Wellbody Heroes 10: Alpha Sesay - Civil Engineer

August 6 2015

Wellbody Hero of the Week:

Alpha Sesay - Civil Engineer

 

Seijiro Takahashi 

 

Introducing Alpha:

Alpha is a 37 year-old from Freetown, Sierra Leone. He studied civil engineering at the Government Training Institute in Freetown, and began working as a Wellbody Civil Engineer in January 2015.

 

Why his work is heroic:

As a Wellbody Civil Engineer, Alpha oversees construction projects that are crucial in expanding Wellbody's capacity to deliver in-demand healthcare to the high number of patients that visit the Wellbody Clinic every day. Alpha monitors several construction projects simultaneously, and must make quick yet impactful decisions that determine the success of Wellbody's building projects that in turn influence the clinic's capacity to provide medical treatment for the numerous patients in surrounding communities. This week's blog post features Alpha - here's what he said!

 

Please tell me a bit about your background:

My name is Alpha Sesay, and I was born on April 13, 1979. I'm married with two children – 12 and 8 year old girls. My wife is a traffic police officer.

I stay in Freetown with my family. I lost my father about eight years ago. I'm the second son out of eleven children. Out of the eleven, we've lost three, so now there are five girls and three boys including myself. We all live in Freetown, and I see my siblings often, because they are my priority. I was born in Freetown and live there now.

I went to a vocational school called the Government Training Institute in Freetown, where I studied civil engineering. I liked it.

 

Were you a good student?

I was an average student.

 

After I received my degree in civil engineering, I started working with EcoBank in Freetown. They hired contractors to construct banks, and I had a quantity monitoring job. I then worked at African Mineral Limited in Bunbuna, where I also did construction work. I worked for two years with EcoBank, and then with African Mineral for three years. I then started working with Wellbody and PIH (Partners In Health) in January of 2015.

 

Why did you decide to study civil engineering?

Since I was a kid, my area of interest was to become an engineer. My uncle was an engineer, and I used to visit sites with him, and he encouraged me to become an engineer. Within myself, I also planned to become an engineer, so I told myself, by the grace of God, that I will become an engineer.

 

How or why did you become involved with Wellbody Alliance?

I became involved with Wellbody and PIH through my supervisor, and worked with him for some time from January to March of 2015. I had a temporary contract for two months, and now am fully-staffed by Wellbody and PIH.

 

As a Wellbody Civil Engineer, what have been your biggest challenges? What were the biggest learning experiences?

PIH and Wellbody people always think about development. Whenever they give me a task, I must do it in way so that there are no problems. As you know, Kono is a mining area, so you must check the soil and the mixture beforehand [to make sure that it is appropriate to build upon].

 

Wellbody and PIH have especially made improvements in the health sector.

Whenever I come to work in the morning, there are about one hundred and fifty patients waiting to receive treatment at the Wellbody Clinic. The only way to serve so many patients is to construct the area and to make extensions.

As I talk to you, we're constructing the Waiting and Screening Hall.

Whatever you do, you will run into challenges, so you try to minimize those challenges.

 

What is the coolest or most interesting project that you have undertaken?

The coolest project I have worked on is the Waiting and Screening Hall, which is being built right at Dorma, here. We started the project with excavation. At the end of the day, when you see your achievement, I believe that you will be the happiest – that'll be the coolest. I also believe that by doing this work, I'm helping people.

 

What do you do on a typical work day, from start to finish?

Construction is not an easy job. As an engineer, you have two or three projects [at a time], which you need to supervise simultaneously. So normally, I wake up at 6 AM in the morning, and at quarter to 8, I should be in the office waiting to get the schedule. We have different schedules for every worksite. At 8:30 AM, we start operations, and I will have the guys go around, and we'll talk to the contractors. I take a look at the contractor's budget, and as an engineer, I will step in and say whether or not I believe this budget will be appropriate for this project. As an engineer, I need for me and the contractor to work well together, because I'm here to work for Wellbody and PIH.

 

People say, “Oh, this building is a very nice building. Oh, this building should be multiplied.” So I'll make sure that I monitor the projects continually so that we do a good job.

 

Normally, I don't have stable hours. I make sure that I go through and fulfill the goals at every work site, that I attend every meeting, and that I create reports to say what's working and what's not working. It depends on the day, but normally, I go home at 7 or 8 PM. Whenever I pay a visit to the CCCs (Ebola Community Care Centers), I spend much time there, and so I'll go home later.

