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Gladys Palmer leads Nuwach Ministries to show compassion in Sierra Leone

Gladys Palmer leads Nuwach Ministries to show compassion in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s healthcare system is still challenged and mired with an acute shortage of trained doctors and medical personnel. This war recovering nation has only one psychiatrist, and no psychiatric counselor. Its maternal and infant mortality is one of the highest in the world. Presently, the situation is gradually improving. Medical supplies or life saving drugs are unaffordable or unavailable, despite government now offers free medical treatment to pregnant women and infants. I spoke to Gladys Palmer, who led a team of volunteers from United States to help out in this desperately urgent situation. Here’s an excerpt from the exclusive interview. (Photo:  Cheshire Home boy’s dormitary gets new bed)

Welcome, Gladys. It’s a pleasure talking to you. What is the name of your organization? How and why was it born?

Thank you, Roland. I’m touched by your interest in the activities of Nuwach Ministries. ‘Nuwach’ is a Hebrew derivative for rest or resting place. It’s a wholesome word that capsulate the heart of this ministry: enabling people in attaining economic, emotional, physical, social and spiritual rest. Hence our slogan: “rest on every side for families and individuals” 2 Ch 14:7.

This is the actualization of a vision that I had conceived some 20 years ago. I avoid using the title: ‘Founder’ because the ministry found me. It gave life and meaning to my innate desire to help restore broken relationships, depraved and oppressed communities. My adolescent mind has struggled with the logistics. And I could never fully articulate it in a day, when such overwhelming needs weren’t prevalent. However, in the spring of 2008, I was fortunate to be in a room with visionaries, at a mentoring session in Chattanooga, TN. As I listened to inspiring stories of humanitarian efforts launched from humble beginnings, my ‘baby leaped’! At the same time, I read an article about the high infant and maternal mortality rates in Sierra Leone. The statistics were alarming! I was moved by a sense of urgency to embark on a campaign to reduce these rates. No longer did I feel the need to wait for my bank account to align with my vision. I had to do something now! So, in July of 2008, Nuwach Ministries Inc. was birthed.

What is your background and where is this organization located?

I was born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where I watched my parents take in orphans and caring for the less fortunate. My dad (a local preacher) was always paying for funerals, medical bills, kids’ tuition, books and school supplies. He also offered financial support to university students, both locally and internationally. Pregnant women or nursing petty traders left our home with bags of groceries and vitamins, supplied by my mother on a weekly basis. She also taught women how to maintain proper personal hygiene and to care for their young ones. When my dad worked for UNESCO in Uganda, it was business as usual: paying school fees and medical bills. By God’s grace, my parents turn 80 this year. I recently returned home to find them still sharing their resources with destitute families. As stated earlier, my parents were my early mentors. I’m involved in ministry today because they modeled it in me, both in and out of the pulpit, in familiar and unfamiliar territories. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in History and Sociology from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, and a Masters in Counseling from the Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee. I’m a Licensed Clinical Christian Therapist, with 9 years experience in the mental/behavioral health field.

Team from USA in Freetown

Team from USA in Freetown

Nuwach Ministries is a registered non-profit organization, located in Bradley County, Tennessee. Our website is: www.nuwachministries.org

Walk me through the projects you are pioneering, where are they located; how are they financed, the challenges and objectives, including the credibility factor?

The primary vision of Nuwach Ministries is to provide holistic care to couples, families and individuals; through the avenues of intercession, music, clinical and Theo centric counseling, seminars to enhance life skills and parenting, as well as distribution of clothing, food and medical supplies. Since the formation of Nuwach, Sierra Leone has been our focus. The vision is global, but charity begins at home. We have several field projects in the capital, Freetown. The ‘Help Reduce Infant and Maternal Mortality Rates in Sierra Leone’ project was launched in February, 2009. I solicited donations of baby food and clothing, as well as medical supplies from people who gave me audience.

The initial donor was a mother of a special needs son, who had a closet full of dressings, gauzes and syringes she needed to get rid of. At the time, I was an employee of the Hospital Corporation of America. I received a generous supply of IV tubes, all purpose catheters from one of our hospitals: Parkridge Medical in Chattanooga, TN. I received donations of baby food and essentials from Wal-Mart and Target and health supplements from GNC and Right Way Natural Foods. The estimated value of the medical supplies was $15,000 and the supplements – $1200. Some friends, relatives and I financed the cost of shipping totaling $800.

We were faced with the challenge of the items reaching the targeted recipients. And we identified 2 reliable organizations to make the distributions on our behalf in Freetown: Danke Koroma Foundation (founded by Her Excellency, Mrs. Sia Koroma) and Jesus is Lord Ministries. Our liaison was present at the inspection of the items and we posted photographs of the distributions on our website. In November 2009, Nuwach was blessed with a 7 member team that was willing to travel to Sierra Leone for a week on a medical mission project. The trip cost Nuwach Ministries nothing. Every team member paid their own expenses, from airfare to accommodation and meals. The team included a dentist, podiatrist and Ministers of the Gospel.

