I’ve Been to Sierra Leone Three Times Now. Here’s Why I’ll Keep Going Back.

One of the things I always notice when traveling to Sierra Leone is how there are no lights as you’re landing. This time, as we headed toward Freetown, the drive to the ferry had some streetlights. Each time I visit, I see a bit more development in the country. It’s always encouraging to see that things are getting better there.

When I returned to Sierra Leone last month – for my third trip – I was also struck by the changes I saw in the Enable the Children program and the families they work with. When I first traveled to Sierra Leone with Hoboken Grace in May 2016, we were able to observe and interact with ETC’s staff for a day as they made home visits. The organization, part of World Hope International, provides physiotherapy and occupational therapy, care, as well as support services to children living with disabilities, many of whom are ostracized by their communities. ETC also works to reduce the stigma surrounding developmental disorders such as autism and Down syndrome.

Over the past few years, as we’ve returned and grown our partnership, I’ve been able to observe children who were in the program anywhere from a month to a year. I can see the huge difference ETC is making in the children’s and families’ lives and how certain therapy treatments have evolved.

We started this year’s trip by accompanying the ETC staff on home visits, getting a taste of what they do on a daily basis while guiding children through various therapy techniques. While I already knew much of the staff, my fiancé, Tom, got to meet them for the first time. Having him there to share this experience was amazing because he was able to see why I’m so passionate about this organization and the work they do.

On the second day, it was time for the annual beach celebration. This is what our team helps with every year. While none of us are trained in speech, physical or occupational therapies, at Hoboken Grace, we all know how to celebrate. On beach day, we serve about 2,500 meals to the families that ETC cares for, in addition to making sure the day goes smoothly in other ways. The biggest part of beach day is setting up and ensuring that the food lines are organized. What blew me away was that ETC had already come up with a plan to have three different tents/lines to help with line/crowd control in comparison to last year. This is what I’m talking about when I say that the staff has grown immensely in what they do year over year.

The third and final part of the trip involved taking the staff away for some rest and relaxation at a private resort in Freetown. We essentially watched their kids, taught some of them how to swim, and just caught up with them as a way to encourage them. For most of them, the first time that Hoboken Grace took them to Tokeh, it was their first time staying overnight outside of their homes. So, this time of rest and encouragement is a luxury — something we all do regularly.

I think these trips are really important for your perspective on what’s important in life. The experience is constantly shifting my vision, outlook and goals. Tom and I even started sponsoring a child together through ETC after our return.

I’ll continue to go back as often as I can. I love the people of Sierra Leone and the impact that ETC is making on that country’s perspective on kids with disabilities.

There are two upcoming Mission Trips that you can still be a part of!

Take your musical talents to Potter’s House in Guatemala or share some love with the children of Casa Hogar in Mexico. More information can be found here or feel free to email missions@hobokengrace.com

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