Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Eve and Day in Sierra Leone

So Christmas Eve we enjoyed a beautiful Christmas dinner
(only missing my mum's roast parsnips) with the Mercy Ships family all together.
Shared a few gifts and enjoyed the Christmas tree....

Then late in the evening, after many a mince pie and mulled wine, we had a Candlelight Service.

Always time for a little Christmas drama.....

We spent time celebrating, singing carols and

remembering the wonderful gift that Jesus was and is to this broken world we live in.

Only God could make a way out of our brokeness, and that He did by sending His Son

Jesus - He saves,

Immanuel - God with us.

He descended deep so we could ascend high.

He created our life in His image, He gave us life through redemption......

He IS our LIFE.

Christmas morning was spent talking with friends and family on Skype

- SO thankful for internet.

Then off to the beach!!

We headed to River No. 2 beach. With a lovely warm day, plenty of food to snack on and fantastic friends we had a wonderful day....

We sat on the sand as the sun set over the waters. Yes we missed family and many of our normal Christmas traditions, but we celebrated in the natural beauty of the the creator of this world, the creator of us, and the giver of life.

May you all know Jesus' peace, joy and love at this time.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas at the Orphanage...

We had such a wonderful afternoon with the children at the orphanage I visit to see Michael on the Eastern side of town. We went there last year Christmas too for an afternoon of fun and games.

We started the afternoon with drumming and carols.

Then spent a while talking about the Christmas story and how we can be friends with Jesus now.
This year I had the idea of doing some crafts with them. So along with Sandra we set about making a huge paper Christmas Tree, which looked very bare to start with...

but soon got filled up....

This is Michael - proud of his and his friends work.

Not one of these children had ever had a Christmas Tree in their home before. It was really special.

Just watching them perfect there decorations with glitter, feathers and screwed up tissue paper, you could see how much they were enjoying themselves.

This is Binta..being the youngest at the Orphanage, she got to glue the BIG Yellow star on top.

And all the Children then went on to make their own trees. By now they were experts!!

This is Abu helping Michael - I'm not sure who was enjoying themselves most??

But one thing is for sure, we all had a great time of joy and sharing love with one another. Exhausted we settled down for a short film and refreshments to round off the afternoon.

Loved it, Love the kids,

and Love being able to share Christmas this way.

Merry Christmas to you all...

Monday, 15 December 2008

We've been theived...

Last night we were robbed...
they stole all our gazeebo chairs where we sit to eat dinner, one families shoes, and my shoes too :o(
Basically anything that was outside what was worth taking.

My friend Sandra wrote an excellent blog about our thoughts on this....have a read...

Frustrating that we cannot trust our guards, and that the theives ran away with the chairs, and my 2 best pairs of shoes. It has left me scrambling up mountainsides in flip flops (and I do mean litereally) to get to my patients. Not funny!
But at the end of the day, as wrong as theft is, I know that I can afford to go and buy new shoes. A wander around Freetown is in order next weekend to find some others...maybe I'll even find my own back!
It happens!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Girls Football...

This weekend we had a girls football match against 'Cultural Dance Troop' - the village that lives across the road from us at the Mercy Ships clinic in Aberdeen. Our neighbours are somewhat fit from the culutral dancing they are renown for. We however had never played together, and many of our team had never kicked a ball before!!

So it was not light competition...

The guys had had a match the week it was our turn.

So we did our warm up, trying to look as if we knew what we were up to...

And scare off the other side...

And we're off....Much to the delight of the crowd that had gathered...

We played on a rough, uneven, dirt pitch, with a slight slope to the side. No lines but a line of people and a wall the other side! If it went out of the doorway in the wall, straight into the road it was definately out...however before long there was no way it was getting through the door as at least 15 outsiders heads were peering through to watch this crazy game!!

Oh and our nets - old fishing nets on sticks...

Our 'man of the match' Jeneba - was an awesome defender, scary!

All in all it wa a fun event....despite loosing 3-2.

Still scoring 2 (one was mine - Kelly my old Footie coach would be proud!!) was not bad for a never played before team!

Friday, 5 December 2008

December's Newsletter

Dear faithful supporters,
Yet another month and indeed year has passed as I write you this Christmas Newsletter. I praise God for his many blessings in our work with the disabled children here in Sierra Leone. As I've said before every day is a new adventure. Experiences are good and bad, frustrating and sometimes funny, but there is something to be learnt in every moment, and that has to be good for me!!

