Friday, January 18, 2008

Freetown - Janury 18, 2008

Freetown again. Like peeling an onion, each time I visit Freetown another layer that covers the heart is peeled away, and I can say that I’m starting to see the charms of the city. Perhaps it’s because I’m becoming immune to the noise, traffic, heat, diesel fumes, and crowds. The chief and I headed off to “Rokamp” as it’s called in Temne, to drop off funding applications and renew my visa at immigration (where I was told that I’ve renewed enough as a visitor and now it’s time to apply as a resident). During the course of the day we arranged to have the many blind people of the chiefdom assessed to see how many would benefit from operations, sought job creation funding for cdpeace, dropped off applications for support with school construction and agricultural projects, and most enlightening for me, had an in-depth discussion with one of the NGO directors about development, assistance, and the way macro-economic policy is played out in Sierra Leone, which confirmed many of the worries or concerns I have. It seems that the economic and development model that is being encouraged pretty much ignores the “informal” sector, which comprises about 90% of the population, including virtually everyone in the chiefdoms where we work, as “market forces” are expected to address the problems that the subsistence and small-scale farmers (many of whom are women), face. This also confirmed for me the importance of cdpeace being based in and working in these chiefdoms, which are some of the most ignored and marginalized in the country.

The library tonight is hopping as the video editing bunch are in the hall working on the AIDS Day video, the priest from the neighbouring district came to use the internet, the laptops are humming with computer course student projects, and half of the children and youth of Mapaki have been in with books and magazines. Sadly, I’ve had to turn away many people tonight because we simply can’t squeeze in another soul. Next day…this morning the chief and I talked with the community about the problem with library space and asked two families if they would donate their land, the “prime location” for a library…right in the centre of the village across from the chief’s barrie, one house away from the guest house. We hope they say yes.

Well, it’s official. While I’m convinced that Paki Masabong is the most beautiful and welcoming chiefdom in Sierra Leone, the district police have announced that this is officially the safest chiefdom in the district; that they had not a single report of violence in the past year. Much of this is due, I’m convinced, to the strong leadership of the chief, who is committed to mediation, consultation, and discussion and who spends an incredible amount of time helping resolve conflict. I’m hoping to very soon post some student-made videos about the chiefdom that would also explain how conflicts are dealt with here.

I’ve just come in from talking with another visiting priest, who told us of the mother of twins who died in child birth last night, a common occurrence in this country which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. When I asked who cares for the babies in these cases I was told that another nursing mother in the household, family, or community would nurse the baby and/or the grandmother would take over care. The twins, I’m told, are in good hands and are thriving so far.