July 28 2015
Wellbody Hero of the Week:
Mohamed Umaru Koroma – Chief Cook
Seijiro Takahashi – July 28, 2015
Mohamed is a 44 year old from Kailan District, Sierra Leone, and is a husband and a father of two who works as Wellbody's Chief Cook.
Why his work is heroic:
As Wellbody's Chief Cook, Mohamed leads a team that includes two other cooks. Mohamed and his team provide three meals per day, and cook and deliver lunch to about one hundred and ninety Wellbody and Partners In Health staff members, both at the Wellbody Clinic and at Koidu Government Hospital. Mohamed is dedicated to feeding the staff good meals, so that they can continue to help implement healthcare as a human right in Kono.
Mohamed Umaru Koroma - Wellbody's Chief Cook
Please tell me a bit about your background.
My name is Mohamed Umaru Koroma, and I am from Kailan District in Sierra Leone. I stopped going to school after Form Two, because I couldn't finance my education. My mother is Mende and my father is Mandingo. I am 44 years old, and have a wife and two children – a girl and a boy aged 7 and 4 years.
What did you do before working for Wellbody? How did you encounter cooking as a profession?
I used to work for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees). At that time, I was a refugee in Guinea. I worked for ten years as a cook for the UNHCR in Guinea.
After I finished Form Two, I went to a vocational institute in Kenema District to study catering, because I wasn't able to follow my education. My mother was a caterer, so I felt encouraged to study catering. I enjoy being a cook. After the civil war in Sierra Leone finished, I returned to Sierra Leone, and eventually found a job with Wellbody.
How or why did you become involved with Wellbody Alliance?
The boss, Raphi (Wellbody's Executive Director), was looking for a good cook for Wellbody. My friend gave me this information, so I wrote an application and started working as a Wellbody cook on January 6, 2015.
At Wellbody, there are three cooks in total and we work together nicely. I'm the Chief Cook, and I try to make good food for Raphi and the others.
When I was applying to the job, I cooked and served jollof rice and pumpkin stew, and chips and spaghetti bolognese. After the recruiters at Wellbody ate these dishes, I was hired. Now, I'm cooking for Wellbody and PIH (Partners In Health) at the Clinic and at the office on Gbongbor Street – I also serve the PIH staff at KGH (Koidu Government Hospital).
As the Chief Cook, I collect all of the money from Wellbody and PIH, and do the shopping on the weekends.
Please describe to me a day in the life of Mohamed. What do you do on a typical work day, from start to finish?
I wake up by 5:30 AM, and am picked up by a Wellbody driver and taken to the Wellbody Guesthouse where I prepare breakfast for the Wellbody Clinic staff as well as expatriate workers, including the Dutch team from the Ebola laboratory. I serve bread, sardines, tea, lunch meats, and salad for breakfast. I then prepare food for lunch.
For lunch, I serve all of the Wellbody staff and the PIH staff. I deliver lunch to KGH, the Clinic, and Gbongbor Street via a Wellbody vehicle.
After lunch, I prepare dinner at the Wellbody Guesthouse. I cook pumpkin stew, jollof rice, chips, chicken, other meats of different varieties, and fresh vegetables.
I then leave the Wellbody Guesthouse at 9:30 PM to go home.
By 05:30:00 AM
Wake up and picked up by Wellbody vehicle
By ~ 06:00:00 AM
Prepare breakfast at Wellbody Guesthouse
~ 8:00:00 AM
Serve breakfast and then prepare lunch
Serve lunch at Wellbody Clinic; Deliver lunch to Koidu Government Hospital via Wellbody vehicle
Prepare dinner at Wellbody Guesthouse
Leave Wellbody Guesthouse to go home
Please tell me about your experiences as the Chief Cook for Wellbody.
What have been your biggest challenges? What were the biggest learning experiences?
All of the staff loves the food that I prepare for them. PIH and Wellbody staff - everyone loves the food. Since I came to Wellbody, everyone is very nice to me, and I love all of the people. All of the staff love the food that I prepare for them.
I serve one hundred and ninety people for lunch, including twenty expatriates to whom I also serve breakfast and dinner.
As a caterer, you're always in the kitchen. Everyday, you have to change what you're cooking. Wellbody doesn't have a gas cooker, so we use wood from the forest to create a fire. The kitchen is outside, because of the smoke from the fire. We use a small gas burner only to boil water. We need a good kitchen. I want to prepare better meals, but we don't have the facility for the kind of food that I want to prepare. If we have a big dining hall, everyone can eat together.
For myself, for my family – I'm struggling, because we are not many. There are only three cooks, so work is very hard.
The kitchen is not very nice. If we had a greater variety of utensils and tools in the kitchen, there would be nicer stuff on the table. I want to improve my cooking for the staff, but I don't have the equipment.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Since 2014, I lost my job, but since January 6, 2015, I have had a good job with Wellbody, so I can provide for my family – I'm happy about that. All of the staff are happy with the food that they are eating.
I am happy when I see people eat during lunch. When people eat the food at Wellbody, they get the energy to do their work. I'm happy about this, because this in turn brings more development within Kono.
What is your favorite part about cooking?
I love the job. I specialize in cooking English food.
What is your favorite dish to cook and to eat?
I like to cook Scottish pie and lasagna. For Scottish pie, you have to mash potatoes, use minced meat, mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables. For lasagna, you boil the packet, then you're supposed to put it in the oven for one hour and thirty minutes until it becomes brown, and then serve it with green beans, carrots, et cetera, et cetera. But since there is no oven at Wellbody, it's a challenge to cook.
