Thursday, 20 March 2014

Finding A Job You'll Love

“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” Theodore Roosevelt

Generation Volunteer

I recently wrote a guest blog for The I am Group called "Generation Volunteer". It focused on the fact that for many people of my generation, volunteering is the only way to gain worthwhile work experience. I genuinely believe that volunteering can reveal your talents, explore your employment opportunities and help you grow as a person. People who have made volunteering part of their lives make excellent employees and often possess an unrivaled passion for the work they do. 

Graduate of 2012

I graduated in 2012 with a BA in History and Politics. I loved the subjects but I missed out on a 2:1. This was a huge blow for me, I was a high achiever at school but struggled with the unsupported teaching that university offered. I thought my "career" was over before it began, because I couldn't apply for the majority of the "Graduate" positions that demanded a 2:1 from all applicants. I soon came to the conclusion that if that company believes that my 2:2 means that I am not capable of doing the job then they aren't worth my time anyway. 

Opportunities Everywhere

One day I was reviewing my CV and was struggling to find things to put under "Employment History". I had a few paid jobs but most of my professional life had been dedicated to volunteering. When I took a good look at the work I had done as a volunteer with Livity and a local mental health charity, it was clear that I had experience in event organisation, communications, journalism and fundraising, to name a few. It was at that point that I knew I was searching for the wrong jobs in the wrong place. 

I live in Northern Ireland but had previously studied and worked in England, the difference in availability of jobs is staggering. Adding insult to injury is the appalling public transport system consisting of one railway line and huge areas of countryside and small towns that no Translink bus dare breach. Many people happily make a living and a life in NI but unfortunately I will not be one of them. The type of job I want in the businesses I wish to work for do not thrive as well in NI. 

Where to find the job you'll love

I am an experienced job hunter, not because I can't hold down a job but because I like to take a good opportunity when I see it. My positions with International and National Citizen Service were temporary and I quit my job at Regenersis so I could go to Sierra Leone (a little disclaimer if any potential employers are reading!). Therefore, I have learned of a few job websites that cater for people like me. 

Charity Job

A wonderful website that claims to be the "number one website for charity jobs", and rightly so. I have used this website for several years and I even obtained an 3 month internship with Brake as a result. My favourite feature of this website is the "Voluntary" section; as there are fantastic opportunities to volunteer professionally across the UK and internationally. 

Even if you do not wish to pursue a career in the third sector (charity sector) there are a wide range of jobs available; from fundraising to administrative roles. They are often less stringent when it comes to degree classification than jobs you would find on the likes of Graduate Talent Pool. They are still competitive though and you need to show that you have at least an interest in the Charity's goals and focus. 

Work In Startups

A friend of mine was telling me about startup businesses and organisations and how they are always looking for talented new people to help get the work done. He introduced me to this fantastic website that posts available jobs and internships with startups. Most are based in London, a location with a particular proclivity for churning out new and innovative businesses. 

The website is in a beta testing stage but is nonetheless a gold mine for opportunities. Especially jobs involving social media marketing and PR, which is exactly the type of job I am working towards. 

Inspiring Interns

This website is a particular favourite of mine for 2 reasons. Firstly, they are not just a job website but a recruitment agency as well. A friend of mine manages a big marketing company in England and said that they are fantastic to work with and have provided them with an excellent entry level work force. 

Secondly, Inspiring Interns are moving with the times. CV's will soon be a thing of the past. Online profiles like Linkedin and Google+ will take it's place. This company asks that you submit a short video of yourself, summarizing your key qualities and what you could bring to a job. They then use this video as another way of selling you to potential employers. I am in the process of creating my own video and will be sending it to them this week.

Some Advice...

I am reading an e book written by Smit Patel called Learn to Hustle, in it he says that to really stand out as the perfect person for the job, show that you can do the job already. For example, I wish to work in social media marketing and PR and I am currently the voluntary social media manager for Radio Coalisland. In order to increase  Radio Coalisland's listeners and their engagement with social media I  am  researching and compiling a report about the best social media platform to use (Hoot Suit, Parllay etc.). 

Monitoring and evaluating your businesses social media strategies is a vital part of it's success. This demonstrates that it may not be a paid job or full time but I am still doing the same work as an intern or assistant at a startup business. 


