Friday, November 14, 2014

Good news from Mapaki. Just off the phone with Chief Kebombor. They anticipate the last houses in the chiefdom to be off quarantine by another week; no new cases in the last days...thanks to a massive locally organized sensitization campaign reaching every household in the chiefdom...and thanks to the support of many of you. Meanwhile, Saidu's support of survivors in Makeni is also going well. After months of worry, I'm going to spend a few days in peace telling myself things are OK for now. Hands and hearts reaching friends afar. Thank YOU, my friends!!

If you are interested in assisting with Ebola vaccine trials happening in Halifax, check this site. They are seeking forty volunteers for a six month double blind study.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ebola Report

Hope and continued concern. Saidu is assisting the Makeni mayor provide support to Ebola survivors in Makeni and we have received photos and report of delivery of rice. Meanwhile, in Paki Masabong, we hear that deaths from Ebola continue but that the chiefdom has a solid plan in place. We thank the many friends and family who have contributed to purchase of rice, safety materials, youth stipend and other forms of support to friends in Sierra Leone. 

Chief Kebombor sends the following message:
Dear Carolyn, Saidu and Friends,
Thanks so much for the care and concern shown to us during this difficult time. The current Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak has multitude of impacts on the livelihoods of our people of Paki-Masabong chiefdom, our agricultural production and our food security drive. Our farmers' income from agriculture has dropped. Due to transport restrictions and the closure of our weekly markets, they struggle to sell their produce. Similarly, household incomes from other sources such as petty trading and service delivery have decreased. This is attributed to the strict regulations imposed by government in a bid to contain the rapid spread of the EVD in Sierra Leone coupled with the sudden death of family members, the unavailability of farm inputs as well as the lack of labor.

As trends indicate, the situation is likely to worsen in the course of the next months. We expect serious food shortages to hit the chiefdom. So many farmers are not able to harvest their products because of they are on quarantined status. Weekly markets for our rural farmers have shown to have an enormous socio-economic relevance in our chiefdom. They drive economic development and supply the needs of our communities who cannot fully self-sustain themselves. Should the restrictions remain in place food will become increasingly scarce and expensive. The incomes of our communities will continue to drop, harvests continue to fall and the people affected by the EVD continue to suffer from a low availability of and a limited access to food.

This Ebola outbreak also has a significant impact on the well-being of those affected within our chiefdom, our families, community members and the health workers treating people with Ebola. Our communities are severely affected by Ebola disease in many ways. People are now separated from their loved ones, due to illness or death. Those associated with Ebola are vulnerable to social stigma, worsening their distress and isolation. Ultimately, whole communities now experience the fear and suffering the disease outbreak has caused. Although these events affect everyone in some way, people in the chiefdom now experience a wide range of reactions. They feel overwhelmed, confused or very uncertain about what is happening. They feel fearful and anxious, or numb and detached. Some people have mild reactions, whereas others may have more severe reactions. It is also important to remember that Ebola has influenced how we normally provide support to each other (e.g., by not being able to touch people) and how we cope with the death of our loved ones (e.g., by not being able to engage in traditional burials). This has severely worsened our people’s distress.

Denial is prevalent on the fight against Ebola. Denial is still strong in our communities. Sometimes denial is as a result of the fact that the disease itself strongly challenges our treasured values of respect for the dead, solidarity, handshake and hospitality. Most importantly, denial is as a result of levels of illiteracy. One off sensitization is never enough. Daily and continues reminders of the disease to illiterate or semi-literate rural community people is the only way. Also the much public education campaign with aim to reduce the chain of transmission and levels of denial even amongst educated folks is equally a huge challenge as the disease has much misconceptions and cynical theories eve amongst elites.

Finally, quarantined homes within our chiefdom are facing direct problems of food shortages and better hygiene. Government and WFP are doing their bits but never enough. So therefore our quarantined homes need support in rice, and other cooking ingredients, soap for regular washing of hands, chlorine and any other assorted items that could help reduce psychosocial trauma for the affected homes quarantined within the chiefdom.

Once again, I thank you on behalf of the chiefdom for all that you have done and continue to do for us. Attached to this is list of some of the key items needed to support quarantine homes within the chiefdom.

