Riddle Hospital donates beds
to Ebola-ravaged Sierra Leone
By Kathleen Carey, Delaware County Daily Times
POSTED: 08/16/14, 6:56 PM EDT
MIDDLETOWN — Two weeks ago, administrative supervisor Ibrahim Conteh
deviated from his regular shift and was working during the day at Riddle Hospital
when he got into an elevator with Marianne Collins, and they struck up a
They began to talk about a few dozen beds that the hospital was planning
to replace in its orthopedic and maternity wings.
“Are you going to recycle those beds?” Conteh asked the director of nursing operations.
“Oh yeah,” she replied. “They’re 25 years old. What am I going to do with them?”
“You know,” the soft-spoken man said, “these beds would really help the people in Sierra Leone.”
Ibrahim and his brothers, Osman and Abdul, grew up there before moving to the United States in 1988 when their parents, Santigie and Kadiatu Conteh, came to pursue their studies in education. Since then, Ibrahim and Osman went to college and gained employment at Riddle Hospital while their brother, Abdul, spends 10 months of the year as a missionary working in the African country. Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, the conditions in the country were dire — no clean, running water, sporadic electricity and very little resources. Visitors to hospitals there lay on mats on the floor, sometimes two to a bed. So, the idea that the country could receive full, wheeled hospital beds from the United States was a blessing.
“For Riddle to actually reach a community that otherwise is forgotten to the world,” Ibrahim said, “it’s touching and I’m speechless that they will do this for us. They could have done any number of things with those beds.”
This week, Riddle Hospital staff and volunteers moved 45 beds from the maternity and fourth-floor orthopedic wings into a former MRI facility, where they will stay until the travel ban for Sierra Leone has been lifted. When it’s removed, the Conteh brothers will take it upon themselves to pay for and to see that the beds are delivered to the 34 military hospital in Freetown, where thousands of people receive treatment annually. Collins credited the Riddle administration, including Director of Finance Ed McKillip, for their support, as well as the entire hospital community.
“Staff has said we’re doing this because we are Riddle and this is what we do,” Collins said.
Abdul added, “I think the beds are going to be an incredible help to the country. I’m talking about the entire country.”
The brothers tried to describe the conditions in Sierra Leone.
“You have hospitals where ... you have two patients on a bed and you could have people laying on a floor on mats,” Abdul said. “You have no plumbing, no electricity at times.”
Ibrahim added, “It’s not like the United States where you come into the hospital, there is a minimum standard, a standard of expectation. We have no standard back home. We don’t have the basic supplies like Band Aids, like IV needles. Over there, they’re using a needle on you and then the next patient comes and they use that same needle on them. You can just imagine if you have something how easily something can spread.”
Abdul said nurses must wear one pair of gloves throughout the entire day.
“They don’t have enough gloves to change it for every patient,” he said. “They just don’t have it. Nothing in the United States can compare to Sierra Leone. It’s a country that has been at war, it still looks like a war zone. You have hospitals where the infrastructure is terrible. You have hospitals that were built in the early 1900s. You do with what you have over there and what you have is pretty much nothing.
“People do not buy new clothes,” he added. “They sell used clothing that comes from other countries. By clothing, I mean, you name it — socks, underwear ... You have kids that are moving around without any clothing, kids walking around without any shoes.”
He spoke of hospital shelves barren except for one container of medication.
“They don’t have anything,” Abdul said. “People do die because of the lack of medication. We have women that give birth that do not make it.”
They also get medicines from India and China that are filled with placebos requiring the people to take five or six pills to have the same effect.
“They call us Third World, but we’re really not Third World,” Ibrahim said. “I’ve been to Third World countries that have malls and things like that. They don’t have the basic necessities to live, to function. Here, we have three meals a day with snack in between, wake up at 2 a.m. in the morning, go to Wawa, it’s open. You go over there, you thank God for that one meal that you get.”
They recalled what the country was like as children.
“We ate, we played,” Abdul said. “We threw a party when the light came on. The light was always a plus. The light came on, we were happy. For a little bit, then it goes back.”
He said it’s still that way in Sierra Leone.
“For our purposes,” Ibrahim said, “we made it. I think Sierra Leone had the highest child mortality rate for a decade. It’s a miracle that the three of us are here.”
And, yet, for the brothers, they retain the focus from where they came, whether it was the streets of Sierra Leone or a family centered on service.
"It’s always been in our family,” Ibrahim said. “We were never wealthy, but I saw my parents help those who would otherwise not be able to help themselves.”
That’s why the 37-year-old has worked at Riddle for nine years, earlier as a nurse and now as an administrative supervisor. His brother, Osman, 39, has been a nurse at Riddle for 11 years.
“Taking care of people is what brings joy to me,” Osman said. “And that goes across the board to seeing people need help over here, people that are sick and then people over there, they need even greater help.”
They often are torn by the needs of their native land.
“It’s a tough balance for me,” Osman said. “My wish would be if I had money to do it (more) frequently.”
It’s why the brothers organized a backpack drive in 2008 and a clothing drive about three years later. They save during the years in between to have money to pay to transport these items, just as they plan to do with the hospital beds, overseas.
Abdul, 41, has helped to build three elementary schools in Sierra Leone and assists in that country to make certain the donations make their way to the intended people. He is there when the containers arrive off the ships and he gets it to the correct places.
“Over there, with corruption and things like that,” Osman explained, “not most of the stuff gets to the people that need it. So, what we took upon, we do it hands-on to make sure that it gets to the person.”
In the meantime, the Conteh brothers here in the United States continue to collect used items to uplift the people of Sierra Leone.
“If you tell your dreams to someone and they don’t laugh at you, then your dream is not big enough,” Osman said. “So my dream over there is ... giving the people hope. My goal for over there is that in time that they’ll grasp what we are trying to do, that people like us exist and to have that hope, that with us and with other people that will join us that we can make it a better place for them to live over there.”
Ibrahim said every little bit, every effort has impact there and he said they would be willing to take more donated items to the country.
“The things that are sitting in your garage, your old shoes, those things are valuable over there,” he said. “The basic needs are not over there. The country needs help, especially after this Ebola crisis, it’s going to be a terrible, terrible situation.”
But the three brothers were grateful for Riddle’s gift of the hospital beds and relied on their faith for what can be provided.
“When we were talking about everything that is happening, I said, ‘Watch what God is going to do,’” Abdul said. “Everything that we’re doing is the perfect will of God. It’s going to be a perfect situation and it’s going to be a great, great thing for those people over there.”
And, he said he believed it would have a long-term, meaningful impact.
“I think it really will help,” Abdul said. “I think the people will see not a light at the end of the tunnel, but I think they will see some kind of hope. I think for the Sierra Leonians, I think this is going to boost their morale (and) give them hope that people do care for them.”
More information about their efforts can also be seen at www. SaltandLightforAfrica.com. (this is the website you are presently on)