I hope this has been of some help for those of you struggling to find a job that you want to get up for in the morning. I am in the same boat, however it means I can share really cool websites and resources like the ones above. 

Come and find me!


Sunday, 5 January 2014

Have you ever heard of the Anti-Santa?

"You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle" - Julian Seifte

The Anti-Santa

You have it, your friend has it, a family member has it, your teacher, husband, wife and partner have it. Even if mental illness has not knocked on your front door, you can be damn sure that it has broken into a person's life that you know and taken everything that is warm, happy and stable.

It's like the Anti-Santa, it comes hooded and cloaked, carrying a big empty bag and makes off with all that was good and happy in your life. Sometimes on it's way out it'll dig a little hole just for you, just deep enough for you to fall into before you even realise that it was there in the first place, before you can scream or call for help.

Some people fall into their specially dug hole and don't even realise they are there until it's too late, by that time they are used to it. It's all they know and even if someone puts a rope down for them to climb out they can't or won't grab it. It's hard because they know that person is trying to help and they know they might be pushing that person away but staying in the hole with your pain feels like your only option.

You feel as though you have no control and being in this hole will be your life forever, and even if you did grab the rope it would break when you were climbing out and you would just get hurt again, am I right?

The Three Certainties of Life

My Dad says that there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes. I think there are three certainties, death, taxes and pain. I am speaking specifically of mental pain and anguish, everyone must go through some form of distress at least once. None of us are strangers to it and many are good friends with it, someone in your family, friends or work mates are struggling every single day.

Almost everyone is aware of mental illness but people are still blind to the fact that it isn't something that happens to "other people", it is happening to your people and my people. This time of year dictates that you should be happy and full of joy, when actually for most people it just reminds them that the Anti-Santa robbed them of that ability.

What have Dementors got to do with it?

J K Rowling experienced severe depression and this experience manifested in her Harry Potter series in the form of Dementors; hooded, spectral beings that fed off any joy or happiness you had ever experienced, leaving you with only the bad until you are unconscious or dead. A fairly accurate description of deep pain and anguish if you ask me

If you are reading this and are in pain, I would like to say "yes things will change and you will feel better soon", but I can't. That would be irresponsible of me and wrong, as many people will live their entire life with mental illness, it will play up like bad back or a dodgy knee. However, one thing you need to remember is that you do not need cured or fixing, you are not broken and there is nothing wrong with you!

You are not alone

I want you to read this and realise that you are not alone, that pain is universal and a fact of life. Remember when Frodo despaired and wished The Ring had never come to home him, Gandalf replies "So do all who see such times, but it is not for them to decide, all that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." I have said it before and I will say it again, every experience whether positive or negative is still an experience and you have the power to act on that experience if you wish to. You see that hole you are in right now? Well there is a rope hanging there and when you're ready there is so much sun light waiting just for you.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Women and the Peace Process: Lessons from Northern Ireland

“I know it's not easy for you, living this life, but try to remember, always try to remember, you're not the only one with troubles.”  ― Laini TaylorDaughter of Smoke & Bone

I moved to England  in 2009 to study History and Politics at the University of York, there weren't that many Northern Irish/Irish people there so my presence was a  novelty for a lot of my fellows student and the local people. Most people would eventually state (after a few minutes of polite conversation) that  "it must have been hard for you growing up", to which I would answer "no" because I was born in 1990 and grew up during the tail end of the Troubles. I cannot speak for those who had to live during to the Troubles, nor can I speak for the thousands of Northern Irish women who had to pick up the pieces and carry on during and after the Troubles. 

What I can do is write about some of the lessons that should be learnt from the Northern Irish Peace Process. The most important being that experiences of conflict are gendered and this can and should shape the way in which a society moves forward after conflict. 

If you wish to know more about the conflict in Northern Ireland I suggest you Google it, unfortunately I do not have the time or the blog space to accommodate the long and confusing history of the pain of my country. However, I will be nice and give you a definition I found on Wikipedia.

"The Troubles: is the common name for the ethno-nationalist and sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland that spilled over at various times into the Republic of IrelandScotlandEngland and mainland Europe. The Troubles began in the late 1960s and is considered by many to have ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of 1998. However, sporadic violence has continued since then."

