By Lincoln D. Ninneh (YES 2013-2014, Liberia, hosted by AFS in Nolensville, TN)
My name is Lincoln Dougbeh Ninneh, and I am a nursing student at Winifred J. Harley College of Health Sciences at United Methodist University and a proud alumnus of the YES program. During my YES year, I was hosted by the Smiley family in Nolensville, Tennessee. They were so welcoming; in just few weeks, their parents became my grandparents, and their son became my brother. My host family made me understand the hospitality, humility, and kindness of the American people.
As an exchange student at Ravenwood High School, I ran track and was a member of the speech and debate team and the international student club. My participation in those extracurriculars increased my ability to analyze situations and draw conclusions, and I became a self-confident team leader with a strong understanding of cross-cultural interaction. It was the most remarkable and rewarding period of my life. It not only made me a better person; it made me want to improve the lives of others.
As a nursing student, my passion is to help people live healthier lives. In Liberia, diabetes rapidly rose to be the seventh leading cause of death in just three years. Liberia’s main newspaper, Front Page Africa, reported approximately 75% of Liberians are living with either diabetes and pre-diabetes. Motivated by the unprecedented rise in this disease, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant to develop a diabetes education program. Through my initiative, Teach for Healthy Lives (T4HL), my team and I aim to dispel myths and educate the public about diabetes. Many Liberians think diabetes is a spiritual condition or something caused by witchcraft. We are working to teach them that it’s a physiological condition that needs medical attention.
Our grant project started with a two-day diabetes awareness and education campaign in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. On the first day, we held a radio talk show at Teach Our People Communications Inc. (TOP FM), which reached an audience of about 30,000 and encouraged listeners to have a diabetes screening. A total of 83 people were screened.
On day two, in collaboration with the Grand Gedeh County Health Team and the Grand Gedeh Youth Development Association, we held a diabetes education seminar for 70 young community members, ages 16 to 35, who we trained on the prevention of diabetes, identifying the signs and symptoms of the disease, and supporting others living with diabetes. Although most people in this age group are active, they are at risk for diabetes due to other factors such as alcoholism or poor nutrition. But we also believe that people of this age group have the ability and influence to make change in their communities.
Tarr, one of the participants, shared how the lack of information about diabetes affected his family: “One of my aunts developed a sore on her left foot. We took her to an herbalist, because we were afraid that the hospital would want to amputate her foot. And we thought it was a spiritual issue, and hospitals cannot treat spiritual things. In about two months, the situation became worse and our only option was to take her to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctor diagnosed her with a diabetic foot, and after series of failed attempts to heal it, they had to amputate it.”
Our future goal for T4HL is to make this a regular campaign throughout the country. We want to spread diabetes awareness to the remotest parts of Liberia. We intend to solicit funds from individual donors and continue to seek grant opportunities. We also hope to garner support from local governments. At T4HL, we operate on three pillars: health awareness/promotion, health advocacy, and capacity building in health. Our vision is to build a population that is fully invested in their own wellbeing.
The success of this project would not have been possible without the help of several organizations and individuals. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring our project and the YES Program. We are also thankful to the Grand Gedeh County Health Team, the Grand Gedeh Youth Development Association, and the Peace Corps Volunteers in Zwedru for their support. Our gratitude also goes to Mr. Emmanuel Kpone Saye, the Diabetes Program Supervisor at Ganta United Methodist Hospital for his guidance and mentorship. We want to recognize the expertise, time, and effort of Mr. Elvis Guandoseh, who served as a guest facilitator and helped with outreach in Zwedru. Lastly, we are grateful to God for our team of young volunteers at T4HL. Their diligence, commitment, optimism, and hard work has been vital to the success of this program.