July 27 2015
Wellbody Hero of the Week:
Edna Bondu Bona - Partnerships Liaison
Seijiro Takahashi - July 15, 2015
Edna is a 45 year old native of Kono District, Sierra Leone. As a former primary school teacher, she is passionate about helping children and other vulnerable individuals, and puts her values into practice at Wellbody as the Partnerships Liaison. Amongst many responsibilities, Edna's profession involves listening to and sharing the stories of patients, whose narratives may otherwise go unheard within the larger local and international community.
Edna Bondu Bona - Wellbody's Partnerships Liaison
Why her work is heroic:
After finishing her university education despite becoming a widow and single mother during Sierra Leone's civil war, Edna dedicated nearly three decades to educating local children, and established an orphanage in the southern region of the country. Edna left her job as a teacher to take part in Wellbody's mission of strengthening the community's health to work at Wellbody and to maintain the orphanage that she funds using her own earnings. Edna serves as a respected mentor to many other Wellbody staff members in Kono and travels throughout the community in order to listen to patients and to report on the situations that they face. On top of her many responsibilities, Edna has been my correspondent in Kono throughout my summer internship with Wellbody, working closely with me to organize all of the interview sessions carried out for "Wellbody Heroes" and to interpret several interviewees' responses from Krio into English. The blog series would not have been possible without Edna's help. Thus, this week's post puts the spotlight on Edna! Here is what she said:
Please tell me a bit about your background.
My name is Edna Bondu Bona. My middle name Bondu signifies that I'm the fifth-born girl in my family. Many people in Sierra Leone are named systematically in this way. I am 45 years old, and am a mother of four children - two boys and two girls who are 26, 23, 19, and 17 years old. I'm not married at the moment.
I'm the only university graduate out of eight surviving children from the same mom.
I was born in Kono. At the chiefdom level, my father was a Paramount Chief for the whole of Kono District. Thirty-five years ago, in 1953, my father was crowned as Paramount Chief. He was born in 1920 and died in 1980, and ruled for twenty-seven years. He had thirty-six children and eight wives – this was typical of the former chiefs, but present chiefs only have one wife, as an influence from the English system.
It's interesting to note that, by the time that he had us children, things were not very easy [for the family]. But for me, I was able to have an aunt who took care of me like she was my own mother. My aunt was barren – she had no children – and she sent me to school.
There are fourteen chiefdoms within Kono. I am proud to say that I'm one of the great granddaughters of the first Paramount Chief of the whole of Kono District.
So does that make you a princess?
It's not like that here, like it is over there, in the British system. In fact, I suffered a lot coming up. As I said, I was brought up by my aunt. My father died when I was 10 years old. I didn't enjoy being the daughter of a chief, because I was just a child when my father died. I told you that I was the only university graduate out of eight children, and it was only through the help of my aunt that I was able to do this – my aunt was married to a rich man, who was a diamond dealer.
As for my children, both of my girls are in university right now. The eldest is studying accounting, and the other girl, the third child, is a first-year student in medical school.
Are they going to work at Wellbody?
Maybe, yes (laughs).
My second-born child is a boy. He entered the Linguen Institute of Technology, and wants to study management and tourism. My other son is still in high school. Maybe he will become a lawyer – that's what he says.
When I was in university, I studied linguistics and education.
Did you like studying linguistics and education?
Well, yes. But I expected to learn other languages, but instead the program focused on the English language.
However, I recognize vowels and diphthongs, and can listen for them, write them down, and look them up later, even if someone is speaking Mandarin.
Because of the stressing and intonations, one can easily interpret other languages, even if you don't really understand the meaning of what another person is saying.
In my education courses, I was taught theories of how learning takes place. It's very interesting, especially for children. Because learners don't all come from the same background, certain concerns should be shown to certain learners. For example, here in Kono, some children come to school without breakfast – those that come from very poor backgrounds. Such a child, she will not concentrate in class – of course, because her stomach is empty. Some children live with other people who are not their biological parents, and they face stress and hard times. Some kids are slow learners – so for such children, one must pay special attention to them if you can.