Northern Ireland has been used as a modern day example of how a country can emerge from conflict due to well executed peace process. Involving the gradual decommissioning of paramilitary groups and the devolution of government to Stormont count the local political parties. My country has a long way to go but has been widely heralded as a success story, however, there are many lessons to be learnt. Especially when it comes to involving women in the rebuilding of society and the bringing about of peace. 

Women may not actively participate in conflict but they certainly have to experience it in one way or another. As I mentioned before, Northern Irish women had to look after their families and maintain some semblance of normality while their fathers, sons, brothers and husbands fought, died, or were innocent victims of the Troubles. Not only were many helpless bystanders they were also made examples of if they fraternised with the enemy (be that member of the opposite community or a British soldier). My Father used to tell me about women who would be and feather while tied to a lamp post in my local town, because of their relationship with the wrong man. 

Northern Irish women were the leaders of the peace process, they started it before the Troubles ended and it materialised in the form of women's groups and charities focusing on reconciliation and finding solutions to moving forward. Despite this women were all but excluded from the the official talks and meetings on the Peace Process, leaving the "hard  work" to the men and the ground work to the women. There is increasing recognition that a gender-blind approach to conflict resolution will not lead to sustainable peace in any country emerging from conflict or hoping to do so.  

Charities and organisations like Belfast Women's Aid have provided grass root support for women and families for several years, Their work has been vital in helping Northern Ireland heal and move on from 30 years of pain and conflict. If 50% of the population (women) are the main actors in creating peace and a sustainable future then it makes sense to include them in every level of decision making and discussion. How can 50% of the population of NI move on and heal if the Peace Process does not acknowledge women's efforts and experiences of The Troubles? 

When Syria emerges from conflict, which it will, the women must be given a safe space to share their experiences and a recognised platform from which these experiences can influence and help direct their peace building of their country. The same goes for Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, all of which are still experiencing conflict or are at war. 

What can we learn from Northern Ireland?

That women can be the key to long lasting and sustainable peace and that society is the lock and chain.

One final question; Will you help give them a voice or settle in as another link in the chain?

Margaret Ward's article on Gender, Citizenship and the Future of the Northern Ireland Peace Process

Definition of The Troubles

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Silent Abuse of Girls in Sierra Leone

'Who Won the World, Girls'

It’s not what you call me, but what I answer to.” ~African proverb 
Whenever I think about writing a new blog I will usually have an idea of what form and focus it will take. I'll write down a few ideas on my notepad then stare at my screen for a good half an hour before anything happens. I am sure you have already guessed that this piece will focus on women in Sierra Leone.
Initially I thought of finding some relevant statistics to start it off, but my internet is bandwidth-challenged and loading a big website like the WHO for example can take up to 5 to 10 minutes. So I have decided that instead of throwing statistics at you, I will do what most of my other blogs end up doing; telling you a few wee stories.
All names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual.
The women and girls I met in Sierra Leone were beautiful, passionate, strong, and fierce (when they needed to be and they certainly needed to be). Abuse was common and in many cases accepted as part of life, by the abuser, victim, and society. I have described the system of abuse to many people as follows; men abuse womenmen and women abuse childrenmen, womenand children abuse animals. However, I would like to clarify that this is not the case for all Sierra Leoneans, this is a model of abuse I witnessed when abuse did occur. I became very good friends with a young woman around my age, she was attending the local university in Makeni city and was one of the most beautiful girls you have ever seen. We will call her Sally.

Abusive Relationships

One day Sally was helping me cook (I really struggled to cook on the stove and any help was appreciated by me and the people risking their taste buds); we got talking about relationships and she told me about her ex-boyfriend and that she had split up with him. When I asked why she told me that he beat her, very badly, that her face was swollen up and she had a busted lip. Firstly, I was shocked that she had been beaten so badly and secondly, I was shocked and impressed that she was the one to end it.
As much as I admire Sierra Leonean women, they are not the most assertive of females; in my IT and Career classes, they would be the smallest in number and would remain silent the whole time. This was not just a choice on their part but was sometimes reinforced by a few of the male students in the class. If I directed a question at one of the girls a man would answer for her or if I asked her to do something on the PC, a male student would take the mouse off her and do it. This was infuriating to say the least and I had little tolerance for it.
This is one of the reasons why I was so shocked at Sally's assertiveness, especially when she told me that she still had feelings for him; at that point my heart broke for her. Sally not only had to wrestle with her own conflicting feelings she also had to deal with pressure from her friends and her ex's family to get back together with him. Her friend Sarah told her that some women think that if their partner does not beat them then they don't truly love them, Sally countered this by saying that "you don't hurt someone you love".
I couldn't have agreed more with her. 