So Christmas this year will be somewhat different, with temperatures reaching well into the 30's
and humidity at least at 90%, I will certainly not be wrapping up with scarves and hats or snuggling up to log fires. However I did bring out a few decorations and thoroughly enjoyed myself decorating my balcony. There is not much sign of Christmas around. The commercialism of the occasion is not here, much so because people just do not have the money to waste! So I pray that the real meaning of the season is what is central. Jesus is the giver of the best present – life and hope.

Over the last month there is many an experience to tell but I'll give you just a few...
Last week we took a PET out to Amidu, a 11 year old boy with Quad Cerebral Palsy. He lives on the beach as his father is a fisherman. However, living on sand means that getting around in a wheelchair is impossible. For his whole life he has crawled on hands and feet, and since I've known him it has not been possible for his knees to straighten, so sadly walking even with splints will never be an option. We have known Amidu for a while and despite working on preventing further problems, strengthening his upper limbs and trunk and helping him with basic literacy, still his mobility was the biggest problem. Coming up to his teenage years means that image is all the more important. This PET, which is a hand propelled cart with larger tyres and a crank shaft, is purposely designed for 'difficult' terrains. Abu carried it on his head across the sand dunes to deliver it to Amidu. After explaining the safety and control, Amidu was eager to have a go. He really was the star of the village as he cycled it around and around the huts. All the other children followed and encouraged him along. It sure was a fun event for all. So time will tell as he develops his arm muscles, but we hope it will allow this young boy a chance to move around as independently as any one of his friends.

Abu and I have continued to meet with other organisations that work with children, the disabled or both, still seeking good networks and possible partnerships. One of these is called Handicap International, who are known world wide for their rehabilitation. They work from a Rehab Centre, and as yet do not do any community based care in the Freetown area. They however are also very big on petitioning the government for the rights of the disabled. The meetings went well and we hope to increase our already good relationship with them, although in quite what capacity I don't yet know. The other news as far as rehab in Freetown goes, is that New Steps, the Mercy Ships rehab programme where I started my physio experiences in SL, has been closed down due to lack of support. Not only is it very sad for all my local friends who lost their jobs, it is also a huge loss to the disabled people of SL, and I will struggle with no where to refer to for many pieces of equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches and PETS. It leads one to ask the question, how can we make programmes that will last, and who should be responsible for funding them – aid from outside SL, or SL themselves? When the country is still listed by the UN as the poorest in the world, with 2 in 5 children dying before they reach 5 years old; the priorities should be basics such as medical services especially maternity and children's care, and water and sanitation. With such a lack of major basic services, what hope is there for the country to support rehabilitation services, even though it is said that 10% of the total population have a disability? So planning for the future of my own work has made me think long and hard about where exactly I am going with this ministry. This is a huge question and although I originally committed 2 years, that is nearly up already!! As it stands for now, I hope to be coming back after the English summer with Sarah, the Occupational Therapist. We will work together for several months, then when she is settled I will probably return home for a while. However, since the work is going so well, we hope to continue to build this strong team maybe with more internationals as well as more locals, with Abu heading it up from this side. Abu has a long way to go learning how to manage this kind of project as well as the therapy skills. But he remains committed and reliable, and learning is a daily focus for us all!! I hope that updates you all a little on our future here.

This month I also travelled to Monrovia, Liberia with Sandra, a children's doctor and my closest friend here. We travelled across land, some on bumpy roads, for 13hours, but eventually arrived in one piece despite being a little shaken up! We went to the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships' newest floating hospital ship. We took and brought back several patients, some who had cleft lip surgery; did some training with colleagues on board, and met up with good friends for professional and of course social encouragement!! It was a great trip and after all my years linked with Mercy Ship landbases, I'm happy to have to have finally seen a real ship!

