My time in Sierra Leone so far has been indescribable. I wish I could share even just a fraction of all I’ve been learning, doing, seeing, experiencing, feeling. Unfortunately, accessing a computer has been quite challenging and the post I wrote this morning has just been lost to a virus. What follows is a brief snapshot of some key points. First of all, I am overwhelmed by the level of cohesion and organization at both the village and household level. I am living in a household of 54 people which functions like a well-oiled machine. Each member of the household has a clear role and responsibility and all work together to grow, tend, harvest, and prepare the food, maintain the compound, care for the children, peacefully with no obvious conflicts. I’m slowly transitioning from a guest to a family member as I’m trying my hand at all tasks and was honoured to be asked by the women this week to be the person to apportion the rice, a Herculean task as the amount of rice each eating group (people who bond together by sharing food) gets needs to match the amount available. The same level of peace and organization exists at the village level. All issues are discussed at length by a full spectrum of the community. Each day there are a variety of gatherings in various locations to make decisions and implement plans, resulting in a wide range of initiatives to address the needs of the village (adult literacy by teachers; micro credit by women; health issues by youth; school gardens which feed students, combine theory and practice, and cover costs of running a school.). And all is done with a great deal of humour, care, respect, and dignity. In many ways I feel like I have stepped into an idyllic community which embodies most of the values I hold and I know it will be difficult for me to leave in May. When I do leave, I also know that I will be taking more back with me in the form of understanding community, democracy, sustainability, etc. than I could ever hope to give.
There is another side to this story, though. I’ve arrived during the time of year that harvests are running out, there is hunger and homes without rice, and the real impact of food insecurity is clearly obvious in many. While the human resources (knowledge, commitment, experience, etc.) abound, the obstacles are many (the schools can’t access the kind of seeds they need for successful crops, the adult literacy group has run out of kerosene for their light, there are no implements to plough the boli lands, there is limited access to health information or treatment, houses still leak from the destruction of the war, etc.). This subsistence community no longer is able to produce all the food it needs and either needs to change its way of producing food or find an alternative source of income. Given all of this, I am continually reflecting on and discussing priorities and ways that we can provide support. I’ll be passing some of these on to you and am working with the women of the community and community leaders to make best use of whatever support is generated. (I'm also still working with the schools and will post information on this later.)
Here’s a start. I will be happy to arrange visits of Canadians or others who can contribute in some way to the community while benefiting from all the community has to offer us. More on village-stay study visits will follow. I invite people to sponsor a copy of Where There Is No Doctor for a village. I have one and it is invaluable (seems all copies were lost during or before the war). It can be reproduced here for about the same cost as purchase in Canada ($20). I have met several young women committed to work in the villages who cannot continue their education due to lack of funds. $200-350 will cover tuition for a year. Someone gave me $250 to purchase goats for the village. I matched this and the next day the village had purchased nine young goats and organized to purchase and distribute enough rice to feed every household in the village. You could do the same for our other four communities. One bundle of roofing will repair the roofs of several homes. Several schools have no wells or latrines (or walls, for that matter) and $1,000 will go a long way to provide all of these. I mentioned in one meeting that our support could not even begin to compensate for the resource extraction that has taken place for centuries from which we in Canada still benefit and was asked if we could help research mining exploration taking place near some of the villages. I've told the people I've met here that one of my aims is to share information with people in Canada, and as this week I'm focussed on the needs I'm seeing, this is the focus of this post. Future posts will be more informative.
My time on the computer is up. I’m about to find a motor bike to take me back to Mapaki with its unbelievable evening lightening displays, children to welcome me back, friends to greet, and elderly women waiting to take me to dig groundnuts in their garden. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to post again soon.