Female Genital Mutilation

Unfortunately, abuse of women and young girls does not begin or end there. You may have noticed the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been talked about a lot in the media recently.
I spoke to a few local women about FGM and they told me that it is very common, transcending tribe, religion, and region, and that for many women it is seen as a right of passage.
Sally watched Ellen and I get up off our mattresses and winced; we laughed and asked why she did that? She said that because of FGM, she would find it painful to get up they way we did. She proceeded to show us how she tucks her legs underneath her and gently rises off the mattress, we asked her if she agreed with FGM, she said no and regrets having it done. She made it sound like it was her choice, but something told me that she didn't have much choice in the matter. Despite it being a very secretive part of Sierra Leonean culture, they have festivals dedicated to it every year.
FGM is a brutal practice and is often carried out in unsanitary conditions and with blunt and unclean instruments, which can cause illness and death. 

Sexual Abuse in Schools

Physical abuse is not the only threat that many Sierra Leonean girls must face; sexual abuse is common and often an accepted fact of life for girls who reach puberty. We spent the summer months in Sierra Leone, therefore we worked mainly in summer schools, which were run by a lot of very young male teachers, some of whom were younger than me (I am 23).
Not only did I question their teaching ability, I also also questioned their motives with a lot of the girls. Ellen came bursting into our room one day after her school shift, she was shaking and on the verge of tears, when I asked her what was wrong she said that the teachers at her school should not be there. To be fair there were a lot more expletives used than that, but it would seriously disrupt the flow of this blog.
After a few cigarettes. she told me that she overheard all of the male teachers talking about how they loved summer school because the girls would were tight clothes, and as they said this they would make lewd gestures and point out particular girls. I didn't know what to say; you can't say everything will be alright because it won't – some of those teachers may be involved in the systematic abuse of their students. Ellen said that they spoke so openly about it that it was obviously an accepted thing to do, even when you were in a position of responsibility.
I thought to myself, "These girls don't have a chance, how can this be fair?"
This blog has been particularly bleak and has focused on a dark and dangerous part of Sierra Leone culture and society; however, time is a great changer. During my team's time in Makeni, we met a guy called Phillip – he was a social worker for Street Childand he told us that he was working on a case regarding a young girl who had been impregnated by her teacher; she was 15.
Phillip and I on Aberdeen beach in Freetown

The teacher refused to take responsibility and he was more than likely going to get away with it; however, Phillip was going through the courts to get this guy reprimanded and it was working. He told us that he was being threatened by the teacher's family as well as being bribed to drop the case, but that it was the right thing to do and he was not going to be swayed.
Sierra Leone's justice system leaves a lot to be desired and, more often than not, works against the victims of crimes, but it is people like Phillip who help keep the young women of Sierra Leone safe. 

Further Reading

Street Child - website -

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Exploit and Go: How the North steals from the South

A Scotsman, a Welshman and an Irishman walk into the Clubhouse in Sierra Leone...
This may sound like the beginning of a bad joke but it could not be further from the truth. The following account was made by my collegue Ellen Paton after a conversation with 3 miners in a popular European restaurant in Makeni city, Sierra Leone.

The three men were apparently on holiday "in this hellohole for two days. If you thought this was a s*&%hole you should see Tonkoli."  So I asked "bet you can't wait to go home?,"  they said "yep, exploit and go". When I said I was a volunteer their response was patronising to say the least, "aww that's nice. I mean, you have to live in this s*&%hole and pretend you are doing stuff. We are the ones giving the money back though. I spend so much at Apex! (Another name for Wusum Hotel)"   
They were two engineers and a supervisor working for London Mining. They seemed really racist. They told me that they were sinking 3 mountains in the north. They also said that the miners do not get adequate health and safety training. My friend Sheka (a national) said that in Makali, Bombali District there are frequent cholera outbreaks as miners work in gold mines where they are exposed to contaminated water, they are not provided with water purification tablets. It became obvious to me that there needs to be more transparency  in what these mining companies are doing. Everyone seems to be oblivious to the exploitation that is happening in their country. They like that there is foreign investment in the country whilst being unaware of the scale , the pollution and lack of remittances that it brings.

