DOING THEIR BIT: Karen Blackburn (left) and Jude Coates plan their trip to the isolated village of Yiben in Sierra Leone, West Africa, next month.
DOING THEIR BIT: Karen Blackburn (left) and Jude Coates plan their trip to the isolated village of Yiben in Sierra Leone, West Africa, next month.

Gympie group changing lives in Yiben

GYMPIE'S Set4Life Australia is about to celebrate the construction and opening of a health clinic in an isolated region of West Africa.

Three members of the Gympie charity will arrive in Sierra Leone and travel to the remote village of Yiben next month to help establish the fledgling health service.

Set4Life Australia's Karen Blackburn and Jude and Amy Coates will inspect the facilities and join in the opening celebrations. They will also liaise with national health officials and non-government organisations to strengthen the service delivery.

"It will be wonderful to see how Gympie's generosity is making a difference in people's lives on the other side of the world," Jude said.

Local fundraisers including sausage sizzles, raffles and garage sales have generated enough support to build the facilities.

Sierra Leone has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, and a struggling health system, which does not reach many parts of the country.

Yiben lies in one of the poorest districts of the developing nation. Most people in this area have never experienced the most basic health care.


Set4Life Australia is well on the way to achieving its goal of providing access to treatment for the most common illnesses - malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases - as well as access to national prevention and immunisation programs. This alone will save lives.

The first child ever immunised in Yiben had her measles vaccination last year, when Set4Life's local co-ordinator lobbied Red Cross-sponsored health workers to visit the isolated village. Negotiations are now under way to secure a full-time, government-employed nurse to manage the clinic under the national health system.

Once operating, the site will service more than 1000 people in 12 surrounding communities. Set4Life's commitment to the people of Yiben started when Jude visited the village in 2011, while staying with her daughter Amy, a nurse and midwife who spent four years volunteering and working in Sierra Leone. Jude spent a week in their tiny school and, on her return, she and friends supported the construction and staffing of a permanent school building. Amy, who now works at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, will join Jude and Karen on their journey back to Yiben next month.

"In September, 2015 we asked the community what they needed most to improve their lives, and they told us it was health care. So with the generosity of Gympie locals, they've been able to build a permanent mud brick and concrete clinic, where that can happen," Jude said. "It's virtually a gift from one community to another."

The local charity's first initiative was funding the construction of a modern well, to supply fresh water to the village.

A Coffee for Concrete campaign was instrumental in funding almost two hundred 40kg bags of cement required for the building. The village is inaccessible by road, so materials had to be trekked in, each bag of cement carried by four wheel drive, motorbike, canoe, and then on a local head's head, to reach the site. A 1500-litre rainwater water tank for the clinic was carried on long planks by a team of local volunteers, through mountainous jungle terrain.

Local project manager Minkailu Bantama (Mallam) is the driving force on the ground, coordinating the contractors and the army of village labourers, made up of men, women and children. No one is more excited than Mallam to see all their efforts coming to fruition.

"Now is not the time to rest," he said. "Now is the time for the world to know that health care is finally coming to these communities."

Gympie West State School's supported the Yiben project by sharing the proceeds of a family bush dance last Saturday with the S4LA team.

Also excited are the children of Gympie East State School, where Karen is a teacher. The school is providing calico carry bags hand-decorated by the students to send to the children of Yiben. They are also collecting funds to buy learning materials for them in country.

Set4Life's expenses are all met by the members and generous sponsors. Every dollar donated goes directly to the health project and is tax deductible.


n For more information visit Set4Life Australia's website