Some prayer points if you don't mind:

~ Thank God for new families we are working with, that they learn what we are encouraging
~ Thank God for a wonderful trip to Liberia
~ Pray for on-going protection as we travel around in the Landrover
~ Pray for me as it gets hotter here as I have been suffering from migraines which make me dizzy and sick, not a good combination when long rough drives are needed to get home.
~ Ongoing processes of Sarah OT coming out
~ Pray for the government of Sierra Leone to hear the voices of the disabled, and recognise how to better support their needs
~ Pray for Abu's continued development in his progressively important role in this ministry
~ Pray that at this special time of Christmas, Abu and I can continue to share the love of Jesus, giving hope to so many families in desperate situations. Pray that we will have the wisdom and discernment of how and when to help and the patience and strength to deal with the many frustrating and sad situations we often come across.
Abu and I wish all our supporters a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

“Meri go bon boy pikin en yu go kol di pikin Jizos,
bikos i go sev God in pipul den from den sin” Matyu 1:21

“Mary will give birth to a boy child and you will call him Jesus,
for he will save God's people from their sin” Matthew 1:21

Emmanuel God with us – this is the hope we have in Christ Jesus

With Love and thanks, Vez

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A beautiful African Wedding

Some good friends of mine Fayia and Tiwah got married last weekend...

It was the best wedding I've been to here....

The Happy Couple
Have a peek at the rest of the wedding....

The groom and best men....don't look too nervous do they?

The bride arrives...she however is looking a bit worried - but I've known Faiya for years, and she has done very well - he's a great guy!

There is always a little Bride and Groom

A group of ladies entertained us with a tradional song and dance... Sounding very cool!!

And all the Mercy Ships staff wear the same asherbi - like a uniform...the same material but all in different styles.... and we danced the day away!!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

I wanted you to hear about some good stories....

Yesterday, I drove through the mountains for about an hour and out the other side of the jungle, to a place called Sima Town, it's past Yams Farm, and before Devils Hole! But Sima Town is nice itself. We drive as far up the side of the hill as we can then walk the rest to 2 families at the top. On the way we pass one household who lost a baby a few months ago. Was a bit sad as we had saved her life when she was first born. I;ve never seen a baby so malnourisjed and dehydrated, it was certianly harrowing. Anyway, it was one of Berties (the landrovers) first life savers, as we drove her to a good NGO hospital and got her striaght onto a drip. Anyway dont really know what happened, or why she died nearly a year later. But her family are always happy to see me and we meet and greet on your way up.

Minkalu is waiting for us peering over the wall - a quad (affecting all 4 limbs and body) Cerebral Palsy, except he is 'bluffing' as they say here, shy becasue he didnt have any shorts or pants on!! Soon put that right, a 4 year old has far too much dignity hey?? Minkalu has literally learnt to walk with us over the past year, sometimes using his motor car (frame), and now a few steps on his own. He sits well in a special chair we have made for him which h should hopefully be taking to start school with in Jan. Had a great session with him - playing, obvously all in a therapeuatic way!! Good chat with Mum although, she was a little upset as her 14 yr old died a few weeks ago too. This litle communityhas had 4 child deaths that I know of in the past year. thats a lot and sometimes I wonder 'is this place cursed or what?' questions, rightly or wrongly, but v african in thought - I think we in the west often underspiritualise things, and yes africans can over, but still the devil does have power and strongholds, and is at work whereever we allow. Prayer is key when going into these places hey?

Anyway, this is geting long - I'll cut short.....We saw several other patients, 2 of which were not really doing v well in school so had been pulled out. lets say the education system does not allow for learning difficulties or physical disability - understated. So these 2 young teenagers were not getting past Class 1, (normal age 6-7), so abu (assist) and I were trying to do more practical skills with them at home. Anyway, we found a vocational training center nearish that we visited, and they said that they would be able to go there!!! It was so nice to be welcomed for them, AND it's funded by another NGO so the family only have to fill the application, and spend 10,000Le (£2) for the id card!! Ok, so the place is still being built, but by Jan they should be in there - the girl Mamusu for tailoring and gara tie dying, and the boy Basiru for carpentry. Praise God!!
Very long hot dirty, long driving day - but well worth it.

Then today, saw a new patient, then a few old ones, then went to visit the father of a child of mine who died when I was home just a few weeks ago. I think I told you about him - Alie - cute kid with Downs Syndrome. Anyway Karusu - the father of the family had come from a muslim background, and when they all started to come to church as a family it was great, and it was he who showed most interest. Unfortnately, since Alie died, the sister is now with Grani and the mother Adama has chosen to leave Karusu. BUT Karusu himself has cont to bring himself along to church, and when we visited today we tried to encourage him in the bible. I wasnt sure how much if anything he could read. He does have a bible that we gave him, and in church he sits by me and we look the scriptures up together. But today, we sat and read John 1 together. Found out that he really can;t read much at all, but was a great listener was i translated in my best Crio!! From that we had an in depth discussion about the Word, about the true Light, the One and Only. The differene between Father Son and Holy Spirit. Why Jesus had to rise from the dead. If everyone could get forgivness - even Foday Sankoh - the main rebel leader of the 10 yr civil war here. did Moses sin? Why did he not reach the promised land? if it was ok to drink poio (palm wine). How to forgive someone who has hurt you. do children go to heaven? OT covenant and the new covenant........WOW we talked a lot. Abu was great with him, and he was asking some of the questions too. It was just so encouraging to see this man come from showing some interest, to being angry and broken when he lost his son, to him now being so hungry for more depth, even though he can't read God's word, he wants to hear as much as he can. God is so good to turn this situation into his gain for eternity.