This account never fails to make my skin crawl. The lack of morality in this one conversation is disturbing but no longer surprises me after coming in contact with several western companies that were "investing" in Sierra Leone. We met the employees of two companies in particular, London Mining and African Minerals, in two locations in Makeni; Wusum Hotel and The Clubhouse restaurant. 

Wusum Hotel is a newly developed hotel in Sierra Leone, it has an internet cafe, swimming pool, gym and european style rooms. Manson & Knight's travel guide to Sierra Leone describes Wusum Hotel as the haunt of "miners, ministers & paramount chiefs" at night it can turn into a bit of a "hooker-fest" and the service is "less than friendly" (Manson & Knight, p.286). I can confirm this from personal experience, myself and Ellen spent several hours there during our search for reliable wifi. When the miners came out of their rooms the prostitutes would emerge, seemingly from nowhere. They would throw themselves at the often middle aged, overweight european miners who did little to deter their advances. These miners certainly do put a lot of money back into the local economy, but from my experience, not in the right way.

In 2014 there will be a West African Mining Consortium held in London, this will be attended by any self respecting mining company based in Africa, including African Minerals and London Mining. Why hold a massive consortium about the future of West African mining in London? Why not hold it in West Africa? Surely that makes more sense, considering the fact that you are mining very valuable natural resources from there and supposedly "investing" in the national economy. There are a lot of things that keep people in Africa poor, and this kind of foreign "investment" is one of them. 

I was part of a livelihoods programme in Sierra Leone and thid included career guidance lessons in schools. I saw a lot of young people benefit from these classes, however, it is my sincerest belief that career guidance is pointless unless the population is politically aware. If they cannot engage politically on a local and national level then how are they supposed to defend their rights as citizens and ultimately how their natural resources are mined and where they go? If London was rich in natural resources you can be sure that no foreign mining company would set one greedy foot near the capital!

Most of us international volunteers were educated to university level, we were all politically aware and had a critical mindset. We could not have been more different from most of the young people we met out there, we questioned some of our nationals about where their taxes go and what benefit did they see from it. They said that they didn't know where their taxes went and they politely shrugged off the quetsion with a smile, they said that to question the government in any way would be seen as revolutionary and after a decade of brutal war, revolution is the last thing on anyone's mind. To be honest I really couldn't blame them for feeling this way, they are peaceful to the point of being totally passive and who am I to judge, I wasn't the one who had to survive one of the most brutal civil wars of the modern age. Sierra Leone was recently revealed to have the most corrupt government in the world, this doesn't surprise me, however exploitation from companies like London Mining, Dawnus and African Minerals does not help this situation.

When a country and it's people are being exploited by their own government and external bodies, internal change is needed. However, we cannot forget the responsibility that our own government has to help stop this kind of exploitation. When it comes to the British government I would go as far as to say that they are not only responsible but contribute to the exploitation of Sierra Leone. During our first few days there we visited the Britsih High Commission in Freetown, of course it was at the very top of the mountain in a walled, green and almost suburban area. We met two sections of the British government, the Foreign Office and DFID. After chatting to several of them over expensive food and alcohol served by two local Sierra Leoneans, we soon discovered that each department were there for different reasons. DFID was there to promote Sierra Leonean interests and the Foreign Office was there to promote British interests. There was a beautiful pool, flushing toilets and air conditioning; after coming from a place where we washed ourselves with a a bucket of water none of us felt comfortable there. It just did not feel right, eveything was so lavish, expensive and so at odds with what we had experienced in the two days that we were there.

