‘Valley News’ Reporter Heads to Sierra Leone

Friday, June 19, 2015
My wife went grocery shopping the other day.

Her objective: Make sure that, when I go to Sierra Leone next week, I don’t have to rely on the local food supply, which can include bush meat like Ebola-carrying monkeys and bats.

The Hongoltz-Hetling household has been bustling with activity related to my upcoming trip, which is sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and which should be of interest to Upper Valley readers.

While there, I hope to shed light on a powerful, positive development that has been buried beneath the avalanche of Ebola coverage in the global media.

In Sierra Leone’s rural areas, a lack of professional healthcare and a culture of government corruption have led to a deep mistrust of medical services. As a result, many Sierra Leoneans dismiss health clinics in favor of traditional faith healers. This was a significant factor not only in the roughly 3,300 Ebola deaths in the country, but also in the much larger number of infants and young children who die in the country every single year because of a lack of access to basic health services.

When I go, I’ll be reporting on a group of do-gooders who have formed a new kind of medical team, one that seeks to bridge the culture gap by bringing together faith healers and medical doctors under one roof to minister to the needs, both physical and spiritual, of mother and child during pregnancy and birth.

If they’re successful, their model can be replicated by other international aid groups to save hundreds of thousands of lives around the globe.

My wife loves the project, but hates the idea that I might expose myself to Ebola and other health dangers by noshing on whatever’s on tap at the local food markets. And so she came home from the grocery store this week with armfuls of travel-ready nutrients.

I’m realizing that when I go, I’ll be like a human hamster, my pockets stuffed with nuts, my backpack overflowing with seeds, and every nook and cranny of my luggage packed tight with high-protein edamame and peanut butter.

My mission is important, and I’ll be reporting on those who have drawn an unimaginably worse lot in life than my own. Still, some portion of me can’t help being preoccupied with my own upcoming lack of creature comforts.

Sadly, there is no room in my luggage for pizza.

Those who are interested in my trip can stay tuned for semi-regular dispatches right here, as well as in the pages of the ‘Valley News. ’

Posted to the Upper Valley Dispatch blog Thursday at 10:35 a.m. Follow the Valley News on Twitter @VNewsUV.

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