Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE), David Moinina Sengeh has narrated his vision of making Sierra Leone the centre for regional care of prosthetics.
Recently, Minister Sengeh’s PHD Supervisor, Prof Hughherr from Medialab and President Julius Maada Bio were in discussions about making Sierra Leone a state-of-the-art hub for prosthetics, Orthotics and physical therapy care. The team then signed an MOU with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to Kickstart a multi-million dollar partnership that will lead to the training of a Category 1 prosthetistand up to 16 Category 11 Clinicians.
Reacting to this recent development, Sengeh used lyrics of late American rapper, Christopher Wallace commonly known as Notorious BIG, which states that, “It was all a dream.”
The Minister further narrated his vision and reflected on his journey.
He explained that, “Before I left Sierra Leone to study at Harvard as a first year college student, I visited the Amputee Center/National Rehabilitation Center in Aberdeen Freetown. I had questions and I wanted data. I also had a dream that it could be one of the best facilities providing care for amputees. I changed course in Havard and worked on vaccines instead. Dream paused.
4 years later, I visited and engaged again as I was about to start my PhD at MIT, on prosthetics. Dream rekindled. My dream was to design prosthetic sockets that could be comfortable for anyone and everyone.
At MIT, I invented new devices and developed novel solutions with friends. I didn’t test them in Sierra Leone but with my professor, Hugh Herr, we believed that our solutions would be used in Sierra Leone and places that needed them. But I left the lab and went to IBM and changed courses to data science. Dream paused again.
But I still engaged prosthetists and adviced students. I still went back to MIT Media Lab and Biomech every time I was in the US and I still saw my work in the lab. Some how my dream kept alive.
Then President Bio invited me to Sierra Leone, seemingly taking me finally away from technical prosthetic work.
But that actually turned to be the final jigsaw in the puzzle. He made me Chief Innovation Officer. He went to MIT to give a public lecture in 2019. I facilitated an MOU with the government. Then he toured the media lab and challenged us to bring them to Sierra Leone. Then he went again to Boston and met Hugh Herr and it moved from ideas in 2021. A donor committed money and MIT Bionics Center put Sierra Leone in their program. Dream awakened!
When Hugh called me one night to talk about this project and that students will be coming here, it felt unreal. Many months later, and several visits from those students and deeper collaboration with the Ministry of Health officials and NRC staff in Freetown, Bo, Kono and Makeni, that dream became closer and closer.
And boom, Hugh Herr was on his way to Sierra Leone. We would be at the same NRC I was at 16 years earlier. Some of the same staff still there. Then boom, Hugh was in Sierra Leone giving a lecture to a room of over 150 students I teach at FBC. And boom, Hugh was having a reception with private sector and academics. Kaboom I was hosting Hugh in my office as Minister.
The real banger was seeing and listening to Hugh and President Bio imagine a new vision- to make Sierra Leone a Center for the best regional care for prosthetics and orthotics. The passion, the vision, the dream!
As we start implementing the MoU already via training of staff, procurement of goods, installation of infrastructure and more, I can’t help but smile- all the naysayers, critics and all the supporters, they all helped today happen.
It’s ok to dream. And it’s ok to smile when those dreams unfold, but you never give up. That’s my message to young Sierra Leoneans… repeat daily “I can change Sierra Leone. You can change Sierra Leone. We can change Sierra Leone.”