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House Notes: Caring for Mothers, Sierra Leone (Part 2: The Development of Rotifunk Hospital)

In 1891, the Women’s Missionary Association of the United Brethren in Christ sent Dr. Marietta Hatfield of Miami County Ohio to the Rotifunk mission station in Moyamba, Sierra Leone. There Dr. Hatfield’s medical work eventually led to founding a hospital. Dr. Hatfield was joined by two other medical women sent by the Women’s Missionary Association, Dr. Mary C. Archer, and Ella M. Scherick.

Tragically, all three women were killed in an uprising in 1898, when the British colonial government levied a tax on the indigenous people. Missionaries were targeted because they spoke English and were therefore associated with the British. Sierra Leonean church members also lost their lives. The hospital was ransacked and looted. Yet the United Brethren in Christ were not discouraged: they sent more missionaries, rebuilt the damaged properties, and advanced the mission into more places.

In 1932, Dr. Mabel Silver, from Baltimore, Maryland, was sent to Rotifunk by the Women’s Missionary Association. At that time, Dr. Silver described the hospital as one ward with three beds, with only herself and an interpreter as staff. They could handle 12–15 mothers and babies at a time. In 1951, a small cement building was constructed to hold a laboratory, pharmacy, delivery room, maternity unit, wards for men and women, and a surgical room. In 1953, a nurse-midwife from England arrived, and she and Dr. Silver began a school to train local women from Sierra Leone to become midwives.

Dr. Silver dedicated her professional life to the people of Rotifunk. When she retired in 1962, the maternity ward and baby clinic cared for 500–700 babies a week. In addition, 66,000 additional patients were treated annually. (For this story, I have borrowed heavily from Esther Megill’s 1983 account of Dr. Silver’s work, which appeared in Response magazine.)

Unfortunately, the hospital was severely damaged in the 1992-2002 civil uprising in Sierra Leone. The government took over the hospital and attempted to raise money with international partners to rebuild. Recently, the government of Sierra Leone has asked United Methodists for help with Rotifunk once again.

But this is not the end of the story of United Methodist Maternal Health Care Ministries in Sierra Leone. In my next blog we go to Freeport, Sierra Leone to discover the roots of Kissy United Methodist Hospital where Nurse Janet Bio serves as the Head Midwife.

Till next time...

Christie R. House

Editor

New World Outlook

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Comments

  1. Rosetta Zizer says:
    could you please send me updates
    Apr 15th, 2012
  2. sharon says:
    Dr. Mabel was the best friend of my Aunt Katherine from Baltimore. We called her Aunt Mabel! So much of this story has never been told before. These were truely great women!
    Feb 13th, 2012
  3. Rosetta Zizer Editor in Chief Freetown Express says:
    Thanks for the write-up please update me withever new information on African is available
    May 3rd, 2012
  4. Grace Caulker. RN. MPH says:
    Interesting history. Alert me when new info is available.
    Oct 17th, 2011

Christie House

Christie House is the editor of New World Outlook, the mission magazine of The United Methodist Church, and an active member of St. Paul and St. Andrew UMC in Manhattan.

About This Blog

Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.