Most of the people of Sierra Leone are very poor, uneducated and politically unaware. How can Sierra Leone develop if there are so many internal and external bodies that jump at every chance to exploit this country and it's people? I do not know the answers to many of the questions I have posed in this blog, what I do know is that choosing to remain blind to the corruption of companies like London Mining and our own government will not help. Yes it would be easier to bury your head in the sand and trust me I have wanted to do it many times upon returning home, but one day it won't be a distant African country being exploited it will be our own.

The photographs below show a career forum that we organised in one of the local schools and all of us at the Britsih High Commission. Photos courtsey of the fabulous Kristine Vaivode :) 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

With Great Change Comes Great Responsibility

"How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when you know in your heart you begin  to understand there is no going back?" Frodo Baggins, The Return of The King

You know things will be different when you return home, you know you will be different and everything that made up your life (including the ones you love) before you left will not be the same. What you don't realise is that knowing and understanding are two different things.  Six people will eat an apple but each one of those people will have a different experience and thus a different reaction to eating that apple. In this blog will tell you about my reaction and about how I am coming to understand the different life I now find my self inhabiting. I wish to attribute this change not just to Sierra Leone and it's people but to the team of people that I worked, lived, laughed and cried with. This one is for you Makeni ti ti's!

The obvious differences between Sierra Leone and the UK are things like the NHS, milk, a wider range of fruit and vegetables, clean running water, hot water, Televisions in every home, foot paths and roads to name a few. These are luxuries which we all survived without with relative ease, but it did not stop me crying during my first hot shower in 3 months and staring stupidly at a tap of clean running water. I couldn't stop thinking about how easy everything was and how none of it was "normal", that the majority of the world's population does not live like this. However, this is not your fault or mine, no one can help where they are born but I began to recognise the responsibility we had to help those less well off than we are. Uncle Ben had it right when he said that "with great power comes great resposibiliy" (Spider-Man for those who do not know); wealth is power, health is power, knowledge is power and the majority of the people I met in Sierra Leone have none of these things. I knew about the disparity between the northern and southern hemisphere but it was only upon returning home that I truely began to underrstand what that meant for me and for the rest of the developing world.

The night was fresh but warm, there was not a cloud in the sky and I was happy. I could see the moon and wondered if my Mum could see it too, I quickly rang her and she said she could. "We are looking at the same moon even though we are so far away", I could almost hear her smile , "well there is only one moon Denise". I had to laugh, typical for my Mum to kill the romance! I talked to her that night about how I felt like I had changed but I wasn't sure how, that the ground beneath my feet seemed to have shifted and that I had shed a very old skin. I don't believe that you can see and feel things differently unless you have changed in some way as a person and I would like to attribute that personal changed to my team mates both international and national. My team leader, Eric, taught me about maintaining professionalism even when things were very tough and your character was being criticised. I had some amazing conversations with him over some double punch and kill drivers, he encouraged me come back to Africa and volunteer again. He also gave me some amazing advice which went along the lines of, "people can criticise (for good or bad reasons) but never forget that only you know who you are as a person, so don't let anyone make you feel rubbish about yourself."

My roommate Ellen was my rock for the whole placement, we washed our hair in a rain storm together long before we were friends or even knew we were in the same team, I guess it was meant to be. I have never known anyone who connects with people in the deep and meaningful way that Ellen does, she sees people when others don't. There were many nights that I listened to her tell me stories of all the people she met, most were not friends or relatives but just ordinary people who came into her life sometimes for just a few hours. However, in the short time that she met them she was able to light them up and give them a voice through her memory of them. Her patience and understanding of the local people was incredible and I spent a large amount of my placement wishing I could interact with people the way she did and I am sure still does.   

Kristine was my team mate along with Makieu (our national volunteer), personally I think we were the best team but I am sure my other Makeni team mates would disagree! These two people taught me the true meaning of hard work, especially when the odds were against us. Makieu lived the furthest away and whenever we needed him he was there to help us teach, translate, guide and give us any support we needed. All of the Makeni national volunteers poured their heart and soul into looking after us and making sure our placement was as amazing as it was. Kristine was amazing, she was never angry or down and worked so incredibly hard, I don't think the team could have acheived what we did without her creativity, passion and hard work. Most of the photographs you can see on my FaceBook page were hers and all the art work for our events were imagined and designed by her. She is one of the team members that I miss the most and despite being 3 years younger than me I believe she also taught me the most about hard work and perseverance in the face of hardship.

