Tuesday, January 23, 2018

in Guinea with Unicef UK (2013)

We're hosting a fundraiser for Unicef UK to mark Tom Hiddleston's birthday. If you are able, please donate! Also, we have prizes!!! The fundraiser closes on February 10, 2019. 

January 21 - February 1, 2013:

This week marks five years since Tom Hiddleston's first mission with Unicef UK. Tom visited Guinea is West Africa to learn more about Unicef's work with education, child protection, water and sanitation in the country.

Tom posted several videos of himself very excitedly packing for the trip. And if anyone remembers there was a contest online to guess which country Tom would be traveling to (I believe only two people correctly guessed Guinea). 

While in Guinea, Tom kept a field diary detailing what he saw he day. Pictures and excerpts below:

Day One: 

Above all else, the children, who will inherit the future, and shape the future of this country – need clean water, iron, minerals, vitamins, inoculation against disease, and education.

Day Two: 

Any surges of adventurous adrenalin that I had previously felt about travelling in West Africa were tempered immediately by the sight of these children. The doctors and nurses were helpful and informative about the specific details of each of the children’s individual problems, but I was simply overwhelmed by the sight of so many small infants in such great need. One small ward – about the size of a single room in a two-star or three-star hotel in the UK – housed at least twenty children, some of whom I was told had slim chances of survival. Their arms and legs were indescribably thin, their cheeks tear-stained, their skin a harrowing, slate-grey.Most shocking to me was the speed and urgency of their breathing, asleep or awake, but it was uniformly unsettled and uneven. When you see a child struggling so hard simply to breathe, it makes your heart hurt. Many of these children had lung infections, and most if not all had been admitted because of malnutrition, or an inheritance of a condition due to the malnutrition of their mothers.

Day Three:

What happened next was the most uplifting experience of my journey so far. I was invited by a young family into their home. They live in a circular hut, under which is one singular room, with a circumference of about 15 feet across. The roof is thatch made of straw. Inside I am introduced by Idrissa, the regional chief of Unicef’s office for Eastern Guinea, to a couple and their three children, a boy and two girls. They are uniformly beautiful. The father is calm and quiet, with an open, handsome face, while the mother is shy, her skin radiant, and a smile that could launch a thousand ships. Her children are well behaved, quiet and curious. Idrissa asks if I have any questions. I compliment them on their house, for it is beautiful inside. There is a bed, which serves also as bench and table, with various tools and pots hung strategically along the walls. I say how well her children look, how strong they seem. Her elder daughter reminds me of my niece. I ask if there have been any problems at all in their upbringing and nurture. “No,” she says simply. Were they born at the centre de santé? “No,” she says, “they were all born at home.” I ask if she had easy access to vaccinations. “Yes,” she says. “The day they were born”. She says their biggest problem is that they do not have enough food. They work hard, and still there is not enough. But they grow their own rice crop and haricots. Pauline asks if she was able to breastfeed her children. “Yes,” she says, “for six months each of them”. How did you know to do that, I ask. “I walked to the centre de santé,” she replies, “when I was pregnant. They told me I should breastfeed. Also I heard it on the radio”. That’s fantastic, I say. I tell the father I have been looking at the water situation in the village, and the new programme for better water hygiene. He replies that it’s very important. He always tells his son he must wash his hands before eating. I tell him his boy is looking strong, and that when I was a child I was always taught mens sana in corpore sano. A healthy mind in a healthy body. Idrissa translates. The father says this has made his day. It is a great honour for him. He is happy.

Day Four: 

What is the biggest problem for you here, I ask? Water, they reply. There is no water. The statement is so basic and baldly stated it hits me like a club to the head. Can you talk more about that, we ask? One woman speaks up. There is only one well, it is a long walk from the village, and we only have access to it for certain hours of the day because it is controlled by the military. I don’t need to expand on this. They are deprived of a basic need. What follows is a demonstration of the methods of screening small children for signs of malnutrition. The first test is relatively simple. A small coloured band, like a bracelet or an ankle belt, is threaded around the left arm of the child, between the elbow and shoulder, to measure the width of their upper arm. If the measurement is in the green zone than all is well, in the yellow or red then there is cause for further treatment as the child is either moderately or severely malnourished. If a child is diagnosed to be malnourished, they are immediately treated by the centre de santé or referred to the local hospital which treats the most severe cases of malnutrition where there are also other complications. These complications may have caused the malnutrition, they may be a result of malnutrition, or they may have exacerbated existing malnutrition. Whatever the case, these are very sick children.

Day Five:

The children in École Moriakhory are obedient and alert. I enter one classroom and there’s no teacher in there. But they’re all sitting quietly. It occurs to me that it was never like that when I was at school in England. If the teacher left the room, there’d be a riot. Here, children want to learn. There’s a poem on the blackboard. It’s about Guinea. Can we all recite the poem together, Julien asks. And we do. The lyrics are beautiful. I wish I could remember them. I wish I’d taken a photograph of the blackboard. The poem was about their country. La Guinée est un beau pays. Un beau pays.Something like that. As we pull away I feel glad that on my last day I saw such a joyful example of Unicef’s work in Guinea. The country has many difficulties, and I have faced them in all their stark reality this week. But to see healthy children, in love with learning, and happy in their play is restorative and invigorating. It gives me a sense of balance.


Obviously this is a post meant to focus on charity work and not what Tom's wearing so I am only going to highlight one thing. The Unicef Ambassador shirt Tom is wearing in most images can be bought online from Unicef USA/UK (or whatever you local Unicef is). The Help Spread the Unicef Message shirt is $20 from Unicef USA and proceeds will provide 64 sachets of oral rehydration salts that help children combat dehydration and diarrhea. 

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