sunshine community, freetown, Sierra Leone, Community, child care, malnutrition, aid work, surrogate mother, severe acute malnutrition, Action Against Hunger

The story of Marie Sesay

The incredible Marie Sesay tells us about her experiences looking after five orphaned children whilst bringing up four of her own in tough conditions...

By Action Against Hunger

Mar 1 2016

Here at Action Against Hunger, we believe that ensuring every child – no matter where they are born - is able to fulfil their potential begins with good nutrition. This article is part of our Healthy Mums Healthy Kids series focusing on the importance of good nutrition for children and their mums.

“I am a lead mother, one of the mothers trained by Action Against Hunger to raise awareness about maternal nutrition and infant and young child feeding practices among women and mothers in my community,” says Marie Sesay, 76. Marie, who is known as Mama Marie, lives in the Sunshine Community, a valley community, located in the western part of Freetown. She has four children, 18 grandchildren and two great grandchildren but these do not live with her. She looks after five other children (age 13, 7, 4, 19 months and 9 months) who have been orphaned or left alone.
“I belong to a group of ten women that are all mothers or grandmothers,” she says. “Three of the members of my group were pregnant at the time the group was set up. We meet every Sunday and discuss topics around maternal nutrition, feeding practices, good hygiene, and the importance of seeking prompt and frequent health care for our children and grandchildren."  
“One of the kids living with me now, Lizzy, 4, was brought to me by a health care worker when she was 18 months old. She was detected with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). Lizzy was abandoned by her mother when she was about 15 months old, and three months later, was abandoned by her father at the health post, looking really sick as he thought she was about to die.

"Because of my relationship with the health workers, they asked me to keep her with me during her treatment for malnutrition. It was really difficult at the start. At 18 months, Lizzy couldn’t even sit up let alone walk. Most people thought she would not live and others thought even if she does, she won’t walk because of the way her feet looked. Today, Lizzy looks really healthy. Looking at her, you would not recognise her if you had seen her then." 

Lizzy’s father was extremely happy when a year later he saw her completely changed, but he decided to leave her with me. He told me I have the ‘miracle hands that Lizzy needs’.

Owing to my age, the number of years I have spent within the community, and my role as lead mother, I command a lot of respect in the community and have become a kind of resource for maternal health and child nutrition counselling and management in the community. During the day, as I take my normal walk around the area, I also take out time to observe the children and mothers and refer them to the health center if I notice any major change that may need attention. 

The experience I have had with Lizzy is a true success for me as a lead mother and for Action Against Hunger’s intention of implementing this project with us. Now my home has become a sort of care center for the community. If you come around during the day, you will sometimes see up to 10 children left here by their parents and I look after them as they go about their daily livelihood activities.

My only concern is that now that I am getting old, I don’t trade or farm anymore as I used to. I only rely on what my children send me as monthly support. Mostly it runs out before the end of the month and I hate bothering the other parents. With support, I would like to establish and run a day-care and counselling center to better serve my community."

Image: Jammie Victory Sankoh for Action Against Hunger Sierra Leone