It has not been easy because I went to university after having children. Going to university as a mother was not easy, but I managed, although it was very stressful. They used to call me, “Student Trader,” since I used to sell all sorts of things at university just to make ends meet. I used to prepare food stuffs, baking nice cakes to sell to the lecturers, my colleague students, and to the other workers. I also prepared a local soap called Africana, made out of costic soda, or sodium chloride, and palm oil, which I also sold to lecturers, college students, and other workers – and I survived. I prepared nice cakes and homemade ginger beer to sell at lunch time.
Sounds like you worked very hard.
Of course. It was not easy at all. I worked very hard.
Edna Bondu Bona - Wellbody's Partnerships Liaison
I understand that you used to be a school teacher. Would you please tell me about that?
All together, I taught for roughly twenty-eight years. I was a primary school teacher, so I taught general subjects – maths, English language, physical education, science. I started as a pupil teacher (an elementary school teacher). I was forced to be a teacher because I couldn't do anything else, since I hadn't studied anything else. So I started teaching at primary school. I enjoyed being a teacher, because I love children. These children, they needed extra attention, so I was there to act like a mother for them – to take extra time to teach them, especially for the slow learners. Sometimes I used to visit their homes and their parents, to tell them about their children, and to encourage them to study hard. I see my former students and talk to them now, and they have high respect for me. When I see my former students in Freetown and ride in the same taxi as them, they say, “Oh, Miss Bondu, I will pay for you.”
Sometimes my former students will dash me.
What does, “dash,” mean?
(Laughing) They will give me something, like some small amounts of money, to show as a sign of appreciation. I'm proud of that. For most of them whom I've seen enter university, I'm very happy for them.
How or why did you become involved with Wellbody Alliance?
The reason why I left my teaching position and joined Wellbody is because I set up an orphanage for vulnerable children in the southern part of the country. This orphanage is at the school, and is self-sponsored at the moment, by myself. I needed a better-paying job to support this project. With my salary as a school teacher, I couldn't do that. I preferred working for Wellbody when I learned about their vision of health for all – to help Sierra Leone to be a healthy nation. I have always wanted to help needy people and children, so I like working for Wellbody.
Morkwe Preparatory School and Drop-In Center
How did you find out about Wellbody?
I was born here [in Kono], although for a long time I did not live in Kono. Before becoming a Wellbody employee, I knew about Wellbody and that it was a health NGO (nongovernmental organization) that was built to help my people in Kono. I had heard good things about Wellbody's activities, and had heard people praise Wellbody.
Please tell me about your experiences as the Partnerships Liaison for Wellbody.
What have been your biggest challenges? What were the biggest learning experiences?
Five months ago, I began working at Wellbody as the Partnerships Liaison. Of course, I have been exposed to the health problems and other social problems of Kono. But before I talk about the challenges that I've encountered, I want to talk about the learning experiences.
I have been collecting supporting materials – pictures and data – on Wellbody's activities, and have been sending them to the Boston office. I've been a good listener: I sit quietly to listen to workers and patients, and I listen to their stories, and to stories from other team leaders, for prospective partners to get a better understanding of the progress at Wellbody. I also learned to be sincere when reporting stories, capturing the reality of Wellbody's beneficiaries. The photos that I send on Wellbody's activities help partners see the impact of their support and encourage new interventions and new supporters.
As for the challenges of my job, I am happy to be able to help some patients, but I would sometimes have to be an insult. At times I visit some disgusting places – with a patient in a smelly room, things like that.
From right to left - Wellbody's Partnerships Liaison Edna Bondu Bona, Sister Gladdis Boyama Katingo, and Wellbody's Executive Director Raphi Frankfurter
Please describe to me a day in the life of Edna. What you do on a typical work day, from start to finish?
