Tahoma High grad Allie Wallace writes of her mission to Sierra Leone

Editor’s note: Allie Wallace left on a mission to Makeni, Sierra Leone in West Africa March 19 and returned March 30.

The 22-year-old woman is a Tahoma High graduate and winner of the 2009 Miss Auburn Scholarship Program. This is her story.

Our hearts sank as he spoke the words. The doctor said the only option was to amputate his leg. Each of our hearts literally ached as we grieved for our friend. Abu was a passenger on the back of a motorcycle taxi when it collided with a taxi car under the guidance of a careless driver. Tragically, Abu’s femur was left in two pieces. He had been on crutches since the accident in November, with hopes that something other than an amputation could be done. Then finally and sadly, the doctor delivered the grim news Abu had hoped to avoid by waiting for our visit. You see, for Abu, and for the rest of Sierra Leone, what we in America would consider to be mundane, everyday medical care is pretty much non-existent for those who call Sierra Leone their home.

Amputees are a common sight in the colorful, yet complicated country of Sierra Leone. A decade-long civil war led by rebel groups ravaged Sierra Leone. Its neighbor, Liberia, suffered even longer. The rebels killed hundreds of thousands and enslaved children to be their soldiers in their destructive ways, often after first making them father and motherless.

“Long sleeves or short sleeves?” the rebels and child soldiers would ask their victims before they would raise their machetes and cut off the limb to the length the victim declared, if there was any answer at all.

The war has been over since 2002, but the fresh footprint of tragic loss and fear is still stamped all across Sierra Leone. You see it in their tired and weary eyes, collapsing concrete schools, roofless abandoned houses and bone shaking red clay roads.

I went to Sierra Leone with a team comprised of people from New Community Church and the non-profit known as The Bridge, both of which are based in Maple Valley. We went to the interior of Sierra Leone, Africa, to provide medical care to the poorest, most desperate people in the world.

Being an economics major, a law-firm administrator and currently serving as Miss Auburn, I have spent my life worlds apart from the human condition experienced daily by my new friends, the people of Sierra Leone. However, despite my naivety to their situation, and inexperience in the medical field, I dedicated myself to experiencing the human condition that they endure constantly. Through those efforts my eyes were opened to the heartache and desperation embodied by the people of Sierra Leone.

After my first day I thought I could easily write a book. At the end of my first week I was struggling to come up with enough words and emotions to transcribe my experiences into a pamphlet. Now it has become difficult to write even just a single word. This is not due to some repetitive strain injury resulting from overuse of a heavy thesaurus. Rather, it is a paralysis of another kind.

Babies came through our arms that later died at night in the government-run hospital. Children stood in line in the rich heat of the sun with large bloated bellies full of gases, the cruel effects of malnutrition. Nevertheless, they patiently waited for hours for the rare chance to be seen by a doctor. More medical emergencies and mishaps were seen by our team of nurses and doctors than is possible to tell you about in a book, let alone this brief article. At times, the needs were so overwhelming my body kicked into emergency mode and I became action-oriented and emotionless.

At 22, Joseph is anything but emotionless. At the age of 9 he and his family were chased out of their burning home by the rebels. Orphaned and alone, he made his way across Liberia to Sierra Leone, scrambling away from the ever expanding and manipulative arms of rebel groups.

Four mud walls and a thatched roof at a refugee camp outside of Freetown are what Joseph calls home for now. “I am not ready to return to my home, I can’t go back with my life like this. I need to build a foundation first.” Once a member of a successful family of five, Joseph has lost everything. He started school at a training center in Freetown but eventually had to drop out when the funds he worked long and hard for dried up. Full of hope and life, Joseph lives each day praying his life will turn around and he will be able to distance himself from the starvation and fear that have become his familiar companions for the last 13 years.

Now that I am home, I realize that our media-driven culture has desensitized us. We have become used to seeing the images of children on TV. Their penetrating, needy eyes and filthy clothing pull at us as some respectable looking gentleman asks us to become their sponsor. We see the images, think “Ah, that’s so sad” and then turn around and continue on with our daily routine of buying coffee, expensive clothing and a long list of unnecessary goods. All the while we tell ourselves that it’s not our problem.

The truth is, it’s all too easy for us to not to think about the situation because it’s not directly impacting or affecting our daily lives. What I was confronted with while in Sierra Leone is that we are the ones who have the capacity to help change the future of devastated lives of the people in countries like Sierra Leone, and yet we don’t even know the first thing about them or the challenges they face every moment of their existence.

Tom Tate is my hero. During his first trip to Sierra Leone four years ago, his heart was changed. Giving his all to understand the human condition and befriend the people of Sierra Leone, Tom has become known as “Chief” to the Africans that New Community Church and The Bridge work with.

The Africans cling to his humble nature and connect with him realizing he is no different from the personalities and people that live in Sierra Leone. This is a hard thing to accomplish when many white people come through the country and act like they are superior or different from the Africans. But Tom was successful. I often heard them say, “You’re our black brother with white skin”. Tom’s efforts are rewarded by lasting friendships with his brothers of black skin.

Tom has found support throughout Maple Valley to sponsor refugee soccer teams. Most recently, Tom started an orphanage deep in the heart of the country where the refugees have settled. I met the twenty-six wide-eyed orphans who find refuge there. By the end of the first day I spent with them my name was no longer “Allie” but “Hokey Pokey”.

I thought the orphanage would be the most heart breaking part of my time in Sierra Leone. I wondered how I could communicate love and affirmation to children whose parents have either passed on or abandoned them. However, it wasn’t the orphanage children that broke my heart. The children there are fed, clothed and have a place to sleep. It’s the children outside the walls of the orphanage who are dirty, hungry and alone that made me weep. Unfortunately that’s the sad story for most Sierra Leone children.

The people of Sierra Leone need our hearts to break for their condition. They desperately need people like Tom Tate, Dale Mar, Mike and Geri Jeffery, Sean Celli, Bill Borland, and the countless other members of New Community Church and The Bridge who have committed themselves to not only “count their blessings” each day, but also to seek out ways in which they can use those blessings for the benefit of others. Each of them has returned from Africa with hope, inspiration and ideas to put into action in order to bring about a rebirth for the country of Sierra Leone and its people.

I too have come home with the intent to not only to count my blessings but also to count how much I have to offer to this desperate nation. We all have something to give and we all can make a difference in the lives of those who need us. First we must allow ourselves to be made aware of the situation and to acknowledge that not only is it real, but also to believe that someday it will be left behind in history. With that we can step out and offer ourselves to a great cause to change the human condition of those victimized by poverty.

New Community Church and The Bridge have recognized the spiritual and physical needs of the most voiceless people in the world and are going to great lengths towards improving their future, and along with them the country of Sierra Leone.

New Community Church and The Bridge send teams to Sierra Leone twice yearly to do an impressive diverse variety of humanitarian aid work. Together, they provide medical clinics, work with amputee families to establish loans to start farms, have started and funded numerous schools and churches, opened an orphanage, bought shoes for hundreds of school aged children, sponsored soccer teams, and are currently working on many other social and development projects.

If you would like to learn more about changing the lives of the people in Sierra Leone, please email Allie Wallace at wallaa@spu.edu or Geri Jeffery of The Bridge at www.thebridgeofhope.us.

Allie Wallace would like to thank Dale Mar for his contribution and assistance with this article.