A small bible study group, pioneered by the Youngers of Youngers Furniture in NC, donated 30 mattresses for residents at the Freetown Cheshire Home.  Develop Africa Inc. of Johnson City, TN contributed school supplies. GNC and Right Way Natural Foods came through again. This time, the estimated value of the health foods and supplements was $8,000 and the medical supplies from Parkridge Medical were over $150,000. Other donors gave gifts in kind. My mentor Minister Judy Jacobs, raised 90% of the $3500 shipping cost and I only paid 10% out of pocket expenses.

Gladys with the Blind School children

Gladys with the Blind School children

The team conducted dental missions at 3 institutions: the Freetown Cheshire Home, National School for the Deaf and Milton Margai School for the Blind. We shipped children’s books, DVDs, in-door games, toys and teddy bears, which we distributed to the various schools. At the Milton Margai School for the Blind, I interviewed the Acting Head Master following a tour of the school and residential facilities. I observed that the dining area and some of the bedrooms were in dire need of refurbishing. We have launched an appeal to our supporters to help with these projects. I also interviewed Maiteh Turay, the Head Girl at Freetown Cheshire Home, who spoke about the need for a ramp for wheel chair users. She also disclosed the absence of a recreational center, TVs, DVD or CD players to cheer up the residents. Plans are underway to provide some of these resources. Six of our team members returned to the U.S in December, while I continue making distributions at local schools, clinics and hospitals; namely SOS Children’s Village, Rijanic Clinic and Connaught Hospital. Nuwach Ministries engages in the distribution of health supplements, baby food and clothing 2-3 times annually. Our goal is to do so on a quarterly basis. Last year, we partnered with Jesus is Lord Ministries and donated much needed baby items in March and December respectively. We also made donations toward their annual Christmas Day clothing program.

I’m in the process of relocating to Sierra Leone, to embark on another goal of Nuwach Ministries: Mental Healthcare. I visited the nation’s only psychiatric hospital and was faced with the staggering lack of resources and trained professionals. Sierra Leone boasts of one psychiatrist, Dr. Nahim who oversees the only psychiatric hospital as well as his private clinic. I spoke with medical doctors who lamented that Dr. Nahim cannot handle the high volume of referrals, as the only psychiatrist serving a population of 6 million. Due to the lack of mental healthcare providers, hundreds of clients resort to self medicating and other destructive behaviors. As a professional counselor, I am equipped to offer both clinical and Christian outpatient counseling to clients dealing with issues ranging from depression, marital and family conflicts, to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and addictive behaviors. My vision is to bridge the gap between early intervention and hospitalization, integrating mental health into primary healthcare. I’m working on the logistics to establish an outpatient clinic to render counseling services, as well as networking with other organizations to train mental health workers to promote the development of community mental health centers.

Why is this ministry personally near and dear to your heart?

I have an innate desire to see the captive mind and soul liberated, broken hearts and relationships made whole and poverty eradicated.  Isaiah declares in Isa 61:1- “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor, to bind up the broken –hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound . .” This is my earthly assignment. I am commissioned to be an emissary of hope to the hopeless. It is what I was created to do. God has called and equipped me to perform this mandate.

How would you help bridge the acute need and poverty gap in Sierra Leone?

At Nuwach Ministries, our desire is to rescue, equip and empower. Quarterly food, clothing and medical supplies distribution will not suffice. We envision the building of a home and school for the abandoned, orphaned and less privileged. Phase 2 will involve life skills and vocational training. Phase 3 will entail micro financing various projects, to boost the economic status of my fellow citizens. Education and micro-financing is the key.

Apart from Freetown, are there plans to expand the campaign to other parts of the country?

Yes, we have partnered with other ministries and organizations, with established branches in the provinces, and a team of trusted workers that can assist us in expanding our food and clothing programs: as well as the medical missions to other parts of the country.

What is your long term vision for this organization 5 years from now?

Our 5 year plan includes the expansion of the ministry to other West African countries. We also hope to embark on 2 building projects: A clinic to offer counseling, pre and post natal care: Nuwach Children’s Home and Academy. Once again, thank you for affording me the opportunity to share the heart of Nuwach Ministries. Pictures are worth more than a thousand words: access link: http://nuwachministries.org/news.aspx

Roland Bankole Marke © 2010

Roland Bankole Marke is a poet, and the author of Teardrops Keep Falling, Silver Rain and Blizzard, and Harvest of Hate: Stories and Essays (fuel for the soul). He’s also a commentator and activist for women and children around the world: recently interviewed by United Nations Radio, Freetown. Visit his website: www.rolandmarke.com

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