I wake up at 7 am, and usually report to my desk at Wellbody between 8 ~ 8:30 am. But it's not always like that, if I should visit PL (Positive Living) or a patient from any other program. Then, I would make such a visit before going to the office. Sometimes I visit chiefdoms that are 20 ~ 25 miles away from Koidu, if I have other planned activities there.
Sometimes I follow members of the HIV/TB, EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) program, to see what's happening. Sometimes I attend workshops and trainings with different groups. I will then return to the office later to write reports on my findings. Sometimes I attend meetings or do interviews with team leaders on Wellbody's activities for the week.
When I arrive at the office, I check for emails. I then go around to see what new things are happening around the clinic. I walk around, enter different rooms like the pharmacy, visit the Delivery Center, the main triage, the ANC (antenatal clinic). Sometimes I help to control the crowd in the morning if there are too many patients. I help to direct the patients, either to the lab or to the pharmacy. At noon, I eat lunch with everyone else. I usually leave the office at 5 pm – if there's no okada (motorbike), I walk home.
Arrive at office OR depart for appointment
08:00:00 AM – 12:00:00 PM
Visit different Wellbody Clinic facilities; crowd control and directing patients at the clinic; visiting local chiefdoms; follow and observe HIV/TB and EVD program members; attend workshops and meetings; conduct interviews with patients; write reports
12:00:00 – 05:00:00 PM
Return to work
Take motorbike/walk to home
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
A rewarding part of my work is when, after conducting interviews with the appropriate people, and sending this information to my boss, I see the impact of the supporters' fundings. Whenever I learn that Wellbody has received support from contributors, I feel great, because I know that from that support, many people will benefit.
What motivates you to do your work?
(Laughs) Having passion to work for the welfare of people. I'm motivated by Wellbody's vision of health for all.
Wellbody's Partnerships Liaison Edna Bondu Bona (left) with volunteer members of "The Dutch Team"
What do you notice that's different from a few weeks or months ago in Kono?
Uhh, well, hmm... Wellbody has extended its services by building the Delivery Center. Before, we never had a Delivery Center. The quality of staff has improved - more qualified people are being hired now. Human resources capacity has been enhanced within the last few months. A few CHWs have been trained. The general organization within the clinic has now improved. We now have a separate waiting area and a bigger pharmacy space that is furnished with air conditioning. We don't have as much crowding now, since the place is bigger.
Wellbody has been fenced and there's a gate now with a gateman, with someone doing temperature checks for people coming in. Workers have chlorine there, and everyone washes their hands before entering the clinic.
There has also been change in the clinic management. The former Clinic Manager, Yusuf, went to the US for his studies. Dr. Dibba, the Medical Director, has taken the back seat, and is now observing how Dr. Jalo is going about the affairs of the clinic. Dr. Dibba is still around, but will be going to the US to pursue his further studies.
A cleaner was promoted to become a social worker. Instead of cleaning around, she now takes after a doctor, takes patients to KGH (Koidu Government Hospital), and if the patient is admitted, makes sure that the patient receives a blood transfusion, and that everything goes right. Her name is Kumba Sumana – Kumba is a name given to the second-born girl.
That's great to hear about all of the new developments at the Wellbody Clinic, as it transitions into a larger hospital facility.
Surely, when you finish one challenge, you are able to see a better view of the next challenge. In your opinion, what does Kono need most right now? What personal advice do you have for those who want to help individuals in Kono District?
If you ask me that question - Kono is really handicapped. It needs improved healthcare support. besides healthcare, it needs tertiary institutions here to develop education. The education system is very poor. We also need to strengthen our culture. The typical Kono man is a farmer. Although you hear about the diamonds here, there are only about five chiefdoms within Kono that actually export diamonds – the rest are farming communities. Farmers need help. They need financial support. Perhaps we also need micro-financing for uneducated women and widows, so that they can pay for their children and themselves to start their own businesses. Most of these women right now do backyard gardening, just to sustain their families.