Sincerely yours,
Paramount Chief Kebombor ll
Paki-Masabong Chiefdom

 Items needed to support quarantined homes in our chiefdom

1 Gloves
2 Infrared thermometers
3 Rice
4 Cooking oil
5 Other cooking ingredients (Maggie, onions, salt etc.)
6 Flashlights and batteries
8 Cooking charcoal
9 Sugar
10 Soap
11 Chlorine

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ebola in Paki Masabong

Terrible news again from Paki Masabong but hopeful in that action is possible. A resident in each of two villages attended a funeral and brought Ebola back to the villages. One village is near Magburaka close to Makump America and the other is near the large communal farm close to what was called the village of One Ose. In both villages many died and the remaining residents are quarantined in their houses. The chiefdom as a whole is now quarantined and no one other than the Paramount Chief and Ebola health teams may enter or exit the chiefdom. This has caused a crisis in food access, which is where we can help. Chief, who has been in the the chiefdom for the past three months, will travel to Freetown to purchase food and other materials (thermometers, etc.) with support we sent today. This will go to those in quarantine. I am hopeful that once the hunger season passes and harvest starts, more food will be accessible from within the chiefdom. For now, though, it is an emergency situation. If you are interested in also helping with a donation, I can send you information on how to transfer funds directly to the chiefdom. Please note that tax receipts are not possible for donations made this way, but 100% of your contribution will be used for this emergency. Thanks!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

A deafening explosion, blood, damaged houses, and confusion all round. Young Sarrah found the bomb in the kitchen area of our household yesterday. The people of Mapaki are in a state of shock after a cluster bomb, left behind ten years ago by retreating rebel forces, exploded, sending six women and children to hospital. The bomb had been left in the ceiling of the house where our household cooks, a place predominantly populated by women and children. The bomb was uncovered during repair work and Sarrah, who found it, had no idea of what it was. By the time Mommy noticed the strange object in his hands, it was too late. Bleeding and in a state of confusion, Sarrah ran to the bush, where he collapsed under a tree in shock. Toddler Adama, young mother Ya Beka, nursery teacher Mommy, students Augustine and Adamsay, along with Sarrah are lying in the hospital today waiting for treatment. We wait for news and and worry too.

The world over, children are disproportionately represented among victims of cluster bombs. While many countries ban their production as they mostly kill civilians and do so for decades after their deployment, three Canadian financial institutions (RBC, Sunlife and Manual Life) still profiteer from U. cluster bomb production, according to the Cluster Munition Coalition. After we heard the news from Mapaki last night, one of our children asked, “But why do people make these bombs?” Why indeed. Not an easy question to answer without thinking of concepts like evil and greed. Check The Cluster Munition Coalition for action suggestions and resources to end this travesty.

We are so grateful for the friends of Mapaki who have quickly stepped up the plate to offer moral and financial support. We’ve heard that, in the village today, headman Brima called an emergency meeting to implore all in the village to rally around and support the victims and family. Messages and offers of support have come in from friends in Canada also. This morning we were able to send some funds to help with the initial treatment and medicines (each shrapnel shard costs about $25 to remove). More will be sent next week to help with continued medical costs. Most importantly though, we send our thoughts and condolences to Mapaki on behalf of all of you and thank you all for your care and compassion. May we all live in a world (and country and province…that’s another story!) that values peace and harmony over war and weapons profiteering. Peace and best wishes to all.
(Photo - children in the kitchen area of our household)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Moments of incredible beauty take my breath away. Like last night’s light show. As the sun went down, the completely silent dry sky lightning flashed in and through and behind the one billowing cloud that hung at the outskirts of the village, fireflies marking the rhythm. Or the deep purple of the river blossoms undulating with dancing streams of river weed we passed over rickety bridges on back roads leading to boli lands. When I wonder if I’m the only one whose jaw drops at these sights, I think of my mom’s solitary response to the beauty of her adopted home. Maybe we can only see beauty in new lands. Maybe that’s why I love this land so much. On the other hand, as I type this, I hear my small nursery school friends calling me to the door, still singing our parting song, “Aunty, I’m tired, I want to see my mother, Aunty please lef we go home.” I think of the friends I’ve made over the years that keep me coming back and am making plans for return visits to those I haven’t seen on this trip. This trip marks a turning point in many ways. It’s my first visit without deep heart-ache or funerals to attend. No personal illness, tragedy, or deaths of friends. Many new developments in the community and the security of knowing that our own family is finally whole and together. Transitions on many levels. The needs and issues are as deep and strong as ever, but here, the community visitors and big white jeeps on the road are no longer addressing social concerns such as education of the girl-child or reproductive health but rather monitoring, evaluating, accounting, and dealing with the business of agriculture. Lots of talk of next year’s election and Ministry of Finance needs. Perhaps a greater focus on the future than the past. Over the coming year the world will continue to roll towards the uncertainty of impending resource, climate and financial crises and I expect that this particular euphoria might be fleeting but I intend to grasp hold of it for as long as I’m able. Until I return I hope to be involved with a number of developments started or conceived of here (nursery school, work of the youth group, scholarships, “birthing boarding house”, etc.) and will post again on my return. Till then, I hope that you also enjoy the moments of fleeting beauty that pass your path while we wait to “occupy the future”. Final photos of the year are posted here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday. The uplands were ringing with the sounds of women calling “Momo!” (thanks!) to each other and teasing laughter from hill to dale as we headed off to the garden to weed and deliver rice and poyo to the friends working there. I hear from Canada they expected snow today. Here we sweltered, drifted past sorghum, millet, sesame, and rice stands and after our labour, rested in the shade of a palm while the sweet smell of rich loam wafted our way from the withering weeds and newly planted mango seedling (I’ll be harvesting the mangoes in ten years, I’m told). Digging hands into the rich warm soil, flicking ants from sticky legs, picking at the massive quartz boulders dotting the hillsides while keeping a wary eye out for snakes, we mused over the ownership of any gold we might find at the riverside before we sauntered home after just a tiny bit of poyo. Everyone working in the garden today was a volunteer teacher. All are waiting for word (still!) about the possible granting of teacher vouchers to those volunteer teachers who have replaced missing teachers at schools. IMF conditionalities mean no new teaching positions may be created but, with so many leaving for the mines, it good to know that at least some can be replaced. In the health field, meanwhile, there are also a number of interesting developments. Young children, pregnant and lactating mothers now have the right to free health care and medicines, which has apparently reduced deaths in these target groups (perhaps explaining why this is my first visit without witnessing tragedy in the community). Unfortunately, it seems to come with a corresponding lack of available medicines for those not in the target groups, an issue yet to be resolved. I’ll be making my way back to the cold north soon (I’m told Canada’s cold is nothing compared to the bone-chilling wind of the Harmattan!) and hope that the good news encountered on this trip will hold through challenging times on the horizon. Time for a wee poyo nap, now! Oh, I am posting new photos each day in October 2011 Photos.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Never Lose Hope!

