White wine, wet wipes and an unashamed request for help

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August 18th 2013
Published: August 31st 2013
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Dear All,

Whilst we sit in 28 degrees of humid thunder storms and smelly damp clothes, it seems that you are having a beautiful September in the UK. It serves as a great reminder of how stunning the UK is and what we can look forward to next year....and what will pull us back to the UK!

So we are in our final month of work in Masanga. When we move on, we will miss it but the projects that we planned were for 6 months and now that these are almost completed, we are looking forward to new adventures down south. I can't remember if we told you but the general plan is overland to Liberia, fly to Ghana, then after some turtle spotting and the obvious visit to Ghana's best wave spots fly down to Capetown and spend the remaining two months in the southern African region. Journey yet to be published! It's a great thought that we will be back on the road again with complete freedom to do what we want. Once we are back in the UK, things will be very different!

So my intrepid Mother is arriving this weekend, flying solo with a whole bag of things for us (she will no doubt return mostly carrying our stuff as well as we have collected so much from the travel down that has so many memories and we really want to keep hold of). She is out for 2 weeks and is going to be put to work teaching the new Physio Aids about child physiotherapy and treating a few disabled kids who have managed to make it thorough the first couple of years and have supportive parents who have brought them to Masanga. 1 in 5 kids die here before they reach 5 so the poor disabled kids have an even lower life expectancy. So sad but survival of the fittest is evidenced in every facet of life. She is coming armed with NZ wine and wet wipes so she will be fine and everyone is so keen to meet her, its almost like the prodigal mother is coming...which she is really for the Physio department.

Rhubarb unfortunately has been at the mechanic for the past month. A spectacularly bad service from a certain supposedly reputable company here left her with a faulty oil filter which burst in a impressive fashion whist I was driving her and her engine was severely damaged. I am currently in a text war trying to persuade them to pay for what will be a huge amount of money who knows what will happen.

David has been joined by another Plymouth based doctor and two new medical students, also from Plymouth so Team South West is doing well. He is handing over all his new found knowledge and is now into making things....a patslide is the new project, much to the amusement of the local staff who just pick everyone up and then come to me complaining of back ache! He has done a huge amount of training over the past few months and you can really tell as the trauma patients are handled very professionally by the CHO's. They are referred onto physio appropriately and it's great to see the whole system work. Thats not to say that there aren't problems and patients still lie in bed without sufficient medication, the kids unfortunately are the most prone and its a sad morning when you come in and there have been several deaths over night without the doctors being called. But progress is happening and with the new bunch of fresh faced, energetic volunteers it will continue.

The Physio department is going from strength to strength, mostly because of the keenness of the 4 new Physio Aids. Hopefully one day, Sierra Leone will open their own Physio school and they can all enrol but in the meantime they do a great job. Luckily another Danish Physio has just arrived so I can hand over the weekly training and supervision to her and she is going to run another Certificate course so other hospitals in Sierra Leone can also benefit from Physio Aids. The building is however still direly in need of renovation and hence I have put together a proposal for what it needs. Some of you have kindly donated money already having received the proposal by email. I wasn't too keen to put this on the blog but if it raises even a couple of pounds, then it will be better than nothing. The proposal is below and if any of you can donate even a tiny bit, we will be so grateful. We have so far raised just over £600 which is fantastic but as you can see we need a bit more to fully renovate the building into a Sierra Leonean standard Physio department. The proposal was written about a month ago before the dept had been opened so things have progressed since. Please contact me on the same address jdpafrica@hotmail.comif you would like to donate but are having problems. There are others ways of donating if for some reason the one below doesn't work.

So enjoy the end of the summer and have a pimms for us, we understand there has been a record selling of it this year. We drink very cheap gin and local tonic....purely for medical reasons which seems to be keeping us malaria free so far. The local drink poiyo - which literally means 'from god to man' as it is taken directly from palm trees and drunk neat, seems to make you go temporarily blind so we have been steering clear.

Thankyou as ever for all your messages, great to hear from you all and hear your news. Please keep it coming and we will do our best to respond. Take care of yourselves and enjoy the sun.

Lots of love David and Johanna x

Charitable request for the Physiotherapy Department at Masanga Hospital, Sierra Leone


Masanga Hospital was established by the Sierra Leonean Government as a Leprosy Hospital in the 1960’s. The hospital was then taken over by the Seven Day Adventist Church who continued to run Masanga as a Leprosy hospital until 1997. At this time Masanga Hospital had a well-developed physiotherapy department that was well known for the high quality of services it provided in post-operative rehabilitation.

