Emily Spry: Does Freetown really exist?

Pikin HospitalI’m back in London after spending nearly a year working in the national Children’s Hospital in Sierra Leone, West Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world.
It has been amazing to come back to the luxuries of reliable water and power, safe and efficient transport, and a seemingly unlimited procession of utterly fabulous clothes, perfumes, shops, magazines, interiors and many other material things that I normally have precisely no interest in.  My boyfriend and I recently got engaged on a beautiful beach in Sierra Leone, meaning that our return has prompted more champagne, smiles, and hugs than we could possibly have hoped for.

But I’m finding it rather difficult to integrate the relief and joy of homecoming with my single-minded passions/obsessions of the past year.  My work at the Children’s Hospital was utterly absorbing, awful, and wonderful; it’s going to be hard to beat.
I’m in close contact with the new volunteers working for the Welbodi Partnership at the Children’s Hospital and it’s great to hear the progress that they are making, as well as to be able to offer some virtual reassurance as they struggle valiantly with often rather overwhelming challenges.
But it does feel awfully hard to explain what I’ve been doing over a glass of something in the pub in London.
I am always trying to get the conversation past the fact that tonnes of kids are dying needlessly in Freetown every day (that’s obvious!), into what I consider the fascinating bit i.e. what can actually be done about it.  The fact that there are no quick fixes; the fixes are slow, awkward, and complex and depend on long-term relationships.  The fact that this, in itself, is no reason to be pessimistic; this is exactly how any other country or hospital has developed.  People are people wherever you go and they don’t do things unless they are equipped and motivated to do so.  There is no simple answer as to how we should help.  (Except by making a donation to the Welbodi Partnership, of course:  http://www.justgiving.com/Emily-and-Alex-Welbodi-SL)
So, when talking to someone who asks me about my time in Sierra Leone, I either say “Yes, thanks, it was marvellous. Wonderful beaches.  You really should go.”  (Which is true, by the way). Or I make them cry. Or I rant.
What I should probably do is to tell them to read this blog; those who do seem to understand it all a lot better.
But maybe all of this is in my head anyway.  Freetown does exist.  It’s not a mythical place, it’s real.  It’s big and noisy and full of people with problems and lives and loves.  It can be explained, described and talked about and it is carrying on just fine without me.  Maybe the truth is that, at the moment, the whole experience feels too raw or even too precious; I’m not quite ready to share it.

Emily Spry is a doctor from London who has took a year out of her general practice specialty training programme to live and work in Sierra Leone, West Africa. She worked for the Welbodi Partnership, a charity which supports the main government children’s hospital in a country where more than one quarter of children die before their fifth birthday. She has recently returned to London