Giving Back to Guinea
During the years that she was juggling life as a full-time mom and nursing student, Sylla was unable to visit Guinea, but finally, in 2006, she returned. On a whim, she dropped in on the nearby hospital and clinics. “There was no running water, and the buckets the healthcare workers used to wash their hands were contaminated. There was no money to buy saline to hydrate patients, and children were dying right and left in a matter of hours,” she says. “What I saw saddened me so much that I went home and cried. I told my mom that I felt small and helpless, incapable of making any impact. She said that just holding someone’s hand makes a difference. She really encouraged me to see what I could do.”
Sylla aimed high. She began writing letters to American companies in Guinea, such as Western Union and Total, to solicit donations. Almost immediately dream #6 was realized, thanks to Hyperdynamics Corporation, an oil and gas exploration company from Houston that provided enough money to stock seven cholera camps with antibiotics and saline and to rent trucks to rid the streets of piles of trash, the source of the disease.
As soon as she got back to Texas, Sylla made arrangements to personally thank Kent Watts, then the CEO and chairman of Hyperdynamics. Together they ended up forming American Friends of Guinea (AFG), with the understanding that he would secure financing and Sylla would return to her country once a year to identify new projects and make sure existing ones were running smoothly. Since then, AFG has brought electricity to the main hospital in Conakry, dug wells throughout the country to provide villages with clean water and supplied hospitals and clinics with medications. Dream #7.
When it came time to return to Guinea for her “other job” last year, Sylla requested three weeks off from her job instead of the normal two. Curious, her manager, Yvette Ong, asked why she needed the extra time. Sylla, who had never told anyone on her floor about AFG, explained how she spent her “vacations.” Ong championed the idea as well as the extra week, and then nominated Sylla for the prestigious Inspired Comfort Award. Granted each year by Cherokee Uniforms, the award recognizes non-physician healthcare professionals for exceptional service and the positive impact they have on others’ lives.
Sylla won! “This award makes me understand how different America is from other places. Here, it doesn’t matter where you come from—you can still win something like this,” says one of our newest and hardest-working citizens. (She took the oath on October 21, 2009—dream #8.)
In addition to the recognition, Sylla received an all-expenses-paid Caribbean cruise for two and $1,000 worth of Cherokee Uniforms and Footwear, which she immediately promised to all the nurses on her floor. “One set for everybody,” she says proudly. She was also flown to Los Angeles for a head-to-toe makeover—new scrubs, glamorous hairstyle and makeup done by a pro, who sent Sylla home with many of the products he used. “It was so much fun! As nurses we never get to do things like that, but we need to show the world that we are beautiful inside and out…and that we appreciate being pampered for a change. I loved it! I felt like a superstar for one day!”
True to form, Sylla adds: “This may be the Inspired Comfort Award, but it works both ways—it inspired me, too, making me think I need to work harder and do more.”
Toward that end, Sylla now also works with EngenderHealth, a New York—based organization that provides services and support to impoverished women around the world, including corrective surgery for obstetric fistulas caused by early childbirth, lack of prenatal care and home deliveries. “We are shocked by how many women have come to us for help,” says Sylla. “The problem is more widespread than we ever thought.”
Facilitating these surgeries qualifies as Sylla’s ninth and, one might assume, final dream come true. But her goals go on. She recently met an 80-year-old woman who had been unwanted, isolated and ashamed her entire life due to fistula-induced incontinence. “I realized then that we can’t just provide the surgery and leave these women to go out into their communities on their own. We need to provide them with counseling and money,” Sylla says with conviction. “We have to take it to the next level.”
Do you know an outstanding nurse like Sylla? Here’s how you can nominate him or her for an Inspired Comfort Award.
Sponsored by Cherokee Uniforms