Living ‘Small Small’: What I Learnt On My First Mission in Sierra Leone

My first mission with EMERGENCY was to Sierra Leone. It was a dream I’d held for a long time. I worked practically everywhere at Goderich, in intensive care, Accident & Emergency, the paediatric and surgical wards, but the patients I came across most were children who had drunk lye. Many, many children come into contact with this dangerous substance.

Of all the ones I took care of, I remember one in particular. His mother turned up at the hospital and explained to us that her little boy had drunk the lye her sister was using to make soap. He was in a very serious condition and we had to treat him at our hospital for about five months. I’ll never forget the day we discharged him. I was wondering how his mother would manage to take care of him after his tracheotomy. But she was absolutely fine, totally natural, just acting like any mother would.

But I didn’t just treat patients for lye. We saw different cases arrive every day at EMERGENCY’s hospital. Cases of malaria rocket in the rainy season, including amongst the youngest children, meanwhile during the dry season, dust rises off the roads and causes respiratory infections. The same roads are also responsible for many traffic accidents and horribly broken bones. When I think back to what I was used to in Europe, now I can say I’ve seen a lot.

Now I’m here in Italy, to take some time off. Life when you’re at a project is so intense, so fast. I need to rest, but only so I can head off again with more energy. I’m still working at a hospital, still around people, but soon I’ll head off again. Where? Afghanistan.

My memories race about in my head. I think how much Africa affected me, of the mark Sierra Leone left on me. When it comes to living ‘small small’, for example. ‘Small small’ is the answer you’re most likely to hear in Sierra Leone if you ask someone how they are. But ‘small small’ is not just an answer – it’s a way of life. ‘Small small’ means ‘calmly’. It means taking life as it comes and always being able to face it.

Taking things ‘small small’ sometimes makes you happier than you think. I’m certain, because I’ve felt it myself. I’ve spent so many days in Sierra Leone seeing people who are much happier than me, than us in Europe. They have barely anything, yet they’ve given me so much.

– Federica, EMERGENCY nurse

The EMERGENCY Paediatric Centre in Goderich, Sierra Leone, is funded by Agenzia Italiana per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo (AICS). 


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