A personal reflection from the SSLDF Building Engineer

Our SSLDF Building Engingeer from Spain, Virginia Canales will be leaving SSLDF and Sierra Leone at the end of December after 20 months working tirelessly on both the Magbenteh Community Boarding School Project for children affected by Ebola and from the most deprived surrounding villages, alongside several projects within the Magbenteh Community Hospital; the construction of a new triage and roundabout.

Virginia has been an enormous blessing to the organisation and the entire community, she will be sorely missed. The dedication and commitment she has shown has been second to none and has been an inspiration to those who she worked with and taught new skills to.

Virginia shares her time with us: ‘I would like to start my testimonial by asking the question why and how did I arrive in Sierra Leone with SSLDF?

As many of us have felt during our lives, I had the feeling that I could to something better than just going to work, attending the gym and enjoying the weekends with family and friends.

But what? I am not a doctor so I cant save lives, I am not a teacher so I cant help in a school. However, I am a passionate Building Engineer, and there are many NGOs across the world who need help to build and improve their facilities.

So I tried, searched on websites and so on, to discover that if you want to volunteer you must be a young person with any volunteer background, no matter whether you have experience or not.

I felt really disappointed, but I didn’t give up, until one day, through a friend, I learnt about the Swiss Sierra Leone Development Foundation and their project to build a new Primary School.

I spoke with the Country Director and before I knew it, I had agreed to come to Sierra Leone in April 2016 for a period of 6 months and build a school ready for September and the new academic year. It was going to be a challenge!

Upon arrival I quickly realized that my goal was not only to build a school but also to develop my team skills and knowledge about construction, organization, and the importance of working in a clean environment to avoid accidents and have a better result of your work, by taking care of it.

After the first 6 months I decided to extend my commitment and work on the second stage of the school project; to build a boarding house and do some maintenance work of buildings within the hospital compound.

Working in such a different atmosphere was very challenging and sometimes I lost my temper, or felt frustrated because things were not done the way I  wanted to, making me forget the real goal of my work in Sierra Leone.

Thankfully, during these 20 months, SSLDF received several visits from family members and short time volunteers whose view of our work helped me to put things under perspective.

Staying at the Magbenteh Community Hospital guesthouse and having to adapt to living with other volunteers who had left their careers to join this small community,  sharing their knowledge with those in need, has been a very rewarding experience and reinforces my belief that a better world is possible!

As a 47 old woman, my suggestion for all those who have had the feeling or necessity of leaving their comfortable way of living to share your skills with the others, is DO IT.

No matter your age, your background or the fear to the unknown, just go for it, pack and join the volunteer experience.

You wont regret it.’