How can you pick up the thread of an old life when you know things are no longer the same? If I am honest I don't want to return to my old life, my old mind or my old body. The difference between knowing things will change and understanding that change is very simple, when you understand the change that has happened you know that that change has come from within yourself. What most people find hard when returning home is the fact that nothing has changed, the world you left behind still stands in all its abnormal glory. 

I knew that no one else had the same experiences as me and I am very understanding of that, but it doesn't make turning on a tap, boiling a kettle or nipping to the shop any easier. In many respects life in Sierra Leone is so much more black and white, you don't have a T.V and constant advertising telling you what you should be, what you should do, who you should love etc. You just be what you can with the lot you have been given, as sad as that sounds it is true for the majority of Sierra Leoneans. I talked earlier about the responsibility that comes with power, in my case I would like to alter that slightly and say, with change comes great resposibility. I have changed, I am no wealthier, smarter, or stronger but I have the power of experience and I believe any experience you have whether positive or negative is still an experience and I now have the responsibility to do something with that experience .

If you are not interested in giving money, give your time or your knowledge, read about a particular issue and engage other people about it. You do not need money to have a responsibility to help others, think about it.

*The photos below are of the Makeni team, Kristine's art work for our Community Action Day and Alice and I holding a banner promoting a cleaner environment.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Hospital Diaries: Part 2

"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our  common life"  Jane Addams

Friday 16th August, 2013 - Morning

Jane leaves after getting me breakfast, it is a sweet mixture of hot rice and spice. She stayed with me last night and has insisted on cleaning some of my clothes, bearing in mind that cleaning clothes does not mean firing them into a washing machine, it means cleaning them by hand and can take its tole of my soft European skin. My team leader Eric and my Field Officer Jebbeh arrive, Eric is a tall Ugandan who has been living in the UK for several years. I inform them that the doctor seen me once yesterday but didn't tell me what was wrong or explain any of my symptoms. I find out later that Jebbeh went straight to the doctor and complained about the level of "care" he was providing me. She also pointed out that I could have been allergic to any of the medication they were providing me and keeping me in the dark could have endangered my life.

Shortly after Jebbeh had a word with the doctor, he makes an apologetic apearence. He is small, rotund and has a friendly face, he explains that there is no sign of malaria but I "have a little bit of typhoid". How can you have alittle bit of typhoid? Then I remember that my vaccine would have stopped it from becoming fully blown, first world win! It would explain the diarroeah, puffy face and nausea. He also tells me that he will be adjusting my medication accordingly, he doesn't informe me of how he will be "adjusting" my medication but I am so tired that don't bother to ask. I am just glad that I know what is wrong and that something is going to be done about it. I quickly slip into a deep sleep and dream of massive pills and talking IVs.

I am woken by a man in nurses clothes, he has my "adjusted" medication. He opens my IV and injects something into me, it takes  a while to go in and burns as it does. He sees me wince in pain and tells me that it is for the typhoid, the phrase "Kill it with fire!" has never been so appropriate.  He hooks me up to a new drip which he explains is an anti-biotic, the pain is unbelievable and my eyes begin to water. Once the pain in my hand stops I have no time to feel relieved because a powerful burning sensation begins in my throat and spreads down into my chest. My eyes go out of focus and the room begins to spin, holy God this stuff is powerful. I decide to chat to the nurse in order to take my mind of the fact that I am medically drunk, his name is Sayid and his English is excellent. I ask him if I can get mobile credit anywhere, he tells me that his friend can get it for me. I jokingly threaten that I will come after him if her nicks my money, Sayid laughs and gives me a reassuring smile as I hand him 20,000le which is the equivalent of £3.50.

