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December 10, 2010

Motivators: Sierra Leone's Amara Koroma and Dr. Samuel A.S. Kargbo

Amara Koroma (R) and Dr. SAS Kargbo



This is the sixth in a series of interviews with participants at the Ministerial Leadership Initiative for Global Health’s Learning Collaborative Forum in Addis Ababa on motivation – what motivates them and how do they motivate others. This came from a conversation with two senior leaders at the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation: Amara Koroma, 49, director of financial services, and Dr. Samuel A.S. Kargbo, 48, director of reproductive health.


Q: What motivates you to do this work?

Amara Koroma: I will simply give you my story. I came from a very humble background. Things were very difficult, very, very difficult, especially because I had lost my mother early in life. I saw poverty all around me. I have always looked at my background and always hoped to God one day, if I make it, I should be in a position to help others. That has influenced me greatly. In my environment, secondly, living very close to the ghetto, and I said to myself, I need to break the cycle of poverty in my family. If I can break it, I believe others can, too.

What we need to do is provide a little bit of support to others in order to help them. One thing I believe strongly in is education. If it were not for education, I would still be in a cycle of poverty, trying to find my way out. What I tell others is if I can make it, why can’t you make it.

Samuel Kargbo: Poverty is very pervasive in my country, which is trying to stand on its own, but finding it very difficult to do so. Now that my country is investing in people, one of the things I discovered was that a lot of people in whom this investment is put tend not to give back. When we talk about human resources and people leaving the country, it is a very personal story to me.

My parents paid school fees only for my primary education. From that day to this one, I have had government sponsorship throughout. After primary school, I took secondary school exams and I finished second in the whole country. I got a scholarship, and then in medical school, I got another scholarship. So I very much feel I owe my country a lot. I am what I am today because of what my country has given me. My family was not rich. My father was just a policeman. But my story is like the story in the Bible in which Jesus fed 10 blind men, but only one came back. He said `Where are the nine?’ In my class, 53 of us got government scholarships, and 16 went into general medicine, but only four of those 16 went back to Sierra Leone upon completion of their studies.

You hear about all the bad health indicators for Sierra Leone. The reason is because the resources are not there – the human resources. All went away to foreign lands. How do I pay back? I stay.

Q: How do you motivate people?

AK: First, you need to lead by example. Your exemplary life will motivate people. Most of them know my background, they know what I stand for, and they see me put into practice what I preach. And sometimes you don’t have to talk much. You just have to remind them, I was once where you are.

I started in the Ministry of Health as a daily widget clerk, a civil service position. That is the lowest rung in the entire government service. I almost refused the position when it was given to me. The salary was so low. But I decided to be a daily widget clerk, and I steadily rose from that position. I tell people where I started.

SK: The first thing with motivation is you have to have a vision. And then you need to translate that vision for people for them to understand how beneficial it is even to them. Human beings don’t do something for nothing.

The second thing is that you have to have that compassion for others. You need not just to lead and be in front. You need to stop and ask them how they are doing. It’s like falling back and seeing why they are lagging behind. So you give them encouragement, and never criticize them. At times, I have taken blame for something others did. I understand sometimes that your foot aches because you have been running too hard. So I take some of the blame for them being a little slow.

Q: What qualities do you look for in hiring?

SK: Commitment is very important. I want to see that passion also. These people don’t come in big numbers.

   Dr. SAS Kargbo

You need to identify them. The other thing you need to know is what is the person’s personal benefit out of the job.

Q: Do you mean salary?

SK: It can be money, it can be anything. But I want to know why someone is so passionate, and wants to achieve that goal. Maybe it’s fame, maybe it’s non-material things.

AK: When you look at country like Sierra Leone, where opportunities are scarce, many times people find themselves in positions they are not really cut out for. Like the area of work that Dr. Kargbo is working in. Because lots of young boys and girls know that going overseas means you can find work, they are rushing to do professions like nursing. They talk as if they as passionate, and can be trusted, but as soon as they are trained, they go. And they go to the US not because they want to be nurses, but because they want opportunity.

SK: That’s some of the reason.

AK: For us in the Ministry, we are still working with low salaries. But many people are committed, and you can tell who they are. You see us going to work very early, and we will still be at our desk at 7 in the evening. We want to get the work done.


Other Motivators:

Khadka Bahadur Basyal Sarki, State Minister in the Ministry of Health and Population in Nepal.

Roman Tesfaye, director general of the Policy, Plan & Finance General Directorate in the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia.

Dr. Issa Bara Berthe, chief of statistics and information division at the Ministry of Health in Mali.

Dr. Aminata Kanu, MLI country lead, Sierra Leone.

Dr. Bocar Mamadou Daff, director of reproductive health in Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Photo Credit Dominic Chavez