Move over, Nollywood, Mollywood has come to town! Featuring all my favourite locations (including my room) and actors (including the Paramount Chief), “Young Men Never Lose Hope” is a full-length feature conceived and filmed on location by the Mapaki Youth in Action Group. Produced sans budget with a Mac, video camera, and solar power, this action-packed cautionary tale about the wisdom of listening to your wife and parents and staying home in school rather than chasing the illusionary paying job is especially relevant to young people in today’s Sierra Leone. Word on the street is that youth are now flocking to the new mining areas seeking that elusive paying job. Unfortunately, most get nothing and those that do get short-term positions with a fast turn-around (so the mining companies can avoid paying benefits). And, unfortunately, it has also meant that most schools have lost their best teachers who are first in line for a higher-paying, if short-term, mining job. Problems all round. What an impact, though, working on this feature must have had on the young people here who are lured by the lights of Makeni and Freetown. Who says village life is dull? Congratulations, Mapaki youth!! At the same time, I’m delighted to hear that this will be a bumper rice harvest year due to an abundance of rain. It was especially gratifying to go to the new rice gardens today, bursting with rice that’s about to be harvested and stored in the large just-finished grain store, supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture. Last year the rice harvest fed the farmers and the surplus was sold to generate income. Nice feeling to know that many working together have had a tremendous positive impact (no talk of the hunger season this year so far). Thanks to all who helped provide the tractor which enabled the expansion of the rice gardens and gainful employment for the young people who have not headed for the mines. I spent last evening with some of those young people. Thanks in part to the scholarships and teacher support, there is also a bumper class of junior high graduates this year, all heading out for school interviews and beginning of term. Last night I listened to the advice of one seasoned student giving tips to his younger peer. Yes, you’ll need to take soap to launder your clothes, don’t buy six pens all at once or you’ll end up giving them away, make sure to bring rice, salt, maggi for the cook. There is some disappointment that we have no funds for new scholarships this year and I’m hoping to remedy this when I return. Soon. I can’t believe I’m already at the half way mark of this visit. Riding on the motorbike down the back road to the gardens; startling small darts of fish while splashing through streams; passing stands of sorghum, sticks and mile-high cassava; watching the road weave between washed-out bridges and new pitch; waving back to the small children who call out “Father!”, “Sister!”, “Carol!”, “Oporto!” depending on our location; satisfied in the knowledge that my pack is full of pumpkin, okra, rice, two eggs, and plantain freshly picked and destined for my mother-in-law’s kitchen; I’m already worrying about my impending departure and planning my return. Two homes and families and an ocean between. So much to traverse and treasure.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Arrival Part Two

