Tara Suri is the Marie Claire and United Nations Population Fund winner of the fifth annual Americans for UNFPA Student Award for the Health and Dignity of Women. Tara is blogging directly from her weeklong visit to Sierra Leone.
I love car rides. I love the opportunity to zone out, to settle into the maze of your own thoughts, to shamelessly sing along to the radio as the car sails along the road.
At the outset of our journey today, such enjoyment seemed impossible. The road before us was the bumpiest of roads, a potholed dirt path that snaked its way through districts and villages, over hills and down inclines. Bodies were flung back and forth. Heads hit ceilings. Arms smacked arms. I plastered a smile on my face, hoping it would subdue my mounting discomfort.
A plastered smile, given the nature of my visit, wasn't even necessary. Somewhere along that leg of the journey, I realized that we - the UNFPA staff, the driver, and Angeline, the Americans for UNFPA staff-member (opens in new tab)
I'm traveling with, had turned the bumpy road into a game. "Ma-he-he! Trouble ahead!" we'd shout as we anticipated a particularly gruesome-looking pothole. Then we'd squeal like children as we swung out of our seats (I especially enjoyed the giggle of the Assistant Country Representative for UNFPA, Mrs. Diara, affectionately called Mama Diara). We'd examine the Madonna stickers on the lone cars that passed, and we'd watch as dozens of men dangled from the tops of lorry trucks, loaded with hundreds of plastic buckets, on their way to collect palm oil from a remote plantation.
The trip – full of jolts and bumps and rockiness – began to acquire its own rhythm. By the time we arrived at our destination, a hospital in the rural village of Mattru, my initial apprehension had been eroded by smiles and laughter. The only real evidence of our journey was the car, which had been coated in a fine red dust (that somehow also found its way onto my pants…).
Yet while we had been able to turn the driving conditions into a source of lighthearted fun, at the hospital I became acutely aware of the road's graver implications. What did such a road mean for the seriously ill? What about pregnant women, or women in labor? Could they ever see the road as we did – could they ever joke and laugh about it?
I knew the answer was no. Nurses and staff at the hospital specifically emphasized that the road is one of many challenges to maternal health in the region. For pregnant women, who are already often discouraged from giving birth in a hospital because of cultural and economic factors (though the government has sponsored free healthcare for women to mitigate the latter), the lack of infrastructure poses one more barrier and compounds risk of complications for both mother and child. One such complication – generally preventable through a C-section delivery at a hospital - is obstetric fistula (opens in new tab), a condition that causes women to leak urine and even feces and face stigmatization in their communities.
Mr. Joseph French, a hospital staff-member in charge of the operating theater, highlighted that it used to be even worse. Even worse. How is that possible? I had thought as he went on to explain that during Sierra Leone's civil war, Mattru Jong Hospital had been shut down, forcing women to travel an even longer distance to the regional hospital to receive attention. The hospital had only just reopened – through collaboration between First Lady Koroma and UNFPA (opens in new tab) - and even more startlingly, had only just received full electricity and running water.
Joseph also made it clear that the hospital will continue to face tremendous challenges. These include the state of the road, access to drugs and resources – the facility had just run out of sutures - and the need for additional staff, especially doctors.
In Joseph I also saw the only force that will be able to reckon with these challenges – a force that I have seen in many throughout my week here, and that astounds and humbles me: dedication. "I have been here for nearly forty years," he told me, "and when the hospital calls for me in an emergency in the middle of the night, I always come running."
It is because of people like Joseph, I can see change happening in even the direst of circumstances, and it is because of people like Joseph that I have faith that the bumpy road to Mattru won't remain bumpy for long.
Read all of Tara's blog posts:
En Route to Sierra Leone With Hope for the Future (opens in new tab)
The Social Bonds of Social Change (opens in new tab)
How Are Women Always in Crisis? (opens in new tab)
James Middleton Reveals That Sister Kate Went to Therapy with Him
The third Middleton child, Pippa, also attended therapy to support her brother.
By Rachel Burchfield
Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis Are Banned from Doing This at Home
It’s a non-negotiable in the Wales’ house.
By Rachel Burchfield
Princess Diana’s Personal Letters to Friends During Her Divorce Are Being Auctioned for Charity
The 32-letter collection is both “astonishing” and “confidential.”
By Rachel Burchfield
Half of the Shondaland dream team, the woman whose work brings 'Bridgerton' to life, is one of the most influential producers in Hollywood. And she’s ready for everyone to know it.
By Jessica M. Goldstein
Payal Kadakia Is Finally Sharing Her Secret Sauce to Success
In her new book, LifePass, the ClassPass founder gives you the tools to write your own success story.
By Neha Prakash
The Power Issue
Our November issue is all about power—having it, embracing it, and dressing for it.
By Marie Claire Editors
J. Smith-Cameron Is in Control
She’s Logan Roy’s right hand. She’s Roman’s ‘mommy girlfriend.’ And she’s a fan favorite. Here, the Succession star takes us behind the scenes of Gerri’s boardroom power plays.
By Jessica M. Goldstein
In 'We Are Not Like Them' Art Imitates Life—and (Hopefully) Vice Versa
Read an excerpt from the thought-provoking new book. Then, keep scrolling to discover how the authors, Jo Piazza and Christine Pride, navigated their own relationship while building a believable world for Riley and Jen—best friends, one Black, one white, dealing with the killing of an unarmed Black boy by a white police officer.
By Danielle McNally
Love Has Lost
Quasi-religious group Love Has Won claimed to offer wellness advice and self-care products, but what was actually being dished out by their late leader Amy Carlson Stroud—self-professed “Mother God”—was much darker. How our current conspiritualist culture is to blame.
By Virginia Pelley
What Does "ROC" Mean at the Tokyo Olympics?
It's a temporary workaround in the aftermath of Russia's massive doping scandal.
By Katherine J Igoe
What Makes an Olympic Moment?
In the past it meant overcoming struggle...and winning. But why must athletes suffer to be inspiring?
By Megan DiTrolio