I have just returned from Sierra Leone, where I was part of a Vision Aid Overseas team sent to test eyes and give glasses to as many people as we could over a two-week period. We would also be helping to train local eyecare workers to carry on our work after we returned home. We had 6 opticians in our team, some had been on many assignments to Africa whilst for others it was the very first trip.
Sierra Leone is in West Africa, is approximately the size of Ireland, and has a population of around 7 million people. Following the ravages of a brutal civil war through the 1990s it had the rather dubious accolade of being listed as the poorest country on earth. Just as it was finding its feet, it was hit by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in 2014. Over 11,000 people fell ill with over 40% dying within days of getting sick.
So it would be fair to say that we were unsure of what to expect upon our arrival in Freetown, the capital city situated on the Atlantic west coast of the country. We soon had an answer when we were bundled into the Toyota Landcruiser that would be our reliable means of transport throughout the trip. We were taken on a 10-hour journey inland to the east of the country, very close to the Guinea and Liberia borders. Sierra Leone is tropical and fortunately we were visiting during the dry season, as many roads are simple dirt tracks and are all but impassable come the rains.