People who want to help should come to Kono, and listen to the people, and ask them to give them their felt need. Listen to the people, visit Kono, and see the problems, because there are numerous problems here.
What is your favorite thing about Kono?
What I like most about Kono is that it's peaceful here. People are very peaceful and very accommodating. Most of all, I'm happy that Kono is more than 140 days free of Ebola, so we don't have any patients with active Ebola symptoms here at the moment. If anyone should come to help, they could replicate Wellbody's vision within other chiefdoms in Kono District.
Wellbody's Partnerships Liasion Edna Bondu Bona with Partners In Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer
What do you enjoy doing for fun?
Myself, I like gardening, yes. I grow hot peppers, tomatoes, and garden eggs, called jakatoh here. Garden eggs are nice – you can add it to stews, and I enjoy eating them. They are yellow and are little and ball-shaped. When we don't have money, we boil garden eggs with okra and peppers, and crush them, and add Maggi salts, and put it together with rice and eat it – it's tasty and we do that in the mornings. In the evenings, when I go home, I go into the garden to remove weeds. Every morning, I look at my plants before leaving for work – I care for them like I care for children.
I also like gathering children and hearing stories from them. I ask them to tell me stories. Other children, not my own, in the neighborhood come to my house. When my laptop was working, I played films for them, because they're less fortunate and don't have access to facilities to use computers. I try to encourage them. Some of them go to school, and some don't. The ones that don't, they don't work, but are just around the neighborhood. That's why I told you there's a huge problem with education.
Because of the diamonds, especially around Koidu city, people didn't pay attention to book learning, they payed attention to money, money, money, money – money from diamonds, money from gold. But they didn't know that diamonds would not be the same today – you hardly see a diamond anymore. Money doesn't flow in Kono like it use to. Before, money was flowing in Kono, so that influenced a lot of youth, especially girls. Now, they have realized that they wasted their time, because they don't have money, and need an education.
Partly the parents are to blame, as well as the children. But the parents, more so. At the time, they were receiving money, so they didn't bother to force their children to go to school. Most stakeholders in the diamond business were not interested in education – all they were interested in was receiving money.
Of course, here, the road networks are poor also.
We have serious problems with housing facilities – most of the big houses that the diamond dealers built, the rebels destroyed, and now there is no money to rehabilitate the structures. Nowadays, children just fix one room, or a part of the building, instead of the whole building, and live in them.
But I am happy because NGOs are popping in to help with so many problems. We need help here.
Wellbody's Partnerships Liaison - Edna Bondu Bona
What are your passions? What do you really care about?
I care most about children, particularly less fortunate children. I care for women who are less fortunate as well, because I know what that means – for my first two children, the father died during the civil war in 1993. My first born was 4 years old, and my second was 1 year and 3 months old. I know what it means as a single parent to take care of children. It interests you to know that I was a second-year in university when my husband died. I was forced to drop out of university then, and only returned to Njala University nine years later, when I started my university education all over again.
During the nine years, the war was going on, and I had two children. I was not qualified and didn't earn enough money, so I did all sorts of odd jobs to help myself and my children.
What are three of your favorites?
1. Making someone feel that they are important.
What is something that most people don't know about you?
Well, umm, really most people don't know that I have been married once, because I don't carry a missus name. I carry my maiden name, and that's because I was a small girl, about 23 years old, when my husband died, so I didn't want to carry missus, missus, missus – I thought maybe that would've been bad luck for me, but unfortunately, I have not married anyone else since.
I had someone else, but he disappointed me – he was the father of my last two children. He was an officer in the army, a major, and works as a lawyer. But I'm happy though, because now as a university graduate, I don't depend on him, I sustain myself, and it's beautiful like this – my children are growing well, so I'm happy about that.
