July 8 2015
Wellbody Hero of the Week:
Alimamy Kamara – Ambulance Driver
Seijiro Takahashi - June 15, 2015
The second of this month-long series features Alimamy Kamara, an ambulance driver who works for Wellbody Alliance. Thirty-seven year old Alimamy is from Port Loko District, located in the western part of Sierra Leone. He moved to Kono District to work with Wellbody. He is married – he has a girl and a boy – and his wife is a stay-at-home mother. He also has three sisters who live in Freetown, and two brothers.
Why his work is heroic:
After receiving training at Wellbody in infection control and prevention, Alimamy now uses his previous experience as a driver to operate an ambulance. At Wellbody, Alimamy has had to adapt to an unfamiliar job within the medical field, and at times must drive for hours in order to reach patients in need. Despite the challenges of being an ambulance driver, Alimamy remains determined to deliver healthcare to the residents of Kono in a safe and efficient manner. We have decided to feature Alimamy as this week's Wellbody Hero in order to learn more about the crucial role of an ambulance driver and to hear about the obstacles that he has overcome in this new job and in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak.
Alimamy Kamara - a Wellbody ambulance driver
How did you become an ambulance driver for Wellbody?
Before, I used to work as a driver for London Mining, but the company was shut down, so I had to search for a new job. A friend told me about Wellbody, so I applied for a position and was hired in January of 2015. I moved to Kono, and was trained as an ambulance driver, which involved infection prevention and control training, including how to properly use personal protective equipment (PPE) before touching patients in the ambulance.
Please describe your typical work day, from start to finish.
Every morning, I report to work at 7 am, and my shift ends at 5 pm. I check my vehicle in the morning when I arrive, and am on call for the rest of the day – I may be called to transport patients from the Wellbody Clinic to the government hospital, or to pick up patients from the community to bring to the clinic. When I am waiting for calls, I record reports about ambulance transportations on the computer that includes the patient's name and age, the time of the call, the referral destination, the reason for the referral, and the recipient's name and signature.
Report to work; check ambulance; transport patients to/from clinic; enter reports into computer
Return to work
Go home; nightshift ambulance driver takes over
What do you strive towards each day?
To always be present to save people's lives, and when called upon, to transport patients in a timely fashion.
What changes have you personally witnessed since you have started working with Wellbody?
I have been working with Wellbody since January. Around the clinic, I have seen construction projects and new healthcare facilities being added. Also, I have noticed the increase in the amount of staff who are employed at Wellbody.
In your opinion, what does Kono need the most right now in terms of healthcare?
Kono needs a better-equipped hospital. The government hospital is a bit behind in terms of facilities, and is unable to help some patients. Because the government hospital is lacking in equipment, we must transport referred patients all the way to Freetown. The road to Freetown is very rough and bad, with numerous potholes. After driving to and from Freetown, I have side pains. In fact, most roads in Kono are terrible.
It usually takes about seven hours to get to Freetown from Kono. However, if I increase the speed when I am transporting a patient, I can get there in five to six hours instead. Before such patients are sent to Freetown, they are given emergency medical treatment at the Wellbody Clinic.
What are some challenges that you have come across as an ambulance driver?
I also have never worked in healthcare before, so seeing patients with, say, chronic ulcers on their feet, which gives off a foul odor, took some getting used to. Also, when I witness patients at the point of death, I feel very sorry for them, and sometimes I feel traumatized by what I see at the clinic.
How do you cope with such experiences?
I just have to manage, because I want a job, and I want to help my people.
Alimamy Kamara next to Wellbody's ambulance
In your opinion, what does Kono need the most right now?
Kono needs a better hospital with labs and a sufficient stock of medicine.
How long does the ambulance usually take to get to a patient?
It depends on the situation – it may take five, ten, or thirty minutes to reach a patient. At other times, it may take one to two hours if the patient is located outside of the town, because of the way that the road network is.
What do you do for fun?
The local area is sometimes boring, because of the Ebola outbreak. During my free time, I usually sit in the house and read, or take my portable computer to the clinic or the guesthouse near my home. I like to read the Qur'an, translated into English, to try to find out about God. I learned English in school. My computer is an old computer that has some problems right now, but I used to use it to enter reports when it was functioning properly. I also enjoy watching sports, particularly football. I also like to watch comedians perform on television. These comedians often perform skits about Ebola, and about the social problems that we face in Sierra Leone. I go to the guesthouse to watch television, since I have no electricity in my rented house.
Because of the Ebola outbreak, we are not allowed to crowd in public spaces anymore, in order to prevent the spread of the virus. I used to go to the beach with my friends when I lived near Freetown, but nowadays, because of Ebola, we cannot do those things. Social activities are restricted because of Ebola, and many pubs, restaurants, and night clubs have gone out of business. The market is also closed on Sundays, so we must do our grocery shopping on Monday to Saturday, during our free time after work.
What is your favorite thing about Kono?
My favorite thing about Kono is how the people here are friendly to me, even though I do not speak Kono, their local language, although we can still communicate in Krio.
What are your passions? What do you really care about?
I care about sick people, and I make sure that I take them [to the clinic or hospital] safely and that I come back safely – this is my number one passion and is what I care about.
Alimamy Kamara next to Wellbody's ambulance
Who are your heroes, and how come you admire them?
Dr. Barrie (Wellbody Alliance co-founder) is my hero, because he's a kind man. Dr. Barrie is friendly with people, and I see him often, and he is kind to the workers. He mingles with the workers, and shows no difference with the workers, regardless of their profession. I also admire Dr. Kelly, who helped to start Wellbody.
Aunt Edna (Wellbody Alliance Partnerships Liaison) is also my hero (Edna is not really Alimamy's aunt – “Aunt,” is a term of respect). She makes jokes in the office with everybody. I also admire her for always going out and interviewing patients, and having them explain their problems to her.
I also admire our cleaners. During the Ebola outbreak, none of them were infected with the virus, because they were cautious. I admire them since the facilities are always clean because of them.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to make money to help my children and to pay for their schooling. School costs a lot of money.
If God gives me the chance, I plan to build a house for my family. I don't want my children to strain for a place to sleep. Right now, I am renting a place to stay in, and am somehow managing.
If I get the chance, I want to learn. I was not able to finish high school, and I want to go back to my vocational training to finish off my training as an electrician. I was an electrician's apprentice, but was not able to finish the apprenticeship, because I did not make enough money in that position, and I had no one to support me financially – both of my parents had passed away when I was a young child. So instead, I learned how to drive, which has helped me a lot.
But my main target is to provide for my children. I am getting older. If everything goes well, and if they pay me well at Wellbody, then I will help my children.
Would you please send me a picture that you would like to share with the readers of this blog post?
These are pictures of me taking a referred patient to Koidu Government Hospital for a blood transfusion. Right now, the Wellbody Clinic does not have a bloodbank.
Do you have anything else to say to someone who would like to help those in Kono?
At the moment, we are appealing to humanitarians for their help.
Have you ever been to Sierra Leone?
I wish you had been to Sierra Leone, because then you would know what I'm talking about.
We need help with agriculture. Most people in Kono are farmers. We need help to develop their agricultural skills, and help with bringing seeds and farming supplies.
We need help with learning trades – with vocational training, to help school dropouts learn skills such as tailoring, catering, weaving, or soap making.
Thank you very much for your time today, Alimamy! This interview has been insightful.