All in a few days work hey!
So life here can be challenging, exhausting, and frustrating but on the whole it's SO much fun and SO rewarding.

For now I can continue.

Pray for our families. Pray for us.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

2 flat tyres later...

So my wonderful new tyres have not quite been so wonderful...

For a week they were great, managed a trip through the mountains, several trips up and down the awfully steep and bumpy road I live on, trips to several patients, and of course to our local beach.

BUT, a second trip through the mountains taking a load of SOS kids to Mercy Ships New Steps for new prosthetics and callipers, proved too much for Bertie.

Thankfully we had arrived back to the SOS compound, when the kids decided that as a thank you they would wash my now very dusty and dirty car (no, the self cleaning tyres do not meet their description!). A very sweet thought and was much fun in the process...until...I saw a flat tyre that is. So one going down and I'm talking about how to change that, with the kids help of course as they would not allow me otherwise!! Then little Jeneba is scrubbing the back tyre and air starts flowing out of that one too!! Oh no!!

I immediately got everyone off the car, as 3 kids were on the roof, 2 on the bonnet, and several more round the edges by this point. Now you have to picture that, bearing in mind they are all disabled in one way or another - amputees, polio (so not walking on their own), Cerebral Palsy of varying degrees. It was a great sight!! They finished the job from the ground, but have to say I could barely see out of the windows once finished! It was the thought that counts hey!!

So two flats - one spare, now what to do?

Call my mechanic friend, Abu, from Mercy Ships, thats what!!

He comes along, we change one tyre, the really flat one, then drive (abu does that is!) very carefully to the Tyre Repair place - a shack on the side of the road with a couple of grubby men who look as if they have been working hard all day.

It was the new inner tubes that were at fault apparently, not the tyres. So we replaced inners with 'tublets', which are cheaper and better so why I didnt have them in the first place I don't know. Still....
The Tyre Repair place has a special machine they use, but it was broken. Abu, being able to fix most machines, then spend 20 mins fixing it, so we can use it. BUT, after we use it on our tyre, somehow they did not have the bit needed to seal the air in the tublet!! So, our only choice is to go to another Tyre Repair place. Thankfully we had not yet removed the second flatish tyre.

So off we drive another 15mins on one nearly flat tyre, with no spare, to the next place.
They were busy with 4 other cars all using their services - it seems flat tyres are a common occurance here!! Thankfully, after waiting a while, they are able to help us fully with all needed! .... Nearly, had to go back the next day to complete one bit.

By this point it is well into the evening, I'm very hungry as hadn't eaten all day, and Abu has a long way to go home. So I get him to drive me home, then we collect another friend of ours who was also working late, and the 2 boys take my car home for the night.

Praise the Lord for good friends who get me out of trouble in difficult times. I would have hated to deal with all that on my own.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A day at the Guma Dam.....

This weekend, we got time out at the peaceful Guma Valley Dam.
It's beautiful.....
God's creation is always something worth sharing.

Friday, 7 November 2008

November's News

Dear faithful supporters,

“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love, neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, not even the powers of hell, neither height nor depth or anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8 : 38

It's a good job that we can have so much hope in the fact that God's love never fails us. The last month has been one of ups and downs as usual, but what remains constant is our faith in Christ Jesus.

Just as I was settling into the normal routine of home visits to our long standing friends, and meeting new families as they get referred to us or found, I had a quick visit back to the UK for a wedding of a good friend. So let me tell you about home quickly first.
The wedding was great fun with lots of my sending church family (Bognor Vineyard) all rolling their sleeves up and pitching in. We had a great day and Debie-Jo and Matt were glowing throughout. Besides that, I had some wonderful times with close friends and particularly loved being outside in the crisp autumn days. I was able to spend a bit more time with my new nephew Jack, and my family and I enjoyed an early Christmas celebration together!! It was funny again being around so many white people, but as usual the time whizzed by far too quickly and before I knew it I was heading back to SL.

