A Newbie’s Perspective Part 4

Here is the 4th and final instalment of Iain May’s (MSc Global Mental Health student) contribution to the blog:

 “Here’s a funny thought, imagine a psychologist who does two weeks of intense training and research in Acceptance and Commitment therapy and yet can barely tolerate the flight home because he’s developed an irrational fear of flying. With the amount of turbulence we got I honestly felt like I was back in the car with Ibrahim…good god I hate flying! After 16 hours of travelling I returned safely to Dublin to be greeted by my family and a chicken dinner that wasn’t spicy! It was very disorienting trust me.

Our last few days in Bo, flew by, as was expected. The third ACT workshop was the best one yet. Over the two weeks Ross, Beate and Hannah had developed a great rhythm in delivering the training; watching them work so well together showed the comfort they had as a team. Outside the Bo workshop we were as busy as ever, visiting places like the Child Rescue Centre (CRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or the amputee village in Bumpe. Beate and Ross were able to sit in on a counseling session with a client in CRC and MSF. I couldn’t help but think next year I’d love to experience how an ACT session is carried out here. Ross provides a proper depiction of these visits in the entries below; these are a must read.

Meeting Hannah’s family on the Monday was also a big moment for us. At dusk we drove outside the city up a bumpy dusty road to a small, beautiful valley. We were attacked by a huge number of children playing in a primary school beside the house. With hi-fives, hugs and cheers we followed the 60 odd children to Hannah’s. Watching Hannah interact with them all in Mende made me wonder how cool it would be to learn a local dialect here. The Krio challenge has begun!


Getting back into the daily routine here I can’t help but feel a bit sad. I thought of the friends I’d miss: Ibo and Hannah Banana, who I wouldn’t see until next year, and Beate, who I wont see until August. I thought of the stories I’ve heard from participants and friends, and of the strength and endurance they had to possess during their experiences in the civil war. I also thought of how useful I felt over there, I was always on the go, whether it was helping with the workshop, carrying out my own research, or networking with other organizations. As weird as it may sound, our work in SL gave me a greater sense of meaning. I felt I gained a transparency into how I function and behave as a person, maybe it was because we were just so busy, I don’t know. I do know, however, that I’m still me, that I have not been enlightened with inner-peace, no not at all. I’ve had moments to myself on this trip where I was agitated; for instance, in my first night in Bo I got angry about having to sleep beside the motel generator; it felt like I was sleeping in a giant open-door freezer! Similarly, the first 3 mornings I was in Makeni I managed to smack my head off the door to the bathroom and curse loudly to myself; not the best start to the morning. Admittedly, the sink in the way didn’t help matters but how could I not get annoyed? It’s part of being a human. On reflection I do hope that what I’ve experienced can help me in becoming a better person. It is definitely something I can continue to work on when I’m home; to have less moments as a “grump”, as my brothers call me.


Reflecting on the trip as a whole I’m brought back to one resounding thought. I would never have imagined 6 months ago that I could have gone to Sierra Leone with Commit and Act as part of my thesis. I am eternally grateful to my Commit and Act team, my Masters programme and my family and friends for helping me in realizing this possibility. “



Saturday 2nd March

It was a 4 hour drive from Bo to Buret Beach so we set off early this morning. We arrived at our destination just after mid-day. The beach did not disappoint. Unlike River Number 2 beach, Buret offers visitors the opportunity to hire surf-boards and try their luck with the waves.

I had previously surfed a couple of times in Scotland and was more than happy to give it a go. Iain, on the other hand, grew up surfing on the West coast of Ireland and is a seasoned pro! It was great to get some tips from him. Hopefully we’ll be able to go surfing together in the future back in Scotland. I wasn’t the only one getting advice though. Corinna, Beate and Ibrahim all had a go on the board. 

As has been the case throughout the trip, the weather was excellent. As the sun began to set on our final day in SL, we were all feeling a bit sun-kissed. I think that it is fair to say that Iain was probably feeling it more than the rest of us!!

Fr Conteh (now recovered from his bout of illness) joined us on the beach and we sat together and chatted over a drink. With heavy hearts we made our way off the beach and began the journey back to Freetown. After 90 minutes of travelling we were back in Fr Conteh’s house – a sort of homecoming. We have an early start in the morning. The alarm is set for 6am so that we can catch an early speedboat to Lunghi and catch the flight back to the UK.