To eat, my favorite food is cassava leaf, okra, pumpkin, and rice.
What do the Wellbody and PIH workers like to eat the most?
For the Wellbody staff, it's cassava, jollof rice, and fried rice. I used to make a sauce – a brown sauce – and pumpkin stew and stewed greens. All of the staff, including the expats, like this. The expats also like shawarma – made using chicken and other meats – for lunch.
What do you notice that's different from a few weeks or months ago in Kono?
There have been big, big, big changes, such as building around the clinic. Everyone is happy. From all areas, people from all fourteen chiefdoms within Kono District are referred to the Wellbody Clinic or KGH. The vulnerable who can't afford treatment are given free treatment at the Wellbody Clinic. People are happy about the partnership between Wellbody and PIH. Every morning and evening, PIH brings vehicles for the organization. We now have three ambulances, and are able to access all fourteen chiefdoms. There are a lot of vehicles at Wellbody now.
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?
We need a bigger clinic, more medical facilities, and more hospitals. We have mothers and children who are in need of help. There isn't a sufficient medical presence in Kono – only Wellbody and PIH are trying to cover all of the villages.
What personal advice do you have for those who want to help individuals in Kono District?
We have a lot of challenges in Kono, but we have good security for expats. We need help to build clinics, schools, and better roads.
What is your favorite thing about Kono?
We love ourselves – each other within the community – in Kono. We are all brothers and sisters, and it's peaceful here. There has been no case of EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) since over one hundred and forty days ago, so I am happy for Wellbody, for PIH, and for the Red Cross.
Expats arrive in Freetown first, and then they choose which district to go to. They should come to Kono. We advise you not to be afraid to come to Kono – it's peaceful here, the people like NGOs, and security is not a problem. We need more expats to come and help – people are suffering, clean water is hard to come by, we lack quality education, we don't have money, and we have bad houses. We are building fresh now, but we need more people to come and help.
Raphi knows all about the history of Kono district.
What do you enjoy doing for fun? What is your favorite activity?
I plan to pick up another job, but have no time right now.
I used to play football. We all played – all of the Wellbody drivers versus all of the other staff, including clinicians like Dr. Jalloh, the Clinical Director. We plugged the drivers' team at 5-4.
(Alimamy (Wellbody's Ambulance Driver) appears from the side of the computer screen):
I was the goal keeper for the drivers' side.
So you let five goals in?
(Everyone listening to the interview laughs) Yes, but I received (saved) two shots.
I love football too much.
Do you want to assist us?
Then please send us a nice ball. You can give it to Shannon (Wellbody's Development Associate).
We also need vests.
Alimamy comes in again from the side:
The other team used smoke from a fire so that I couldn't see the ball.
We also need boots.
I like running and sports.
I used to run 100 meter races – I always came in first during my school days.
I still run – I jog from Wellbody to the junction and back to Wellbody.
What are your passions? What do you really care about?
I see boys who are hungry on the streets. I pay them money, and I buy them food. I feel sorry for children from poor families. Some kids in my neighborhood lack slippers, so I sometimes buy them slippers and clothes, out of my own pocket. I sometimes I pay for their school fees as well. I used to see them begging on the streets, so I invite them to my house to feed them and give them clothes. Afterwards, I take them back to their families.
What is something that most people don't know about you?
Some don't know that I'm a cook – they don't know that I'm catering for Wellbody and PIH. My friends and wife and family know, but others don't know. The expat workers and some of the patients know that I'm a cook – the patients sometimes ask me for food when I'm delivering food to KGH, so I give food to the children that don't have anything.
(Mohammed gets a call, and names some vegetables for a few minutes.)
Sorry about that. That was a call from PIH staff working at KGH. They want chips and chicken and shawarma.
What are three of your favorites?
One, I love my wife, and I love my daughter and my boy, and I love my family, all of my family. I love all of the expats in Kono District – the expats who came from outside of the country, who came to help us in Sierra Leone. I love my country, Sierra Leone.
Do you have any photographs that you'd like to share with the readers?
These are pictures of a local kitchen. Three fire stones hold a pot, to show how strenuous it is to cook for about three hundred people with fire wood and smoke. I would like a standard kitchen to be able to prepare special dishes, especially for experts and other foreign nationals.
These are some pictures of me preparing meals with two other cooks.
Who is your own hero or heroes? How come you admire this person?
Dr. Barrie (Wellbody's co-founder). He is one person who has helped so many people in Sierra Leone and Kono. Many youth are now employed because of him. I also admire Dr. Dan (Wellbody's co-founder), who has been a great help for our people, and Raphi and all of the other Wellbody staff.
What are your plans for the future? What are your goals? What do you most look forward to?
For now, I want to go out to places like the US, London, Spain, France, Japan – I want to go out and see what is going on in the world. I want to go out and spread my kitchen.
When are you coming to Kono?
I hope to go to Kono soon.
When you come, I will make good food for you.
I will make you fruit salad – do you like fruit salad? Banana, mango, pineapple, cocoa – put it all together and put it with fish, and you can pack it and take it for lunch and dinner.
Also, I need a good jersey from you.
Chelsea. I am a Chelsea fan.
I'll be looking out for you, please.
I'll give you nice pumpkin stew and jollof rice, and fried rice.
For dinner tonight, we are having pumpkin stew.
A final message for the readers of this blog.
I'm so happy. Please say hello to everyone in Boston. I will be happy for the story to go around the world. I encourage readers to help and support Wellbody's activities. I'm looking forward to seeing the blog – please make it beautiful!
Thank you for your time, Mohamed!