As I reached back to SL, I immediately noticed the massive increase in temperature. After having frozen on the aeroplane, I stepped down the stairs and with every step the heat clung more to my skin and I've been hot ever since!! So the rains are finally 'don don' as they say here, and Abu and I are sweltering in the Landrover as we travel around seeing our families.
That said, one VERY exciting happening over the past few weeks is that my new tyres for the Landrover finally arrived from UK. I've been waiting for these tyres for a VERY long time, and we're now very happy to have them on the car. You'll love this... They were described as 'attractively aggressive, self cleaning tyres' – the first part you can have your own opinion on, but as for the self cleaning, I just don't see how that can work in Africa!! I'll be putting them to the test this week as we trek out across the mountains.
I had said in a previous newsletter that we had found a few patients who had 'disappeared' out to the villages. Well, treatment has continued with them successfully. This is Zainab (on the right) and her sister MK. Zainab has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy, however is trying very hard to get on her feet to walk. We had made a walking frame for her in January, which she never got as she was taken to the village. So now we have tried to teach her to use it and it's too small. Frustrating, but we're working on getting another. Her sister however also loves our visits as she discovered that if she gets in the way enough, then she gets given a load of toys to play with on the other side of the room just to keep her quiet while we are working with Zainab. This however, always gets messy when it's time to go and we have to take them all away again!!
And this is Medo. An inquisitive boy with a more severe Cerebral Palsy. He had taken this chair that we had made with him to the village, and it even came back in one piece!! It needed a few adjustments as he had grown, but praise God he's doing well and more so that the family remain committed and loving.
I do however have some sad news to tell you as well. You may remember me talking of Alie Sesay. He was a baby with Downs Syndrome who we had made a corner seat for last year, then I lost touch with the family. Having looked high and low, then turning to prayer, they suddenly turned up again. For the past 6 months I have been very involved with them both in terms of Alie's treatment, micro enterprise to support the family and also ministering to them at home, then in to church. Well, sadly Alie died last week. We don't really know what from, but it was very sudden. Both Karusu and Adama were very upset and it has brought much strain on their relationship, that was not going that well before this happened anyway. I'm not sure Kadija, his 4 year old sister really understands, but for her too she has been staying with various relatives and can't really know where home is any more. Please pray for this family. They were an encouragement to me as they lovingly devoted themselves to Alie's care. It has been sad to see Alie taken away from them, but we all find comfort in knowing that Alie is now in Papa God's gentle hands.

Quick updates on a few other bits:

Amara has started treatment for his TB Spine. It actually worked out that he can do it at home, with the Grani going to the hospital once a week to get the meds, and a social worker over seeing. I'm amazed that it has worked out like this, but please pray that we see some improvement in his medical condition as he is still very poorly, not to mention low in mood.

Allusan, my carpenter, who was getting more and more frustrating, has actually not been very well. He had some kind of a breakdown and lost the ability to care for himself or his 2 sons. The community came around him to help out, and after a few visits his old self started coming back. What was amazing was that despite being a Muslim, he allowed me to pray with him, where previously he had refused me. We don't really know what led to this breakdown, life here can be so stressful at the best of times, but please pray for the light of Jesus to find a way to him so he can be freed of whatever is holding him down. I'm not sure yet whether he will be able to continue work with us. But I do hope so.

Having been advertising since the summer for someone qualified to come and join me with this work, at last the right person has come forward. She is called Sarah and she's a lovely Occupational Therapist, which will broaden the experience we can currently offer. We are in the process of working things out, but we hope she'll join me later in 2009. Watch this space.

The declining worldwide financial situation is affecting us here too. My UK pound used to be worth 5800Le just a few months ago, now it is down to 4700Le. That means for every UK pound I change I loose about 20p from what I used to get. That is how it affects me, but I'll let you come to your own conclusions about how that is affecting local people here.

Abu says a big hello to everyone out there too!!

So I won't give you any specific prayer points this month, but use all the above info to focus your thoughts. I'm well myself and intend on staying that way!! But please pray that I will continually depend on Father God for all things and that I will make time to stay close to Him daily.

Thank you for all your support, in all things

With Love, Vez