Last night the drums dueled and the small children shimmied and the women sang long into the night. We arrived in Mapaki late, delayed by a missed ferry and breakdowns along the road. Smell of dust and diesel, hot, tired and thirsty (I’d left my stash of good water in Lungi), all was forgotten as soon as we stepped out into the evening’s dancing darkness. I’m still shaking off the dust and echoing the rhythms (sure there’s a samba call and response in there) as I continue to reflect on the changes I’m seeing. Freetown. Billboards promoting new internet capability along others warning of climate change. Power lines crisscross the city, connecting from a chain of towers from the distant Bumbuna hydro dam. While passing the poles that slowly snake their way to our chiefdom, I can’t help but remember Daniel’s dream that had been so carefully interpreted by the elders two years ago and expect that the advice of the elders is still relevant to all of us (welcome change but honour your past). The signboard for the “barefoot women solar power technicians” contrasting the expanding mining and biofuel projects was a welcome sight. As always, though, all is forgotten when in the presence of friends, big and small, here. Tonight we are celebrating Mabinty’s birthday with a taste of palm wine. I’m looking forward to spending the afternoon with Momi, recently returned from Freetown to run the nursery school. And all around, small children, all born since my first visit, are delighting in singing the songs and rhymes of the morning’s lesson. The scholarship volunteer teachers have all come to express thanks to those who helped them complete their program as do the secondary students. Daouda’s parents proudly shared that he came fourth in his class. Everywhere I go people enquire about the many visitors who have been to the community over the years and I’m asked to pass good wishes on to them. So for all of you out there, momo nu!

Back in Mapaki! October 2011

I’d forgotten how much I miss waking to the sounds of roosters and morning Muslim prayer mingled with distant church bells all brought in on the whiff of morning cooking fires. My first morning in Lungi, Sierra Leone, set me straight and anxious to get back to Mapaki where I now am. Feeling like I've never left but delighting in reconnecting with friends and noting new developments (gravity-fed water from the hill means no more bucket trips to the river during dry season; library ringing with laughter and song and little dancing bodies as the new nursery school gears up for daily class). Once again, I'm told that the junior high students have had some of the best exam results in the district and seeing the library table filled with studious youth and teachers while little ones crowd the floor and benches around the solar lights helps explain why. There's lots to do while I'm here (for a relatively short time) but I hope to post daily while here. For now I'm just letting you know where I am. Stay tuned for upcoming videos and photo postings.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

It’s time. Time for the annual brushing or clearing of the uplands for planting. Time of year when the wells go dry and endless buckets of murky water are hauled by hand and head from the closest shallow stream. Time for many to be dreaming and talking and developing plans. Time for me to pack my box, say good-bye for now and head off to Lungi for the remainder of my stay in Sierra Leone. This morning the sights and sounds and sensations related to all these times have been jumbled up with thoughts of family and friends here and elsewhere as news comes from Cote D’Ivoire and Canada and as I start the always difficult process of saying good-bye. The girls have headed off to their granny for two days and I had our room to myself last night, recuperating well from the previous all-night drumming (preparation for the brushing). My small friends stopped by with buckets of water from the stream, in case I had any last minute “brooking” to do. The guest house has been a hub of activity as cdpeace staff and community members talk on-line with Canada and with the women here about economic development and youth gather to develop a three-year plan with Munafa M'Patie. We hold one last meeting about the nursery school (I’m told of a recent report recommending that all primary school communities develop a nursery school for 4 and 5 year olds) and then the Munafa M'Patie people also pack and head off in multiple directions. For the first time on this visit, I’m alone in the guest house and have a few minutes to simply breath and gather my thoughts, reflect on current experiences and anticipated directions.

As always, I am struck by the incredible ability of people here to find ways to overcome or mitigate the effects of circumstances beyond their control. Climate change affects subsistence agriculture and the response is to experiment with growing different crops, using a combination of time-tested traditional and newer methods. I was delighted to hear that a group of women farmers may travel to the north of the country to see how women there have organized in vegetable-growing co-ops and that women may soon start producing jam. Wells dry up and work begins on constructing a gravity-fed water system to bring fresh water from the local hill-top to the centre of the village. In the country as a whole, 59% of children are out of school and the community pulls together to develop a nursery school to support the youngest and most vulnerable learners. Conflict arises in mining areas and a delegation of local peace-makers manages to bring communities and others together to address grievances peacefully. Global factors (climate change, exploding cost of food, peak oil, unfair terms of trade, land/resource grabbing, etc.) will continue to throw blocks into the path of this and other communities, but the strength, resolve, humour, grace, hard-work, and ingenuity at play here and the connections made with friends like you who share common concern, compassion, and strength will go a long way in keeping this community thriving and flourishing.