It has been a fantastic trip. It has been great to catch up with old friends, whilst also making new friends. We have successfully delivered workshops to over 90 people and we have learned much about mental health in Sierra Leone. The team has gelled well and we have managed to squeeze in some laughs along the way. Thank you to Beate, Corinna, Iain, Hannah, Ibrahim and Fr Conteh for contributing to what has been a very memorable experience.ImageImageImageImage

A Newbie’s Perspective Part 2

Here’s the 2nd installment from Iain Mays (MSc Global Mental Health student):

I must admit the comfortable rhythm I attested to over the first few days was shaken up in our last full day in Freetown. On Wednesday we visited 5 centres around the city, which provide support to varying vulnerable groups such as street children, substance abusers, mentally íll and sexually abused children and women. Where to begin! Due to our busy schedule in the day we were given small breaks when travelling between the different centers. Each time I jumped into the jeep after a visit I couldn‘t help but put what I‘d experienced out of my mind and think ‘Okay on to the next one’. On reflection I noted the great support we had for each other through out the day. There were Hi-Fives, arms over shoulders, big hugs, secret handshakes and a plethora of jokes so as to further nurture our ‘banter tree’. We decided, for example, upon Ross‘ alter egos: Jon Kabat-Zinn meets Bear Grills meets Ed Sheeran. We also provided each other with a surplus of film quotes and useful suggestions for nicknames such as: ‘Mammy‘ (Beate), ‘The Tank‘ or ‘Muscles‘ (Ibrahim), ‘Lurch‘ (Iain) and ‘C-dawg‘, or ‘All Killer No Filter‘ (Corinna).I felt it was only when we returned to Fr. Konteh’s did the heavy experiences of the day hit home. There were schizophrenics chained to beds, drug addicts in chains also; there were young children, some of the cutest I’ve met, recovering from sexual abuse and life on the street. How could I ever complain about anything? It was amazing for me to see my team-mates note similar reactions to the day; to see those I look up to, more experienced than I, visibly tired and overcome from the days events. As someone who hopes to work face to face with vulnerable groups, I was comforted by the fact that its okay to feel this way as a therapist, that these people are humans too and that they do not develop some magical coping mechanism for their work. As I write this entry I am influenced by what I’ve heard from Ross and Beate today in our ACT workshop in Makeni. This is the idea that it is human to feel pain and suffering, that it is part of our nature and that we must accept that we cannot change this. Until now I don‘t think I have fully understood this concept. I recommend reading Ross and Corinna’s blog entries about the 5 centers we visited for a proper description of the incredible work these organisations are carrying out.

Friday 1st March



During today’s workshop attention again turned to some of the complexities of the Mende language. Mende is a descriptive language and is less abstract than English. This can serve to restrict the extent to which individuals can express what they are thinking and feelings. The Krio language can also be limiting. Often when someone is asked ‘How are you?’ in Krio, people will simply reply with ‘I tell God Tanke’. Rather than produce an elaborate response to this question the individual often opts simply to thank the almighty that they are still here. Perhaps this is understandable in a country such as SL where mortality rates can be very high. In light of some of the limitations of the language, counsellors in SL must make the time and effort to assess their clients sensitively and thoroughly

Discussions during the workshop also identified additional cultural barriers for some individuals seeking help from counsellors. Sister Angie revealed that research that she has been doing with stakeholders across Sierra Leone found that individuals (particularly Males) don’t see counsellors as a valid source of support because ordinarily they would seek the advice of the elders in their community. It seems however that attitudes are starting to change.

Five o’clock signalled the completion of the workshop – our final workshop in SL for this year. This has come at just about the right time. After two weeks on the road, energy levels are just about spent. Our efforts have been supplemented by the enthusiasm of the participants that have attended the workshop, but the travel and heat do take their toll. It has been great to take ACT training to three different locations over the course of the trip: Freetown, Makeni and Bo.

At the close of the workshop there was time for a ceremony to mark the award of the certificates. We then had a group photograph. I swapped email addresses with many of the attendees and I look forward to staying in touch with them in the future. I think it is fair to say that attendees were inspired by Hannah Bockarie’s contribution to the facilitation of the workshop. We are hopeful that some of the people who attended the advanced workshop in Bo will be in a position to contribute to the facilitation of future workshops.

The team had a celebratory dinner to mark the end of the workshops. After dinner, a special court was convened to hear charges be levelled at each of the members of the party in turn. There were forfeits to be completed to atone for the particular crimes that people were deemed to have committed. It was a fun way to look back on the trip and remember some of the funny moments. Corinna, for example, was charged with the heinous crime of deleting a photograph of herself from another person’s camera; Beate was charged with going for a run on two separate mornings and making the rest of us feel bad for not doing anything; Ibrahim was charged with accidentally driving off without letting Iain get into the jeep, Hannah was charged with constantly forgetting to lock her door when she got out of the jeep. Me? Well, I was charged with shamelessly promoting the MSc Global Mental Health programme at the University of Glasgow to anyone that would listen!! We all pleaded guilty to our charges and accepted our punishment.

Tomorrow, we head to Buret beach for some rest and relaxation. We will then journey on to Freetown for our last night in SL before returning back to the UK on Sunday.