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Liberia: Day 2 at a health clinic

Well today was an amazing day. We had an early start. I always find first days of shoots tricky. I’m a bit nervous — unsure of what’s ahead. We ate breakfast and took the cars to a high view point so we could film a view of Monrovia. We shot vidoe of a a derelict hotel, an architectural gem that’s just been left to rot. In the 60s, 70s even 80s Panam used to fly to Monrovia and people used to stay there for the weekend. The view from the hotel would have been of this beautiful beach with a big slum on it. I couldn’t stay in a hotel, and go swimming in the luxury pool overlooking the slum…

Monrovia has lots of greenery — its potential is HUGE. The scenery is dramatic and the people lovely. A nation ripped apart by civil war, slowly…very slowly…trying to come together.

Then we hopped back into the cars to make our way to a little village (called M…). It was an hour and a half away; the last half hour was over hugely inhospitable terrain. I was totally lost. We drove through miles and miles of jungle and finally came to a clearing. This village was lovely. It seemed very neat — well laid out. As we drove in faces started coming out to welcome us. We were invited to meet the leader of the village and the elders and we sat and listened to some speeches. It was unbelievably hot, with very high humidity and we welcomed a moment to acclimatise in the shade.

Then my work began. Gordon and I did a couple of links and then I went off to meet Agnes and her three year old daughter called Babygirl. Oh God, she was so perfect and sweet! And Agnes was so graceful.

Agnes is 6½ months pregnant and would love to have a boy. We chatted for a while about what it’s like to live in the village as a mother and we got onto the subject of clean water. The village doesn’t have a pump and the villagers make the long journey to the spring. The water is deadly as Agnes sadly found out.

Her niece came to stay with her from Monrovia. They got on well and she really wanted to go to stay with her Auntie. She got sick. She’d been drinking the water. She wasn’t used to it and she’d been vomiting and had diarrhoea. Agnes strapped her to her back and tried to take her to the hospital but it was too late — she died strapped to Agnes [square strips of cloth are used to carry babies and small children on women’s backs]. The anguish and the guilt etched in her tear filled eyes. How was she going to tell her sister? She was inconsolable. Sadly, Agnes and her sister don’t really speak anymore.

I just didn’t know what to say except to try and offer a little comfort and thank her for talking to us when she clearly finds it so hard to talk about.

She showed Gordon and I around her house. It was immaculate and spotless.

After lunch we went back to the village to see Agnes get her check up from Mary Luke, her midwife. I had midwife-assisted births and hold them in very high esteem, so I couldn’t wait to spend some time with Mary Luke and see how she did her check ups.

The room she was seeing the girls in was filthy. Firstly, she’d check their eyes to see if they were anaemic, then they would lie down so she could feel the position of the baby, and then she listened to the heartbeat through the mothers’ stomach with her bare ear! She couldn’t hear Agnes’ baby’s heartbeat because her baby just wasn’t big enough, but she did with the other girl who was 9 months. I asked politely if she would mind if I could try and hear her babies’ heartbeat and I did! It was incredibly moving.

The midwife trained by Save the Children for £100 was making a Huge difference to women and children’s lives (she’s saved 50 women’s lives) and she does it with NO equipment at all, just a huge heart!!

I’m too tired to write anymore. It’s another early start and I’m shattered!

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