manager.

Additionally, 32 people drawn by the work of Caritas Freetown have joined the charity organization to work as volunteers on the street project.

Charles says that on a good day, Caritas Freetown has managed to collect slightly over 1,000,000 Leones which is about US$100.00.

“There’s a day that members of parliament joined us in our begging and we raised over 10,000,000 Leones (US$1,000.00); but most of the time, we collect US$100.00,” he told ACI Africa September 29, adding that on bad days, the group collects as low as US$5.00.

Caritas Freetown has however worked on cases such as biliary atresia which cost up to US$36,000.00 for a liver transplant, encephalocele which costs US$16,000.00, and imperforated anus at US$14,000.00 among other expensive medical procedures.

“The amount gets higher when we include other expenses such as accommodation and travel, making the treatment very expensive,” the Sierra Leonean Caritas official said.

He added, “I remember it once took us six months to raise funds for just one child. The situation becomes desperate when you have 20 children waiting for funds to undergo treatment with their health deteriorating.”

Explaining how Caritas Freetown follows up on treatment of the children, the official said, “Some of the children have family members and loved ones who take care of them but when they need to travel to India, we send one of our staff members to accompany them, especially those who have never travelled out of the country before and do not understand English.”


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Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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