Traveling with Médecins Sans Frontières:

Emergency Smile Mission in Sierra Leone

Photo credit: Joachim Gern

Florentine Schara, a clown working with RED NOSES Germany, recently traveled to Sierra Leone. She was part of the RNI Emergency Smile clown team invited by the aid organization "Doctors Without Borders" (MSF). Florentine, along with the rest of the team brought their humour expertise to one of the least developed countries in the world. Sierra Leone is still in a constant state of development, especially after the Ebola epidemics.* Their mission: to bring psychosocial support for people who have no or limited access to medical care.  Florentine shares here expereince:

"Sierra Leone in West Africa is far away. The flight takes about ten hours from Germany to the capital Freetown. If you want to go to the villages and small towns, you have to take the jeep over unpaved slopes. It's hard to imagine for us, but in Sierra Leone, many women still die during pregnancy or childbirth. There are very few health facilities, some of which are a day trip away from the home village. There is no help in case of complications. Child mortality is also very high: 83 out of 1000 infants die before their first birthday. ** We were in the Koinadugu district in the north of the country. We visited a hospital and a simple health clinic. MSF is working there to provide better care for mothers and children.

The hospital looks very different from the clinics in Germany. Chickens are running around everywhere. There are no single or shared rooms, but for example, one big room for mothers and their premature babies or a room for malnourished children. You go from bed to bed, like in a movie, you see rows upon rows of occupied hospital beds.

We had several tasks in consultation with MSF. Very important were the humor workshops with the medical staff. Everyone is under such stress that interpersonal contact suffers. We taught them how to compliment each other in a clownish way. We also showed how to humorously distract children from their pain and anxiety. For example, if a child refuses a very much needed injection. We also performed a show on the subject of Pregnancy, where the audience laughed and learned that hygiene plays a big role after birth.

Of course, we also visited the patients. Very special for us was that we were allowed to play in the neonatal intensive care unit and that this was even very much desired. The medical equipment, the whole ward, cannot be compared with a neonatal intensive care unit here in Germany. We were able to feel the stress and worries of the mothers there.

We came in and softly asked what we could do? One sister answered us, “I think you have to pray for us. Because many of the children here will probably die.” We considered - how do you pray as a clown? After a while, we softly and quietly sang, oh, when the clowns go marching in. We sang for the mothers and their babies. Such a beautiful, peaceful moment! The women realized that this is our clown's way of praying for the children. We sang and danced at the request of the doctor, also with the women, in order to bring in lightness. We understood their anxiety, it really is terrible when you have to worry about your child.

In the three weeks I was in Sierra Leone, I focused on the good and not the bad. Otherwise, you cannot stand the encounter with the malnourished children. I was entranced by the land and the energy of the people. I decided not to look for people to die but on where an encounter can take place."



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