HOW IT STARTED
Professor Aiah Gbakima and Wes Strickland met at Elon College located in North Carolina back in the early seventies. A sincere friendship developed over those years in school that has continued to this day. Wes went on to graduate school to work on his degree in bio-chemistry, while Aiah continued his graduate studies at the University Of North Carolina in parasitic diseases and molecular biology. After receiving his PhDs, Aiah returned home to Sierra Leone to concentrate on his work on River Blindness (Onchocerciasis). Aiah continued his research and field work even as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) started a violent civil war, but was forced to leave the country when the RUF entered Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Aiah returned to his war torn nation in 2006 and soon afterwards reached out to his friend Wes Strickland for help providing computers for the University of Sierra Leone. By February 2007 Wes had raised funds to do just that and was off to Freetown. During his stay Aiah mentioned a greater need for the people of Sierra Leone than computers: improving the dismal state of the health care system, particularly in remote villages far from the larger cities. Aiah and Wes discussed several approaches to attack this problem over the next couple of weeks, both men understanding that every major project starts with one small step forward.
After returning to Nanaimo, BC, Canada, Wes sent a paper to another dear friend and physician, Dr. Joseph Mitton, sketching out the concept for the Village Medical Project for Sierra Leone and asking for his professional opinion on the approach that he and Aiah had put together. Dr. Mitton was intrigued, and passed the two men's plan along to an emergency room resident, Dr. Heather Costello. Heather persuaded Dr. Mitton and Dr. John Flaherty that the three of them needed to make this trip with Wes to Sierra Leone to help. In November 2007, Joe, Heather, John, and Wes landed at Lugi Airport, and joined by Aiah, started the Village Medical Project for Sierra Leone.
Preparations for the Village Medical Project started in February 2007, with Professor Aiah Gbakima choosing the area of the country and the villages that would be visited to begin the project. He provided a comprehensive census done village by village where each household was given an identification number and a listing of each occupant's name, sex, and age. This census, along with current data provided by the WHO and the CMO of Sierra Leone, determines the type and amounts of drugs and medical supplies needed to provide the level of care required within these villages.