This blog post was written by Anitra Sprauten. Anitra graduated from Bowdoin College in 2012 with a degree in Government & Legal Studies and French. Originally from New York, she is finishing up the academic year as an English teaching assistant at the University of Western Brittany in France. She hopes to return working with INGOs to improve standards of public education and public health in less economically developed countries.
Overlooking the city from a steep hill in Tengbeh Town, the Helen Keller International (HKI) office in Freetown, Sierra Leone is frequented by visitors from many sectors. HKI does a wonderful job of coordinating its efforts with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and other non-governmental organizations, so while the office itself is not very large, its reach spans the entire country.
For many, Sierra Leone is a country of extreme hardship. Maternal and child mortality rates are very high and the general population lives with very little income. However, residents of Freetown have a profound entrepreneurial spirit, and those who do not have steady employment work as petty traders. The city experienced a rapid boom of urbanization, and as the population continues to grow, Freetown continues to catch up.
As you walk around, you see the construction of new roads, houses and offices all around you. Though there is hardly any tourism, Freetown is a thriving city with beautiful beaches, juice bars, tiny restaurants playing Premiere League matches and excellent tailors making dresses out of country cloth.
For 10 weeks I had the opportunity to work in Freetown with HKI’s Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) and Nutrition Programs, and the many partners with which they cooperate as part of my second internship with HKI.
In fewer than 10 years, HKI and the national government of Sierra Leone have made remarkable strides towards the control and elimination of NTDs throughout the country. Working with the NTD program, I drafted proposals on how to target hard-to-reach demographics, particularly youth, during mass drug administrations. These projects included establishing new media initiatives with local communications companies to “brand” NTD campaigns in a simple, recognizable and educative manner, as well as collaborating with radio broadcasting companies to produce shows that integrated humor and public health information. Through these projects, HKI not only combats NTDs themselves, but the marginalization they causefor those suffering from them, including the mobility-limiting symptoms of lymphatic filariasis (LF) and blindness caused by Onchocerciasis.
As part of my work with the Nutrition Program, I aided HKI program officers in evaluating the methods of distributing nutritional information to pregnant women and mothers. I visited health centers in the Western Area to pretest images that would circulate nutrition messages. While accurate nutrition information is essential and results in reduced rates of child mortality, it is not always easy to distribute in countries with low literacy rates and insufficient nutritional training sessions and workshops for health workers. In partnership with the MOH and health clinics, HKI employs creative solutions to overcome these challenges and provide information about nutrition to those who need it.