When I dropped out of university in 1993, I returned to Njala University in 2002, and graduated in 2006.
Who are your own heroes? How come you admire them?
One is Sahr Sibin Sumana – Sahr is a name given to the first-born boy of a family. He's been working for Wellbody for eight years now – he started working for Wellbody when they started their program here in Kono. Sahr was a dropout, and left school at Form Three, and is now 35 years old. By then, he worked here as a caretaker, cleaner, and security guard, carrying three simultaneous responsibilities. At the time, Wellbody had six workers. Sahr was here when they put up the first building, which containd about five rooms. Sahr was trusted by Dr. Barrie, the cofounder of Wellbody, so Sahr was given the chance to be the Petty Cash Receiver. Dr. Barrie gave Sahr the responsibility of looking after the money for the clinic, the funds for building, and he also looked after the keys for the clinic – and nothing got lost.
Talking about Wellbody developing its staff, and talking about capacity building – Sahr is one person who started from the position of a cleaner and security guard, and he was promoted to be a file manager – he was taught how to organize the filing system for patient information. Next, he was taught how to do dress wounds and cuts. Now, having been trained, Sahr is in charge of all dressing at the Wellbody Clinic – he dresses any kinds of sores or injuries.
So I admire him. As a dropout from school, he has now achieved some medical knowledge at the clinic, and for eight years has stayed with Wellbody. Despite the challenges, he stood on and went with the job. He's ready to learn, and that's why I admire him. And he has courage – although he's been here for quite a long time, new people come in, and receive higher salaries, but Sahr still holds on to his job, never mind the salary.
I go closer to the less fortunate, the lower people. I feel for them, and I want them to feel important – that's why I chose Sahr as one of my heroes.
What are your plans for the future? What are your goals? What do you most look forward to?
(Laughs and using her hands whilst looking far) I plan to have a school. A big school compound with many rooms that can house thousands of children, and maintain an orphanage, and take care of less fortunate children. I want children to acquire better education. I look forward to leaving a big mark. When I die, people will talk and say, “this is what this woman did – something that many, many others would benefit from.”
There's something else that for now won't be easy, but I want for it to happen in the near future, as a Kono woman. Kono people don't allow females to become Paramount Chiefs, even if their father was one. For Mende people, that's fine, but the Kono man doesn't allow that at all. So I would want to change the mindset of the Kono man, and encourage other women to push forward and break this rule, so that even if it's not in my own time, one day, very soon, a Kono woman will become a Paramount Chief.
Sometimes we think about this, we think about that, but not everything works the way that we plan it. But for those two things that I have told you about, I prayed that it'll happen.
I also would want to see youth be educated, because there's a problem here with leadership. We see problems in the office. We see outsiders in leadership positions, because Kono people are not educated enough to grab those positions.
You see, I am very objective – although I'm a Kono person, I'll speak the truth.
If there is any good-willed supporter who wants to come here, one thing for them to do is to sensitize people that education is important, and to help strengthen the education sector.
Do you have any photos that you'd like to share with the audience?
The pictures are of Morkwe Prepatory School and Drop-In Center that I started. Presently, there are twenty-three children attending the school, all of whom are children whose fathers turned their backs on and whose abandoned mothers find it very difficult to raise them. Children abandoned by their fathers are in dire need of the right to education, food, and shelter, as their teenage, poor, and illiterate mothers living in rural areas can't completely cater for themselves and their children, considering the mothers' age and the political, social, and economic circumstances that surround them.
Do you have a final message for the readers of this blog?
Of course, Wellbody is a healthcare NGO, and here in Kono, Wellbody has established that people are poor. Never mind that you hear about diamonds in Kono – the typical Kono people are farmers.
They are poor people who need help, especially into the interior. So, I advise readers of this blog to believe all of what the interviewees are saying here, and to render help to Kono through Wellbody.
Thank you for all of your help, Edna!