Ibrahim Bangura was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and he has family in the northern district of Kambia.
Even as a native Sierra Leonean, though, he didn’t grasp the depth of medical need in his own nation until he joined Mercy Ships as a national crewmember.
“I live in the country, but I’ve never seen people with such kind of sicknesses, with huge tumors,” he said. “People with cleft lips. … I’ve never seen that in my life.”
Medical conditions often develop more severely in rural areas, where people have trouble getting to a hospital. In 2011, as Ibrahim began working with the Africa Mercy® in Freetown, he saw patients who had journeyed from all over the country to be treated. It was like nothing he had ever experienced.
“This is where my journey started,” he said. “I got inspired.”
For the 12 years since, Ibrahim has been serving on the Mercy Ships deck crew as an able seaman. He and his team maintain the ship and keep it running smoothly, enabling the medical volunteers to offer free surgical care in a safe environment.
As Ibrahim has sailed to other nations in West Africa over the years, a question has remained in his heart: “How can I be part of transforming Sierra Leone?”
Now, with the Global Mercy® headed back to Freetown and Ibrahim on board, that question has been answered.
“Lives will be changed; patients will receive healing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the first patient climbing the gangway, coming to receive surgery on board. That will completely bring so much peace in me and joy.”
Finally, after 12 years of serving others, Ibrahim will be a part of that healing in his own country once again.
A Great Need
In 2020, Sierra Leone was ranked 181 out of 191 countries in the Human Development Index.1 According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as of 2022, 43% of Sierra Leoneans lived below the poverty line.2
A World Bank report found that poverty in urban areas in Sierra Leone improved from 2011 to 2018 – a great achievement. But in rural areas during the same time period, poverty rose from 9% to 13%.3 That’s why Mercy Ships volunteer Lamarana Shour thinks the Global Mercy’s visit is more important than ever.
“We have lots of people in Sierra Leone that need medical help, especially those that are in the villages that cannot afford to come to the city to get medical care,” she said. “Mercy Ships, they always try to help the people that are in the interior.”
Lamarana came on board the Africa Mercy while the ship was serving in Cameroon in from 2017 to 2018. She now serves in the galley as a cook, keeping the crew healthy so they can continue their mission of bringing hope and healing to those who need it most.
“It’s very important for me to serve with the ship because I’m happy to help the poor,” she said.
Lamarana loves to work with children, so it’s especially meaningful for her to see the transformation when Mercy Ships’ youngest patients receive surgery. And although she has loved serving the neighboring countries, Lamarana finds special meaning in returning home this year.
“Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world,” she said. “And people need a lot of medical care.”
Lamarana has witnessed the impact of free surgical care firsthand – and she can’t wait to bring it back home.
“I’ve seen patients’ lives transformed, when they are climbing the gangway for the first time, and when they’re going down the gangway,” she said. “That is the most important thing.”
‘Bring Back Smiles’
Before every life-changing operation on board the Global Mercy, the surgical instruments have to be carefully sterilized to prevent infections.
Andrew “Raximo” Momoh, a volunteer sterile processing technician on board, is responsible for this important work.
“Every surgical instrument they work with passes through me and our whole team,” he said.
And soon, he knows that every instrument that passes through his hands will be used to bring healing to one of his fellow Sierra Leoneans.
“It’s a very exciting moment for me,” he said.
Raximo has served with Mercy Ships since 2019. He’s spent most of that time working with patients from Senegal and The Gambia. So when he found out his home country was next on the list, he was thrilled.
“Mercy Ships is a friend of Sierra Leone, and the people of Sierra Leone,” he said. “It’s been a long journey way back since we left Sierra Leone.”
Mercy Ships’ hospital vessels have visited Freetown, Sierra Leone, five times over the course of 30 years. The last visit was nearly 12 years ago. Now, Raximo and his fellow Sierra Leonean crewmembers can’t wait to be welcomed back and renew that longtime relationship with national partners and patients.
“To every African on board … we are all contributing factors toward other people’s lives,” Raximo said. “And we may bring back smiles to their faces.”