Better Late Then Never- First Impressions of Sierra Leone

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Disclaimer: This blog is many many months late in coming. Apologies are in abundance but excuses are more exciting (and more plentiful!)… Email, if existing, in Sierra Leone is slow and dinasour-like. Only after drumming fingers, rolling eyeballs and shaking my fist threateningly at the computer does it decide many minutes or hours later to finally materialize into something resembling a readable page. Aiya!

As interns with CIDA/ One Sky, Rebecca and I worked in collaboration with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone on a project of organic agriculture and environmental education called Greening at the Grassroots in the war torn eastern district of Kono, Sierra Leone, West Africa. Over the months, I have had a chance to write down some of my thoughts and impressions of my time in Sierra Leone. I hope that you will enjoy reading them:)

Koidu Town, Kono district of Sierra Leone is a ruff and tuff mining town. Although, Koidu is only 218 miles from Freetown, it is a huge endeavour to travel to and fro. It seems to take us a constant 12 hours and several vehicles to make the trip! Our first stop: Freetown’s main lorry station. A crowded, teeming mass of random youths grabbing at our bags, demanding to know where we are going; grubby urchins clutching at sticky, sand covered lollipops; women vendors carrying their plastic bucket loads of shoes, soap, bread or plantain atop their heads;(grease covered mechanics sprawled out under dilapatated vehicles (guaranteed to break down once or twice along the route!) Into small minivans or podapodas, we crowd, packed in like sardines; wedged in the middle of sweaty bodies, legs scrunched, arms and elbows skewed in all different directions, I can usually gasp in a breath of “fresh” air!

During our first few weeks of integrating into life in Sierra Leone, Rebecca and I crowd into the office guest room… but Sierra Leonean’s have absolute zip sense of personal space, and after a few too many early morning busy-bodies coming to “visit” we finally needed to get our own place to live. Construction progressed small small for a small one room cement room with a bed, our backpacks, and trusty flashlights. Regardless of where we were, life consisted of our obsession with bodily functions: sweating and bowel movements lol! who would have thought these things would hold such facination!:):) Constantly wrapped in a cocoon-like oven of never ceasing heat, mesh protects us at night from the humming threat of rogue mosquitoes, and the flickering candle gives off little more the another source of warmth. Hot and steamy; chaotic and noisy- welcome to Sierra Leone.

Rebecca and I were invited to attend the Holy Ghost Bible Church in Koidu with a friend. Ohya! My whole body is still vibrating with the thought of all the exuberance! So much shouting, signing, feet-stomping, fist shaking, hallelujahs, amens and of course sweat mopping!!

In the Kono district, Rebecca and I work with four farmer groups who participate in a sustainable farming cooperative. Many of the groups are made up of “part-time” farmers who are partaking in this for sustainable food security. The groups have a field where they multi-crop (cassava, rice, corn), another smaller garden plot (cucumber and sweet potato) and one area where they do a value added project (medicinal plants, bee keeping or garri processing).One Sky and the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone provide these cooperatives with funding to purchase seeds and equipment, to build a storage shed as well as training workshops on a variety of issues from permaculture to financial management. Although most of the farmers are extremely hardworking there is a general pervasive attitude of aid-dependency, and the expectancy that the aid-organization is a never ending source of money. The Woama Cooperative seems to be focused on acquiring funding for a ricemill. We have had several meetings with them: meeting in the unfinished storage shed. Protocol requires that formal introductions occur. Then business. The group members must decide what project they want to do for their value added component. The options are medicinal plants or bee-keeping, but instead, they request that One Sky provide a rice mill for their group. Apparently, World Vision has already provided a mill to their entire community, but it has broken down, and they do not have the funds to repair it. Mr. Aruna (the agriculturalist with whom we work) declines the request, telling us later that the villagers would expect One Sky to provide fuel and repairs. So the group discuss the original options, and oscillate between the two choices, finally deciding on bee-keeping… oh no wait… medicinal plants. It appears that no one really knows the pros and cons of either option. They will bring in experts from Freetown to hold workshops and training seminars. Next item on the agenda is the group’s request for a dry floor. It seems as though they will be “unable” to continue with their rice harvest without a cement block. Mr. Aruna tells the group he will speak with One Sky about the request, and the possibility of transferring money from the seed fund for the construction of the floor. I ask him what the groups will do when they need money to purchase future seeds. The question seems to take everyone by surprise: are they just patronizing the foreigner or did no one take this potential problem into consideration?


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