In 1997 Masanga hospital was forced to close due to the Sierra Leone (SL) Civil war and was ransacked by the rebels who lived in the hospital compound for many years. After the War, in 2006, the Masanga Hospital Rehabilitation Project (MHRP) was started. The Danish organisation, Association of Friends of Masanga (AFOM) and the English based organisation, Sierra Leonean Adventists Abroad (SLAA) were the initiators of this project and signed a contract with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to hand over financial control to the government in 2016. These two charities, together with CapaCare (a Norwegian Surgical Training Charity) and Masanga UK, have continued to support the hospital financially and money is directly transferred into the Hospitals Account in Sierra Leone.

Today Masanga Hospital has a capacity of 100 beds. The hospital has five wards; Emergency, Maternity, Male & Female surgical, Paediatrics and a Stabilisation centre for endemic outbreaks such as the recent Cholera outbreak. Masanga hospital also has a nurse school and assists the education of both Community Health Officers and Nursing Aids.

The hospital employs 110 local staff including medical, business, and agricultural workers. It is fortunate enough to have two full time Dutch Doctors employed by the International Masanga Board (HQ London) and contracted to a minimum of one year in country. They carry out a series of operations, both emergency and elective and due to a lack of trained surgeons in the country, account for 15% of all surgery done in SL. However, the hospital relies predominantly on volunteers, mostly from the UK and Denmark for the majority of its professional support, who are working to promote growth and change to allow the hospital to be self-sufficient before the handover in 2016.

Physiotherapy at Masanga Hospital

Despite the hospital having an excellent reputation for physiotherapy pre-war (with a purpose built building), there has been no physiotherapy services operating within the hospital since opening in 2006. Sierra Leone’s Physiotherapy Degree has not been active since the war and there are currently 4 Physiotherapists in the country, all having been educated in other African countries. There are plans to implement a 2 year diploma ‘Mid Level Therapist’ course, due to have an initial intake in 2014.

In February 2013, a Danish Physiotherapist arrived at Masanga Hospital and due to the shortfall in physiotherapy services within the hospital, initiated plans to create a ‘Physiotherapy Aid’ course lasting for 3 months using currently employed Nursing Aids. I arrived in April 2013 and together we started the course on the 1st May. We have now affiliated the course with the Tonkolili District College of Health Studies and Technology (TDCHST) with the Certificate recognised by the College.

The four students currently in training will be contracted to work at Masanga for the next three years, by which time it is hoped that the Diploma course, or even the degree will have started and our students can enrol. Further Certificate courses, run at Masanga, will be organised by the College and run by international voluntary Physiotherapists.

Unfortunately, despite this progression in training of Physiotherapy Aids, Masanga Hospital still does not have a Physio Department, treatment currently being carried out at the bedside or in the corridors for outpatient physio. On arrival, Marie, the Danish Physio secured initial costs for the renovation of an old building which will allow patients to be seen in a safe area away from the wards. However the secured costs only cover a small part of the total renovation and it is for this reason that I am asking for donations to finish the total renovation of the department in support of the overall project.

Physiotherapy Department Project

There are three phases to the physiotherapy project. The first, which Marie has secured, is for the initial renovation of the roof, replacing windows and making the building safe. This has been estimated to cost £500.

Phase 2 is to firstly develop the main rehabilitation room so allowing patients to be treated in a professional manner. A second room will be used for treatment of more chronic conditions i.e. Stroke, paralysis, amputation as well as an area away from the main treatment room where confidential rehabilitation can be administered. The final part of Phase 2 is for an adjoining room to be converted into a store room for wheelchairs/ Elbow Crutches/ other rehabilitative equipment.

Phase 3 will finalise the project with the former storage room being converted into a functional rehabilitation area where preparation for returning home can take place. This is especially important in a population who have no Occupational Therapists (OT) and life expectancy in the village environment is largely based on how mobile a patient is. Another adjoining room will then be secured to become the storage room.

At the end of Phase 3, the entire building will be used for Physiotherapy and the hospital will return to its former ability to rehabilitate its patients with optimal facilities.

The total cost for Phase 2 and 3 renovation of the Physiotherapy department is £1500.


Whilst the intended physiotherapy department will not provide European optimal standards (no running water or electricity), it will provide a much needed specific area for rehabilitation of Masanga Hospital patients away from the main hospital wards. The total cost for providing this essential service is £4390.96. I appreciate that the plinths are expensive but these have to be shipped in from Denmark as it is impossible to procure them in West Africa. Shipping costs are free due to a funded container leaving in August.