I haven't seen may of my team today, and watching Aljazeera cover the crisis in Egypt is not making me feel any better. My mood is as depressing as the weather, I remind myself that the medication they are giving me is bound to mess with my emotions. Still I find it hard to remain upbeat. When Sayid comes back with a second dose of liquid fire I decide to ask him about the boy who died. He rubs his beard and tells me that he died of menningitis; I can't believe it, I feel like someone has kicked my hard in the ribs. In that moment I realise that I was hoping for that boy to have died of an incurable disease, that there was nothing that could have been done for him. I explain to Saiyd that I am insured for £1Million worth of medical treatment, and I could be back in the UK in a matter of hours if need be. How is this okay? How can this happen? I am utterly speechless and tears role down my face silently for several minutes

Saiyd breaks the silence by asking me who I think is responsible for the death of the boy. I say it is the Doctor's fault as no one else is qualified or even has the authority to administer that kind of treatment when he isn't here. I explain that in the UK if a child dies under a doctor's care there would be some sort of investigation or inquiry. He nods silently and I take that as a sign that he agrees with me, however, what if anything can anyone do about this? If I am 100% honest I don't want to answer that question right now.

Jane has returned for my third night in the hospital, she has brought small bags of pop corn, I never knew you could buy pop corn here! The senior nurse enters, her name is Jennebah, I really like that name and over the last few days she has become my favourite nurse. She smiles broadly at me as she hads me my medication. Oh new meds! I am genuinely excited, there are two huge tablets. Sensing my question she tells me to chew them, "Eh?", she ignores my outburst and I start to chew, it tastes like chalk. Jennebah laughs and tells me it will ease the nausea I have been experiencing. "Finally!" I exclaim, I will be able to eat without feeling like I want to boke my ring up!

Jane is perched on the opposite bed, I notice that she has taken out the fake dread locks. She tells me that she spent most of her time scratching her head and didn't see the point of keeping them in. I give her one of my legendary head massages and she almost falls asleep. Jane makes me laugh so much we joke about men, okadas (motorbikes) and quirks of Sierra Leone, I have felt so awful today and she is like a little ray of giggle inducing sunshine. One thing I will miss about Sierra Leone is the people, despite the rubbish in the street, the sickness, sexism and poor education Sierra Leoneans are amazing people and I love them, I love them a lot.

Saturday 17th August, 2013

I am having the most amazing dream about crowd surfing when I feel an uncomfortable tug on my IV. I catch a glimpse of lip-pierced nurse injecting me with more liquid fire, she then attaches another anti-biotic drip. Holy Christ this hurts, this hurts a lot! "It hurts" I grumble sleepily, she smiles sympathetically and rubs the IV into my hand, "How in God's name will that make it better!?" I think to myself. Between burning and stinging I feel like my hand is about to explode. She rubs it a bit more then walks out; what the actual hell, my hand is killing me. However, after a while the pain subsides and I fall back into a light and troubled sleep. Jane wakes me and hands me a bag of sweat rice and spice, it  tastes like rice pudding and is hot. It is the first hot breakfast I have had since coming here. Jane leaves to spend the weekend with her daughter, baby May and I finish sucking on my bag of rice as I watch the crisis in Egypt unfold once more.

My experience in this hospital has had a profound impact on me, it has really brought home the economic, social and political disparity between the northern and southern hemispheres of this planet. I always knew it existed but it never really concerned me a great deal. I had  my own country to worry about but I've realised that my problems are not really problems at all, in reality they are more like passing concerns. I have never had to worry about health care, education or getting a job. There are loads of jobs in the UK, loads! Most of the population in Sierra Leone are unemployed, adequate health care is hard to acces and when it is accessed the level of care is mediocre at best and receiving proper treatement is slow to happen. I never knew how good I had it, how good we have it until I came here.

The doctor and Jennebah are here, they tell me that I am looking much better than yesterday. Jennebah smiles and I cant help but beam back at her, "can I go home today?", I want so badly to back to the YIC and my team, because even though this experience has been eye opening I don't want to be here anymore. "Yes you can leave around 4pm", thank God! I shake his hand and ask for his name, he tells me that his name is Albert. I like it, he looks like an Albert. I thank him for the treatment, but I am really thanking  my nurses, Jennebah, lip-pierced nurse and Saiyd. They did all the hard work, they looked after me and if it wasn't for them there would be no health care in Sierra Leone. I don't see them as I leave, I wish I could thank them. I walk out of the hospital feeling inexplicably sad, I feel like I have changed in some way that I cannot understand yet.  I decide that I will come back to the hospital to say goodbye to my nurses and thank them, however, for now I need to decide what to do with this experience, to share or to forget. I think you can guess that I decided to share.

Thank you, thank you so much for reading!