Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Sia Lucia Gevao traveled to Sierra Leone in summer 2023 as a Tulanian ambassador to lead a mental health series within the KrooBay community, Western Area.

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Sia Lucia Gevao traveled to Sierra Leone in the summer of 2023 as a Tulanian ambassador to collaborate on a mental health series within the KrooBay community, Western Area. Sia is a medical doctor, a Public Health in Health Policy graduate, and an aspiring health and finance lawyer.

Kroo Bay is an underserved settlement situated along the western coastline of the capital [1] and comprises four communities: Kroo Town Road, Settra Kroo, Little Kroo, and Nana Kroo Streets. The population consists of predominantly adult males and children under the age of 18.

In the summer of 2023, I spent three weeks in Sierra Leone conducting a mental health needs assessment and feasibility study of the target population, stakeholder engagement, and participation. Historically, mental health visits from philanthropic organizations within this community have prioritized active substance users. Although this approach seeks to halt detrimental health outcomes such as insanity, drug overdose, and death, I leaned towards a preventative approach for non-users. Comprehensive data on the percentage and demography of substance users, substance type, hospitalization, and drug-related deaths were unknown. This information plays an integral role in carving out futuristic solutions. The lack thereof posed a challenge.

Kush is a synthetic form of marijuana prepared using different types of edible leaves widely found in nature in addition to formaldehyde and/or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The psychoactive component of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, actively absorbs into brain receptors where it alters pain perception and causes euphoria. These responses are the driving factors for its extreme use within this community.

An average household of four at Kroo Bay has a child. They make up most of the population. Children aged 9 or younger act as couriers for relatives who religiously use the above-mentioned drugs. Therefore, they withhold a vast knowledge of drug types, points of sale, and their desired effects. An important factual truth unknown to most kids is the lifelong effects these drugs have on one’s health and ability to fend for himself. This misleading or omitted truth, spearheaded by curiosity or peer pressure, has led to prevalent substance use among early teens.

To bridge this gap in knowledge, I visited the Kroo Bay community with a focus on scholars on the brink of transitioning to high school (Class 6). I partnered with The Holy Annunciation Orthodox Christian Primary School-Kroo Bay for a “Mental Health Awareness Series.” Topics covered include:

  • Mental health and substance abuse definition.
  • Ways we can care for our mental health daily.
  • Signs of disturbed mental health.
  • Ways children can refrain from drug use.
  • Benefits of refraining from drug use.
  • Contact recommendations.

In preparation for these sessions, I created a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation answering these questions. Five minutes were allocated for a Q&A session at the end of the presentation. During the Q&A session, a thought-provoking question that was asked by a student was, “Why are students not ambassadors in the fight against mental health in the community?” I was surprised and lost for words. So, I reiterate, “Why don’t we have young children as ambassadors in the fight against their mental health?” “Why don’t they have a seat in the front row of discussion panels?” These children want their feelings validated and are willing to express them if provided with a safe and supportive space.

Another activity required the kids to inscribe how they felt on a sticky note that was pasted on a vanguard for all to see. It was an overwhelming feeling to witness young kids identify their emotions on paper. Furthermore, art materials and water games were supplied at the end of the presentation as an anxiety-relief exercise as needed. The goal of this exercise was to exude self-trust. The ability for children to solely initiate and engage in healthy and rewarding stress-relief activities will hopefully eliminate destructive cravings or curiosities. At the end of the teachings, we concluded with a meal and a thank-you speech from the principal, “Mr. Kamara,” who applauded my commendable effort. He highlighted the need for such interventions to combat the crisis faced by our nation during these trying times.

As a Sierra Leonean, I am saddened to see vulnerable children being steered in harmful directions by their most trusted allies—parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, etc. This experience helped me navigate the potential drivers behind drug use within this community: unemployment, financial burden, and societal norms. Therefore, more organizations, no matter their size or origin, should work harmoniously to prioritize the future of our kids, nation, and world. The difference, no matter how small, is significant in these young lives. I implore the public health sector to further support our health systems by preventing higher incidence rates, relapse, and preventable deaths at the community level. This is a clear indication that there is more to be done in all ramifications.

As changemaker alumni, it is of utmost importance that we prioritize community engagement with an open mind. As we grow and learn, the people we serve should be the pioneers of our drive and should in no way be marginalized from these discussions. Their involvement delivers their most wanted needs appreciably and sustainably

Participants gathered for a group photo at the end of the session.


After the presentation, participants voluntarily engaged in mindfulness activity.

During the Q&A session, a thought-provoking question that was asked by a student was, “Why are students not ambassadors in the fight against mental health in the community?”

Two grateful hearts, Mr. Kamara who is the principal, and Dr. Sia Gevao, a public health enthusiast during the thank you speech delivery.

The fight against substance use is not a singular venture. It is a collective effort!

Engaging with kids during sessions to bolster self-trust that can withstand peer pressure through open communication.


(5) Sierra Leone: Trapped by the highly addictive drug ‘kush’, youth are ‘dying’ – YouTube

(5) Welcome To KROO BAY COMMUNITY – Freetown Vlog – Explore With Triple-A – YouTube