 

06:00:00 AM

Wake up

By 07:45:00 AM

Arrive at office and receive work schedule for each site

08:30:00 AM

Start operations; visit sites; talk with contractors

12:00:00 PM

Lunch

01:00:00 PM

Resume work

07:00:00 ~ 08:00:00 PM

Go home – later if visiting CCCs

 

 

 

Ebola Community Care Center (CCC) in Gbane, Sierra Leone

 

In your eyes, what is the purpose of a Wellbody Civil Engineer?

In my own opinion, as an engineer working for these people.... Kono is a mining area, so if you don't have engineers carrying out the correct procedures, at the end of the day, do you know what'll happen? The walls [on the building] will crack. As an engineer, the first thing you need to do is to check and monitor the soil around this area. If the soil is not conducive to building, I make a recommendation to the operations people saying that, “If you build here, the building will not be sound.” At the end of the day, I need to do a good job.

 

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

(Laughs) I believe that I'm a good engineer. I believe that if we fail to do the right thing, at the end of the day, you know what will happen? The responsibility will be cast on me.

I always think about the work of ethics.

As an engineer, when you advise to do something [on the construction site], you spend two minutes and think about the consequences that you will face. On the worksite, you have to calculate these things in your head.

 

Now patients are not waiting under the rain, they are waiting in a building.

 

As an engineer, you have to think about a lot of things – multiple things at once. But once on site, I have to think for two minutes and make decisions. I have to think about the safety aspect of the job. That's the biggest priority. At meetings in the morning, each and everyone's opinions are heard. We do lots of counseling beforehand in these morning meetings, so that once you're on site, you can stay focused on the job at hand.

 

What motivates you to do your work?

My first priority is my family. Besides that, my second priority above all else is my job, so I don't joke with it. I need to take care of my family, and besides, I like the job. I don't want to lose my job. So that's why normally I don't joke with my job.

 

Wellbody Civil Engineer Alpha Sesay with fellow Wellbody Engineer

 

What do you notice that's changed recently in Kono?

For the first six to seven months, when I came here, to the Wellbody Clinic, there were only two or three structures. The lab consisted of the pharmacy and the Delivery Center. Since I've come here, I've seen lots of change.

For one thing, the Waiting and Screening Hall, and the Waiting Shed are new.

The Waiting and Screening Hall is a complete[ly closed] building, and the Waiting Shed is not.

 

We're proposing other buildings, and hopefully soon we'll be able to erect them.

 

We are also doing nutrition programs and other programs.

 

We're proposing buildings not only in Dorma, but also at KGH (Koidu Government Hospital). Compared to before, now KGH is far better. There's been improvement there because of Wellbody and PIH's interventions.

 

We're proposing to build a canteen, an administration building, and a VIP restroom at KGH, not for expats but for patients, to keep away the smells. There are not enough good toilets at KGH.

So we have much to build here at the Wellbody Clinic, which is expanding, and at KGH.

 

When you finish one challenge, you are able to gain a better view of the next challenge. In your opinion, what does Kono need most right now?

In my opinion, we should first start with the area of construction. Thanks to Wellbody and PIH, the health sector in Kono is improving gradually.

If we have a modernized hospital for these people – for those in extreme[ly remote] villages – if we have one or two additional hospitals in Kono, it will improve healthcare for them.

 

Besides that, the roads now are VERY poor here. Businessmen and others, on their way to coming to Kono, will be discouraged. The roads are very very bad, very very poor (shaking head). With our intervention, we'll achieve our aims and goals.

 

Also, housing facilities in Kono are very poor. We need more infrastructure in Kono. There are sleeping places that are not conducive to humans. We should build some estates, and some low cost buildings.

 

I believe that if we attack these three areas – building hospitals, a better road network, and houses – I believe that Kono will benefit, and even you yourself, myself, and my mother next to me (Edna) will benefit.

 

My mother, Mama Edna (Edna is not Alpha's mother, but is called this as a sign of respect), actually, is doing well. When she sees me on the site, she says so much to me and asks me so many questions, and I say, “I will get on to you later,” (laughing).

 

What personal advice do you have for those who want to help individuals in Kono District?

As you know, those coming from the rebel war, some do have problems, some don't.

