Heather Weaver is an occupational therapist by training. Her work with Hope and Healing International has included emergency response and community based rehabilitation, but her most recent work focused on mental health. She’s just finished her 2nd year in Freetown, Sierra Leone working as Project Coordinator and Mental Health Specialist for Enabling Access to Mental Health,* a Hope and Healing International program that partners with local organizations working in mental health (in collaboration with international partner Global Initiative on Psychiatry (GIP)). During a brief trip to Stouffville, ON to visit with the Hope and Healing International staff, Heather talked about the importance of legacy giving.
“In Sierra Leone, the community mental health work of [Hope and Healing International] is starting from the beginning. If you compare us to other countries in West Africa, those countries have programs developed, infrastructure that’s built, local staff who’ve been trained. But in Sierra Leone, we’re just starting to lay the groundwork. 10 years ago, Sierra Leone endured a brutal civil war. Thousands of families were torn apart and many civilians lost their hands or feet, often as a ‘protest against democracy’ by rebel soldiers. It’s impossible to find someone whose life wasn’t affected by these horrible events. Everyone, it seems, carries a scar with them from the war – scars that are on the outside and inside.
One of the most prominent and least understood ‘scars’ is the prevalence of mental health problems. While these scars may only exist under the surface, their effects can be devastating. In Sierra Leone, mental illness is so misunderstood and so stigmatized that it’s the reactions of communities and families that really hurts the individual. Many families will chain up a loved-one with a mental illness. Not because they’re cruel or want to hurt them, but because they feel they’ve no other option. They’re afraid their family member might hurt themself or others. They are desperate for a solution.
If we ever want to break the physical chains that bind people with mental illness, we have to first break the chains of stigma. And that’s what we’re doing now. We’re working in communities to change ideas and beliefs so that families learn to help those with mental illness. And one day we will break the physical chains around their loved ones too. Legacy gifts – a gift left to Hope and Healing International in a Will – fund 12% of the work being done in Sierra Leone. They help cover things like training for healthcare professionals to offer talk therapies to people who are living with mental illness. Right now, there are limited resources for prescription medication in the country, but talk therapies– allowing individuals to sit with a healthcare worker and talk- can offer a cost effective method of improving one’s mental health. Training health care providers in these approaches, allows us to make a big impact without spending very much.
I know that in Sierra Leone, and in other Hope and Healing International programs, every dollar is stretched as far as it can go to help those who need it most. And if you’d like to leave a gift in your Will to Hope and Healing International, you could help us lay the foundation for a brand new program in Sierra Leone or somewhere else around the world. It all depends on what you’d like your Legacy gift to do.
”Heather Weaver was the Project Coordinator & Mental Health Specialist at Hope and Healing International’s program, Enabling Access to Mental Health (Sierra Leone). Heather is back home in Canmore, Alberta, planning her wedding.
*Enabling Access to Mental Health is co-funded by the European Union.
Tuong is just one example of a changed life – someone found by a Hope and Healing International community worker, diagnosed and given appropriate treatment for his mental illness. Formerly thought to be demon-possessed, Tuong now lives peacefully with his family and is receiving vocational training.