After a week of worrying about how to complete meetings and draft funding proposals with the ten agricultural groups in time for a January deadline, I’ve come up with a plan to do so involving four visiting Canadians, laptops, a generator, and friends who can translate. This is a huge relief as it frees me up to follow through with some other sadly neglected initiatives, like the farm. Tonight I returned to my garden and with the school agricultural teacher, made a plan to work on a seedling nursery and plough (manually with hoes) in the next two days. Gardening here is a whole new experience for me as tradition and necessity make it impossible to do so on your own, as I’m used to. This will very much be a communal effort and I’ll be sharing all aspects of gardening with friends and the wider community. I’ll also be gardening on a much larger scale than I’m used to and probably look at marketing some of the produce, as mine will be a school demo garden as well as a household garden. I hope to have the students document as much as they can and create a short video on farming here. Students and teachers are also very interested in seeing how we garden in Canada, so I hope there will be a good exchange of information happening.
The headlines in the business edition of the paper we picked up in Makeni yesterday declare that “IMF conditions keep 240,000 kids out of school.” Research I did before heading to Sierra Leone also implicated the IMF in the crisis of hiring qualified teachers (a ceiling is placed on the percentage of employees the government can hire and the Ministry of Education has had to appeal to the IMF, not the Ministry of Finance, to increase the ceiling of
As always, this day started out like many others…me rushing from one place to another, trying to meet some self-imposed deadline that matters to nothing and no one but me (expecting the Canadian guests shortly, I rudely forgot to greet friends or feed teenagers while running around collecting sheets and buckets, organizing bikes, gathering school paperwork, setting up barrie for a meeting, etc). And as always, the day ended in a wildly different vein. I’ve just returned from sitting under the brightest star-filled sky with a small group of community members sharing tears and hopes by the light of a flickering candle as we, once again, tried to console the family that lost a son today. Eighteen year old Dennis, like many other young men, had missed years of schooling during the war and was enrolled in grade six. Gathering sticks used to weave baskets, Dennis stepped into the bush, was bitten by a viper and within two hours was dead (see need-for-ambulance-and-medications post). The news of his death reached the village just minutes before the arrival of the long-awaited and much anticipated Canadians. Villagers who had walked in from neighbouring communities turned around and slowly returned home and the dancers and drummers quietly packed up their skirts and drums. It was a bittersweet welcome and tears flowed. We met with the strangers as a somber community and explained the lack of fanfare.
After a lengthy teacher meeting that followed and visit with the secretary-general of the Sierra Leone Teachers’ Union and with Peter Koroma (director of adult education NGO), the visitors had a chance to unpack, eat, and look around. It was the first time for officials of the union to visit the chiefdom and they told us that with the Canadians and project in place here, they would be back frequently and would send many others to Mapaki. Supper and discussion with the Canadians and chief by the light of the kerosene lamp was sweet as the reflections, thoughts and plans flowed and I felt, for the first time, that I was part of bigger team of educators representing a much larger constituency committed to this work for the long term.
We said goodnight to the visitors, found children for the leftover rice and headed into starlight. I wandered with dreams and condolences over to the house of the grieving family. Sitting on benches close to the candle, here my friend Brima Sesay, the town headman, repeated his frequent offer, welcome, and request for me to forsake
“If you build it, they will come.” And come, they have. Since Saturday we have had a steady stream of visitors from away coming to see guests/guest house/computers. So far these include officials from the teachers’ union, director of adult education, Father Bruno, “senior expert” in computers from Germany, director of Child Help (teaching girls computers in Makeni), and ten others working with Child Help or in the technical field from Freetown and Makeni. It seems that every half hour I’m looking for the headman or Paroq to come and “officially’ welcome another set of guests. And so far most are making plans to return or get involved in our work in some way. For instance, on Wednesday three of the Makeni technical people are returning with bedrolls and computers to stay till Friday and help the agricultural groups write funding proposals. The German man, Manfred, is returning in March and Father Bruno says he’ll be sending Italian visitors when they come through. The Canadians plan to return in May and are sending three
The last two days have been an interesting experience for me, as I flit back and forth between my two lives (African and Canadian). We’ve installed two more solar panels and so have a light and electricity in the new house “parlour”. Last night after sharing our food with ten unexpected guests, I brought out Brooks’ donated guitar and Joan picked chords while Bill kept us riveted with his flute playing (both are accomplished musicians) and we talked and planned late into the night about ways of infusing social justice into the Canadian curriculum…just what I’d be doing on a Friday night at Yukon St. in Halifax. Afterwards I stepped into the night again under the stars and returned to my room with the hungry teenagers, friends studying on the porch, and bikes to sort out. Woke early this morning with a box of Peter’s left-over chocolates, David Myles and Bach on my ipod, and a fully charged computer to pick at and thought about the contrast with Dennis’ life and prospects, had his life continued. Dennis lost his life gathering sticks to weave large baskets, which are unique to Mapaki and sell for 800 Leones, about the equivalent of twenty-five Canadian cents. I suppose I can dream that if Dennis had lived, he could be corresponding with Canadian students and contributing to the development of K-9 curriculum that helps Canadian students know about, understand, and act on conditions that have created the disparity between his and my life. My plan now is to travel to Kingston in May where I’ll be working with a group of educators to develop this curriculum through the Canada-Sierra Leone “research alliance” we’ve got going here. Am really hoping to get Nova Scotia educators involved.