The new Physiotherapy Team here at Masanga Hospital would be enormously appreciative for donations to the project. We understand that financially, it is not just Sierra Leone that has difficulties but we plead for your financial support. We assure you that all donations will be passed directly to the physiotherapy project as funds come directly into an account which only the Dutch Chief Medical Officer can access.

If you can support us, please go the www.SLAA.org.uk/ where you can donate online. Please state that you want the money to go to the physiotherapy department and you should get an confirmation email from Dr. Edward Cole fairly shortly.

Finally, thank you for taking time to read this request and I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any further questions about the project or feel you can help in other ways, please contact me on jdpafrica@hotmail.com.

Kind regards

Johanna Potter BSc (Hons) CSP MSc (Sp Med)


Masanga Hospital

Sierra Leone

Additional photos below
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31st August 2013

Hi from the boat
Hi Jo and David We (mum, dad, Alice and I) have just read your post whilst sailing across Plymouth sound in the sunshine at 6 knots. 6 mackerel caught so far! Lovely to hear the update. We're all thinking of you and your great works. Best of luck with the onward journey ... Life on the road is pretty good!! Lots of love from all of us, Tom. Xx
31st August 2013

good luck with it all - not sure how to contribute (bit stupid about these things on line!) Let me know - even if it's when you return, I'm sure help will continue to be needed! So sorry Anna now has a permanent job (selling Ford cars), or else I'd send her over to fix Rubes! Lots of love Dil and Peter
1st September 2013

lovely to read you, dearest!
it is a real present to read, you, to know all the amazing work you are doing and with joy!!! dont give up and thank you so much for the GREAT inspiration, see you, family.love you, Peter with Loyda and+
5th September 2013

Wow-wee! xxx
Hello you gorgeous pair! And firstly a MASSIVE apology. Jo you sent me an email at work several weeks ago about the physio building renovation and I wrote an email to send out to all our military physio friends plus Col Neaves but saved it in draft so i could think about my forwarding message to make it as punchy yet sensitive as possible. Then I never got round to sending it and your blog has just reminded me. I am SO SORRY. Will send tomorrow. If truth be told I was also having a bit of a war out here about improving the services we provide to our personnel in comparison to those we do in the UK and my re-think on my forwarding message had a bit to do with our Chain of Command and not getting it wrong after rattling some cages. Anyway, that has all settled now and I will get onto your message tomorrow when I get into work. In the meantime I will donate a bit of cash. The sums of money you are asking for are tiny in comparison to what it would cost over here so if all of us put in £20 you would almost be there. So pleased you are almost on your way again. Nice to have done the work but I am sure it's pretty heart wrenching stuff to come into work in the morning to find children have died over night. Must feel like there is such an incredibly long way to go. But it also sounds as if you have made great gains in your short time there. You are both incredible. Very proud of you both. It's been a busy old couple of months this end. My sister got married at the weekend there back in Scotland. Incredible wedding and party. Greek Orthodox ceremony. Really sweet and interesting. Lots of repeated singing and chanting of vows and prayers and swinging of smokey, dangly, silver, things wafting gorgeous scents over the congregation. Exchanging of beautifully ornate silver crowns attached to each other by ribbon and exchanging rings repeatedly (on their right hands). Amazing. Laura-Lee looked stunning as did my wee girl who was a flower girl. There were 4 bridesmaids, I was Matron of Honour. So I have been arranging the hen do which was at the end of July (took lots of ideas from yours including Butler in the Buff and the recipe book!) followed by the second and final data collection for MSc (I think thats when your email arrived). I made 120 lavender bag favours with personalised ribbon and purple heather for Laura-Lee's wedding. I also made the decorations for the wedding cake and Laura-Lee's garter. It has been craft tastic and such a pleasure and who would have thought there was so much to learn about cake decs! Anyway, now back to the jobs in hand of APPI exam at the beginning of October and then writing up the MSc. I have just downloaded the SPSS data analysis software onto my laptop. Now all I have to do is work out how it works!!! Mmmmm, could take a wee while! By the looks of it you have already done yours honey which is fantastic news. Where you have found the time for it I don't know but I'm thrilled to bits for you. A huge weight off your mind I bet. I will hopefully join you in Christmas. Right, Mr Bennett is home this month and his ma is coming to stay tonight for a week so I had better go and do a once round the house. So much love to you both and I will get onto the donation and sending out the details from your previous email to me. Big kiss to your ma too. Han xxx
5th September 2013

Donation done sweetie - have a check and make sure I did it right! x

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