As an engineer, no, as a human, if someone is coming to Kono as it is right now, I advise them to take a look at these three sections. Health sector, infrastructure, and housing – invest in these sectors, and the people of Kono, and not just Kono, but people of Sierra Leone will appreciate it. Also, if we improve the road network, it will set up a good image of Wellbody and PIH for those coming to visit. Dr. Barrie (Wellbody's co-founder) has done a lot of good things for Kono – I appreciate them also.

 

What is your favorite thing about Kono?

Kono people like strangers, and they also always appreciate what you have done for them, so because of that, I really like Kono people. As soon as you finish building a structure, old people and children will gather and always come to you, and they say, “Hey engineer, thank you.”

 

My favorite thing about Kono is that the health sector is now improving because of Wellbody and PIH.

 

Why are you chewing?

 

Sorry, I have chewing gum in my mouth.

You need to send me some chewing gum.

I heard that you'll be sending some items to Mama Edna's school.

Don't forget to include my gum [in the package] (laughing).

 

What do you enjoy doing for fun? What is your favorite activity?

I like sports. On Sunday, we'll be having a friendly match – Wellbody and PIH vs. American Red Cross. This'll be the second match, since we had a match between the Wellbody drivers against all of the other Wellbody staff. We defeated them 5-4.

I'm also the coach for the team, because football is my hobby.

 

I also like reading. I mostly like books pertinent to my area, about construction.

 

Will you win on Sunday?

Yeah! We'll win against Red Cross. 3-0.

 

I'll put my money on you guys then.

(Laughing) How will you do that?

 

Put me on credit.

I'll collect my money from Red Cross when I visit Kono.

(Everyone laughing).

 

We hope to see you on Sunday [at the match].

 

(Laughing) Yes, I'll be thinking of you guys.

 

I will send you photos of the last football match.

 

What are your passions? What do you really care about?

My first priority is my family, my second is my job – that's why I don't play with it. When it's time to work, it's time to work. When it's time to play, it's time to play.

 

What are three of your favorites? They can be anything.

Hmm.....

 

How about your favorite kind of food, then?

Okay, then food is one of my favorite things.

 

(Laughing) All food?

Rice! Rice and cassava leaf. White cassava – no palm oil.

Apart from food, my family and my job.

 

Who are your own heroes? How come you admire them?

Dr. Barrie. The reason why I admire him is because, I'm always thinking that by being with him, I'll copy and follow in his foot steps. He's a very disciplined man in his work. He'll always joke with people, but if you are not working hard, he will not encourage that.

 

Is he strict?

He's a very strict man, and also a very hardworking man. Especially what he's been doing in Kono, it is not easy. People appreciate him. When he comes back from Freetown, as soon as he arrives in Kono, people say good things about him.

 

I also admire Shannon. Whenever she visits, whenever you see her... She always smiles and laughs. She always wants to know about you. For many of us in Africa, as soon as we wake up, we think about many problems in our heads (gesturing around head with hands), but she sees this and she speaks with you, and at least for that moment, your stress is relieved.

 

These are some of the people that I admire.

 

The expats – we all work as a team, amicably. There is no discrimination. At Wellbody and PIH, we believe in working as a team. Together, we achieve more.

 

In the morning, I'm with Mr. Amidu, Dr. Barrie, Dr. Jalloh, Mama Edna, and the others. They really care about people. I really appreciate these people.

I also admire you (Seiji). You are also my hero, because you've been patient and waited for me to arrive for the interview.

 

What are your plans for the future? What are your goals? What do you most look forward to?

My plans for the future. I need to upgrade myself by learning new things. At the end of the day, whatever I'm doing, I'll achieve my goal by improving my skills. I'm ready to learn new things. If I have someone who'll help me develop my career, I would appreciate it.

 

A final message for the readers of this blog.

Well first, I really need to recommend Wellbody and PIH, because they've been doing a lot of things in Kono where I am at at the moment. Especially in the health sector. For example, KGH is improved. It's the biggest hospital in Kono, and people appreciate it. We really appreciate Wellbody Alliance and PIH, and we also appreciate the bosses. There is no discrimination at the workplace. In Kono, everyone is eager to work at Wellbody and PIH, because they know that their people are sincere and share interests with each other. Whether you are rich, or are receiving minimum wage, we don't discriminate, we are one. Wellbody and PIH believe in what we call “a team.” Together, everyone achieves more. For people on Facebook (the readers) – Wellbody's and PIH's interventions in Kono District, they've done a lot. We really appreciate them and hope to see more good things for people.

 

Thank you for the interview, Alpha!