Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 January 2021:
The death is reported of Mr Alpha Kalay, who passed away today after a short illness in hospital in the UK, aged 74.
Mr. Alpha Kalay is a philanthropist and successful businessman living in Yorkshire in the UK. He was born in Kissy, Freetown, Sierra Leone, but his father and extended family were born and bred in Bumban, Northern Sierra Leone.
Alpha Kalay emigrated to the UK in the 50’s aged 6 or 7 with his guardian – Miss Bairstow, an English lady who had spent many years as a missionary and a schoolteacher at the Freetown Secondary School for Girls (FSSG).
Alpha completed his secondary schooling and college education in Yorkshire and went on to serve in the Royal Navy , before joining the Yorkshire Fire Service where he worked with distinction.
In 2014, after visiting Bumban, Sierra Leone for the first time, Alpha returned home to Yorkshire with a commitment to raising funds to purchase vital medical supplies and equipment in support of the small local health centre serving the community of Bumban.
Alpha was determined to make a difference in improving the life chances of the people of Bumban and surrounding towns in Bombali, including Kamakwe, northern Sierra Leone.
The local health centre in Bumban, like most satellite health facilities in the country, did not have a resident doctor. When Alpha visited Bumban, there were two community health nurses who provided basic health care for the sick. Serious and complex medical conditions and emergencies were referred to the nearest functioning hospital in Makeni – a good twenty miles journey, if transportation was available. But Mr Kalay was determined to work towards changing all of that.
The road in and out of Bumban was atrocious – a death trap. Sadly, in most cases, acutely ill patients did not make it on time to Makeni. And the lucky ones that did – sometimes died because they could not afford to pay for their care at the hospital.
Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph in 2014, Mr Alpha Kalay (Photo) said: “Most of the unnecessary deaths in the district of Bombali can be avoided, if the quality of services and the availability of medicines and resources at local health centres can be improved. And I am determined to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.”
Just few months later, Mr. Kalay returned to Sierra Leone to supervise the shipping clearance of medical supplies – valued at over £100,000 at the Freetown Water Quay Port, heading for Bombali, including: 55 beds and mattresses; 20 boxes containing bandages, needles, splints, and urinary catheters; a 5kv generator; 30 air conditioners; items of furniture; 10 bicycles; 50 crutches; consultation couches; 20 baby weighing scales; boxes for the safe disposal of hypodermic needles; 300 bed linens; 50 blankets; and several children’s books and soft toys.
Mr. Alpha Kalay was determined to ensure that these life changing gifts will make a difference to the lives of the people of Bumban.
There are no jobs to keep young people in Bumban. Despite having a flat arable land, which has the potential to become one of Sierra Leone’s food baskets, only the elderly can be seen in the village, growing crops for their own subsistence. Most of the young people have left for ‘greener pastures’.
Alpha was hoping to change all that. His ambition was to give new hope to the young people of Bumban. Two medical specialists at the Pinderfields Hospital in Yorkshire, UK, had promised Alpha to visit Bumban to assess the health care needs of the community and the district of Bombali in general. The plan was for them to provide free medical care and medicines.
Sadly, Mr Alpha Kalay was unable to transform his dream into reality due to serious health complications. He was no longer able to travel to Sierra Leone. Alpha Kalay passed away today, leaving his dream unfulfilled.
The government’s call for Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora to do more for their home country is clearly being answered by the likes of Mr Kalay. But the government must do more to encourage and support sierra Leonean philanthropists like Mr. Kalay, in co-ordinating the clearance of much needed charitable goods at the seaport, and providing logistics for the distribution of these charity supplies coming into the country.
The village of Bumban in the Bombali district of Sierra Leone is one of the most deprived communities in the country. With a population of less than 200 and the absence of functioning health and education institutions, life expectancy is well below the national average.
Early deaths and the migration of young people in search of a better life in Makeni and even as far afield as the country’s capital – Freetown, has left the elderly and those incapacitated by preventable illnesses battling for survival. Young women are dying needlessly during childbirth.
The government says that it is providing free health care for lactating mothers, children under five and expectant women. But speak to the poor people of Bumban and the word healthcare, becomes a fuzzy dream.
Bumban is not an exceptional case. Most rural communities in Sierra Leone are faced with the desperate need for improved healthcare, safe clean drinking water systems, and electricity if they are to survive.
With the tireless and charitable work of many Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora, several communities up and down the country are being kept alive.
Rest in perfect peace Mr Alpha Kalay. You will be sorely missed.
CORRECTIONS – Please note that the previous version of this story has been corrected (courtesy of Mr Kalay’s daughter – Melanie Kalay) as follows:
Miss Bairstow – was his guardian not adopted mum, and she was a missionary and a teacher. Alpha was taken from Sierra Leone in the 50’s aged 6 or 7 to the UK..