As the rebels tore through the country, many Sierra Leoneans sought safety in the capital city of Freetown. Paul Kpanabom, along with his wife and four daughters, was among those fleeing to the city. Having already connected with the Luke Society, Paul requested money and supplies to provide medical care in the midst of the war. Rather than risk losing the money and supplies through the mail, Dr. Boelens sent the package to Dr. John Boateng in Ghana and asked him to deliver it. Little did he know that it would take Dr. Boateng three days to find Paul in Freetown.
Dr. Boateng traveled by car into Sierra Leone, a long trek through dangerous territory. When he arrived in Freetown, Dr. Boateng realized that his task would be daunting. The city’s population had swelled past the city limits and beyond the suburbs because of interior people fl eeing the war. With no street signs, no phone books and no way to contact Paul, Dr. Boateng searched for Paul by word of mouth, asking people if they had heard of Paul Kpanabom. Every "yes" got him only a little closer to delivering the package. By the end of his third day in Freetown, Dr. Boateng was exhausted from searching, but he found Paul in a very small shelter, helping the displaced people.
With the money and supplies he received from Dr. Boateng, Paul started a Luke Society clinic in the Freetown suburb of Portee. Although Paul is not a physician, he knew that his medical expertise as a nurse would be enough to help the needy situation. "We were limited to Freetown because of security reasons," said Paul. "We started outreach clinics when the war was nearly over, but even that was a risk because we had to move through the former territories of the rebels."
Paul focused on rebuilding. A school supported by the Church of Pentecost was demolished during the war, leaving many children without a means of education. In 2001, with the help of the Luke Society, the school was rebuilt and filled with students. They came from all over Sierra Leone as displaced people of the war.
The Luke Society and the Church of Pentecost work together to subsidize the children’s tuition. The students also receive free health care from the Luke Society clinic. Because one of the Luke Society nurses is the primary teacher at the school, there are .health education classes taught in addition to regular curriculum.
The Church of Pentecost is also involved in the work of the Luke Society clinic. Although the clinic is used primarily for medical purposes, there is also an emphasis on evangelism. "Every clinician here is equipped with the word of God, and it should be preached to a patient during screening, while patients are on their beds, and even in our daily morning devotions," says Paul. "Follow-up visits are made to our patients who are discharged from the hospital after surgery, delivery or other sickness." The Church of Pentecost is involved in these evangelistic efforts, and the church disciples those who come to the Lord.
"Now that the war is over, we are dealing with people who have been made poorer, people who still have not be able to get the memories of war off their minds, and people who are either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS," says Paul.
In 2003, post-war poverty in Sierra Leone was listed as one of the United Nation’s Forgotten Crises. Also in 2003, the United Nations ranked Sierra Leone as its least livable country in the world. The war has not only left the people displaced and hopeless, but the economy of the country is struggling as well. "The recovery process is gradual," says Paul. "Investors have started showing interest in doing business, and the economy is showing sluggish growth."
Despite the poverty that characterizes the city, Paul continues to see new faces at the clinic, an indication that the Luke Society’s reputation for quality health care is quickly spreading by word of mouth. The patients aren’t only from the suburb of Portee, but from all over Freetown.
To keep track of the needs of the community, Paul schedules regular meetings with the local people to assess and prioritize community needs. Recently, the community asked for an ante-natal clinic, which would facilitate education of pregnant women on correct health practices and provide regular check-ups.
The program was implemented, and now there is a group of women attending the weekly check-ups, calling themselves "The Belly Women," which is appropriate considering their physical attributes! These Belly Women embrace their pregnancy as a blessing. They are a lively group who incorporate singing and dancing into their learning. They are joyous, not only because of their pregnancy, but also because they are supporting each other in the aftermath of a devastating time in their lives.
As the scars of war begin to fade, the people of Sierra Leone are hoping to restore their country. God continues to use Paul Kpanabom and his staff at the Luke Society as part of His healing process.
*Statistics about Sierra Leone were gathered from the 2003 Human Development Report, United Nations.