At the start of this year’s visit, someone commented that my blog posts sometimes seem full of misery and despair. It’s true that life is challenging here, beyond the experiences of most of us in Canada and that worry and hardship is part of daily life. I hope, though, that the joy and light and inspiration that keeps me coming back also provides you, maybe vicariously, with some small hope or satisfaction.

I will be incommunicado for two weeks and then will be spending more of my time in Canada but will be returning to Mapaki, the home of my heart, every year that I can. A number of blog readers have been helping with various community support projects over the years…rebuilding cdpeace, health, education, agriculture, etc., and I hope this support can continue. Each day I see or hear about another initiative that could go far with small support (as I write this blog, I've just heard of one more initiative from a neighbouring area that I hope can be supported). There are numerous ways and means to contribute to the community; please drop a line if you want more information. Looking forward to seeing you soon. As always, thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The slight nip in the air sent me scurrying to the five three-stone fires in the kitchen at 6:30 today. Each morning I rise early before the girls are up, greet the Chief, visit with Sallay, Mabinty and the other women in the kitchen and return to our “dorm” to prepare the day’s lessons for the young women who are studying in the guest house while we’re here (homebound by malaria). Today’s lessons featured readings on how to bake crocodile bread with palm wine leavening, life in big African cities and an introduction to Deborah Ellis’ “The Breadwinner” from Afghanistan. Adamsay, who’s not currently attending school but joins us with her baby, gave me detailed instructions and plans to show me how to bake a local version of rice bread with palm wine. Afternoons are spent in delightful after-school literacy coaching sessions in the library with dedicated Class One and Two teachers (one of whom teaches a class of over 80 as a volunteer) and eager six to eight year-olds who regale us with poems and songs and wide-eyed wonder over books about chickens and groundnut farms. I join the older students and adults in the library in the evenings while the small ones slip in quietly, find a book and nestle down on the floor to peruse with friends.

This morning my routine was slightly altered when visited by a delegation of women who asked me to join them in the community centre where they were holding a discussion on the needs of the young children in the village. About sixty women with small children in hand or on laps and backs explained that, while huge gains have been made in education, there are still too many children who are not attending or not succeeding in school and that the girls, in particular, seem to struggle the most. They worry about the number of girls who end up out of school and pregnant at an early age. A nursery school, they felt, would give the young children the extra boost they need to be successful in school. The community has chosen a space (an empty room in the primary school), a teacher, and held initial discussions on class size and student selection to make it manageable yet most accessible to all. Next steps for the community planning committee and teacher are to visit nursery schools in surrounding towns, organize some training for the teacher, set up and equip the space, and seek funding for a salary. When I return to Canada, I hope to help try to raise the $2,000 needed for the first year of operations. The nursery school will be an excellent complement to the other educational initiatives in place…the library, new junior high school, and youth training centre that serve the needs of this and surrounding communities.

As for me, teaching junior high students here directly myself for the first time is quite an eye-opening experience as I reflect on the challenges for teachers and learners operating in a second language with limited resources. It gives me great respect for those who successfully negotiate this system of education. Time to return to our science lesson on soil and check in on reading logs. Break’s over!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday evening in Mapaki. From my comfortable vantage point on the guest house porch, I am lulled by the whirring of the foot-operated sewing machine the tailor is using across the road to craft piles of bright freshly tailored children’s clothing. The sound of a thousand weaver birds in the tree next to the tailor provides a pleasant contrast. Small children, as always, love stopping by to chat and drop off small gifts. My latest was a tiny weaver bird hatchling, tenderly placed in my hand with detailed instruction on how I was to roast this delicacy. When I politely returned the gift, the children told me that tomorrow morning the bird would fly back to the tree. Let’s hope they’re right. The generator is running in the community centre and young people wander in and out to take in the last of a football match. Chief is on his porch, surrounded by community members dealing with the latest community issue. I’m just back from sitting with friends in the kitchen where my attempts to read from a borrowed Krio language book brought riotous laughter from all. I’m chatting with my house-mate about the latest plans and dreams for health education and organization in the Chiefdom, a topic made so much more personal by last night’s frantic round of visits to medical clinics in Makeni on the back of a motor-bike through dust and dark. Makeni, where people also delight in the daily six hours of electricity that is now available. When the lights finally did come on in Makeni last night, shouts of joy resounded from all the houses. As always on short visits, my time to just sit and take in the sights and sounds and smells of this Chiefdom is just too short and there are too many people and places that I’ll miss seeing. On this evening, though, as the sun is setting and the searing heat subsiding, I take great comfort in simply sitting and “genoting”.