Help needed for north Suffolk family

A NORTH Suffolk family, who decided to forsake their annual holiday to embark on an 'amazing' trip to an under-developed country, are appealing for help.

A NORTH Suffolk family, who decided to forsake their annual holiday to embark on an 'amazing' trip to an under-developed country, are appealing for help.

Just months after returning from one of the poorest countries in the world, the efforts of Jacqui Forte and her two teenage children are already reaping rewards.

On August 20 last year, Ms Forte and her 15-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, Ben and Katey Poolman, left behind their home in Ringsfield, near Beccles, to spend six weeks in the former war-torn country of Sierra Leone.

Aiming 'to help communities,' the family overcame 'a certain amount of trepidation' to help build a health centre, set up a sewing school and hold family planning clinics.

And now, Ms Forte is preparing to return to the Sierra Leonian villages next month in the hope of helping to make 'basic health care available.'

Calling on local people to help fund vital future care, donations are being sought to build the health centre's roof and for drugs that are so 'desperately' needed. A local Temne speaker is also required.

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'We decided back in the spring of 2008 that as a family we wanted to travel to an underdeveloped country instead of the usual family holiday,' Ms Forte said.

'We stumbled across Sierra Leone. Even though we had done all the research and had travelled to some of Sierra Leone's neighbouring countries, we had never lived within the community before, never really got involved in hands on projects, nor travelled to the poorest country in the world, let alone stayed six weeks - well our eyes were truly opened!' she admitted.

Deciding that as a family they 'would like to do something different and give a bit back,' the trio set off in August with the intention of possibly building a school.

'By September we were well on our way to building our first health centre having seen that education in Sierra Leone is one of the few areas currently receiving attention and funding,' Ms Forte said.

With an average life expectancy of just 38 years, a high infant mortality rate and a large number of the population still displaced after the 'horrendous' 11-year civil war, Sierra Leone is still beset by problems. But despite all the hardships there was a friendly welcome at every village the family visited.

Living in the rural village communities, the family admitted they soon had 'a good insight into the way of life.'

Ms Forte said: 'The hardship, the sheer hard work of existing and the love and warmth that we instantly felt was apparent and we also learned about areas that we could help with. Nearly all men have at least two wives and up to 20 children and yet most families struggle to provide enough food each day,' she said.

'After talking with the women it became very apparent that, in the main, they did not know that they could choose to prevent pregnancy, which resulted in us setting up family planning clinics in several communities, offering advice and free condoms.'

Adding that this was an area that she would like to develop in the next year, Ms Forte added: 'We need to establish a regular supply of condoms and pills to the rural areas along with fridges to the health centres and supplies of contraceptive injections.'

One of these clinics led the family to Petifu, a collection of villages totalling some 2,500 people. 'Petifu really captured our hearts and we started a partnership with the village to make a building and try to provide a very basic, reliable health centre,' she said.

During their stay, the family admitted they had 'a lot of experiences' both good and bad. 'Sierra Leone is full of amazing people with amazing stories and backgrounds, the hardships that they endure on a daily basis do not stop them being one of the most welcoming and genuinely warm hosts,' Ms Forte said. 'Whatever they did have, they shared with us - so we would like to offer a little bit of what we have in return.

'Our trip was an amazing journey as individuals, and as a family. It was emotional, wonderful, appalling, amazing, frightening and joyous - often all in one day,' she added. 'We now, as a family, have a permanent link with Petifu and plan to visit as often as we can.'

Returning to Sierra Leone next month to purchase and oversee the tin roof, try to provide solar power to run a fridge and meet health ministers to try to establish better ongoing supplies of drugs, Ms Forte said: 'Our immediate aim is to get Petifu Health Centre up and running properly before the rains come again in April. Our longer term aim is to take what we have learnt and offer this to other remote rural villages where they have no health care at all.

'We need whatever donations we can raise, people who would be interested in helping us, whether raising funds or coming out to Sierra Leone and doing the hands-on work with us, any information on solar systems and a Temne speaker to help me learn more language skills, thus saving funds on translators. Every penny raised goes directly to the projects.'

Contact Ms Forte via email or telephone 01502 716398, or log on to