Written by Gabriel Warren (Unreasonable Dreamer & Founder)
My father was born and raised in Murray Town, a small village in the southwest part of Freetown, Sierra Leone. As a teenager, he moved to Monrovia, Liberia. In Monrovia he graduated from Ricks Institute Baptist Missionary High School before migrating to the US to further his college educational goals. For years I had wanted to do some type of medical volunteering in Africa before attending medical school. The summer of 2009 would be the year I finally had the opportunity to do just that. While sitting and discussing my plans with my father I considered visiting either Monrovia, Liberia or Freetown, Sierra Leone; after considering many factors and weighing all options available, I choose Sierra Leone. The country's medical needs, its exotic geographical location, and the fact that I would have a once in a lifetime opportunity of seeing my grandma for the first time on her 80th birthday and celebrating it with the rest of my family I had never met, brought me to Sierra Leone.
In 2009 I went to Sierra Leone for the first time. I toured hospitals throughout the country after receiving written permission from the Minister of Health, Deputy Minister of Health, and many other dignitaries. My goal was to observe the present health care system and create a program allowing international volunteers to travel to Sierra Leone and contribute in a viable sustainable way to strengthening local health care systems.
After many hospital visits and a prolonged shadowing position under the head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, my eyes were opened. Over the past few years of repeated observations, interviews, and devotion towards sustainability; West African Medical Missions emerged as a multinational community empowering organization. Now, West African Medical Missions works to strengthen various tiers of education, medicine, and public health within West Africa.
I've been gifted with the educational foresight to bring this organization to its current place. In 2009, I was a neuroscience major pushing to attend medical school, and one day work in the field of interventional neurology. I always had viewed the brain as the last frontier in medicine, and being a thrill seeker wanted to be at the front end of the fields advancement. While in Sierra Leone, Paul Farmers book, Pathologies of Power, helped me observe the structural violence marginalizing those residing within Sierra Leone. After only a few weeks abroad I realized my place in life wasn't practicing specialized services to specialized individuals, but working to promote the health of the marginalized populations comprising the majority of our world's population. As I laid down the foundation for the organization over the summer of 2009, I used Pathologies of Power as my field manual. After returning back to the US after my summer trip abroad, I couldn't ignore the perspective anthropology afforded me. While I finished my neuroscience requirements, I chose to add a degree in anthropology to my repertoire. Knowing the vision of the organization couldn't be viewed through the eyes of western biomedical understanding alone; the pursuit of anthropology shaped my lens to view the foundational structures reinforcing health disparities in a global context today.
I'm now (2011) graduating from the University of Minnesota with an Inter-Disciplinary Bachelor of Science Degree in Anthropology, Public Health, and Health Sciences (Neuroscience). Academically my plans have been put on hold, until the organization can function more autonomously. In Sierra Leone, we are a few short steps away from this goal. With a fully functioning board of directors, West African Medical Missions Sierra Leone works throughout the year to complete their own projects and objectives. In the US, West African Medical Missions is an Incorporated Non-Profit with chapters in Minneapolis and Maryland. This coming year we have a remarkable number of projects for those interested in being part of a paradigm shift in alleviating global health disparities. Our unique approach focuses on civic engagement in a global context. Volunteers on both sides of the equation are partnered with each other to learn, build, and create a dialogue to bear witness to the barriers to health existent in the global arena. We challenge all of our participants to view health and disease from a global context taking in many other forms of knowledge and knowing. We strive to challenge the epistemologies of our current notions of health to uncover the root causes of inequality present today. Our techniques are new, our approach is simple, the path is long and hard, but we remain.