Sunday, January 6, 2008

January 6 - cdpeace

Tonight Mabinty, Mary, and I had the garden to ourselves and quickly watered the new cabbage transplants before heading back to the library for Mabinty’s first computer lesson. It’s the last day of school holidays and the children from outlying villages are slowly returning to Mapaki. I’ve had visitors from Canada (Mary and Asher), both of whom have headed to towns elsewhere in the country. I miss them but am also now slowly returning to somewhat of a routine (community meetings, computer work, etc.). As I have written little about the actual cdpeace work going on here, I thought I’d focus the next few posts on some of these initiatives.

Agriculture/Peace/Youth/Food Security/Education/Health/Technology/Environment – I’m not quite sure how to title this initiative, as it integrates and arises from so many issues and aspects of life here. A huge historical problem which contributed greatly to the explosion of the war was youth disenfranchisement and un/underemployment. In the post-war period, a great challenge is finding ways to sustain youth in the rural area where traditions of peace-keeping and family support are strong. We are working with youth in Mapaki in creating an experimental organic market vegetable garden, which will support school agricultural “practicals”, serve as a model for other communities, provide income and jobs to youth/the school, and provide vegetables to the community. Using land that belongs to one of the volunteer teachers, seeds that were donated by Halifax Seed Company, compost from the community, and volunteer labour of a growing circle of friends, youth, and children who “hang out” mornings and evening tilling, harrowing, watering, planting, transplanting and weeding, we’re experimenting with growing food organically in an area that suffers from dependence on and lack of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. We hope to learn from and link with farmers in the north, who are marketing vegetables successfully and will share our experience with youth and farmers in a neighbouring chiefdom. At the same time, the youth are learning to use the computer and internet to research agricultural needs (plants for our soil type, soil conditioners, etc.) and to write project proposals as we’re also applying for funding (in coalition with two other communities) to a German NGO. This project is expanding as we have also provided seeds to about 20 schools and community groups. All of this contributes to peace/education as it sustains the schools and addresses root causes of war.

Women/Container/Small-scale Economic Enterprise/Bicycles – Traditionally, women in this area are largely responsible for family maintenance but have had limited access to cash. They also have limited access to transportation to the nearest weekly market or store, seven miles away. With our support, a women’s committee selected by and representing all the women of Mapaki has been established to oversee the distribution of container materials, start a women’s shop to provide the community with basic necessities (rice, salt, soap, etc.), and raise funds for community needs. This committee will also be involved in fair trade production of a women’s line of maternity clothing for sale in North America. We provided the committee with materials to sell (at low cost they provide the committee with “seed” money and the community with needed goods), on-going organizational support, and contact with the fair trade project. We hope that the women's shop will be the first of many initiatives taken by this dynamic committee. Also, addressing the abysmal lack of transportation, we've also set up a bicycle lending system in Mapaki and provided parts and materials to rehabilitate about twelve bicycles owned locally.

Library/Media Centre/Technology – In a community with a 10% literacy rate, no electricity, and virtually no books, we’ve established a library in a temporary public space that overflows each night with children sharing picture books, youth searching for textbooks, and adults browsing through the many non-fiction and Africa-focused books we have. At the same time, men and women farmers, teachers, and community leaders are using our three public access solar-powered laptops to do internet research, learn computer skills, create a variety of documents, and communicate via video and email with the “outside” world. Young people are learning to document community events via video and edit these on the multi-media laptop, to share with the community through our data projector. Thanks to generous donations, we’ve been able to provide the books and laptops for the library and the internet installation and subscription. Community members are now making mud bricks to build a new library as we’re now using borrowed space.

Education – Most adults have never had the opportunity to attend school and the schooling of many youth was interrupted by war. Compounding this is the relative lack of government or NGO support for schools, most of which are staffed by volunteer teachers operating in makeshift structures built by community members. We have been supporting adult literacy through providing materials for learners (notebooks, pens, etc.) and volunteer teachers, kerosene and wiring for light. We have also been supporting primary schools and the lone junior secondary school through learning materials, links with Canadian schools, hosting visiting education professors who conducted workshops on basic skills (literacy, mathematics, peace education, multiple intelligence), support with gaining government recognition and support, and scholarships for volunteer teachers and students. We have applied for funding to rehabilitate schools and provide on-going support and training in peace education. We were able to provide bicycles to fifteen schools to enable teachers and students to travel and communicate with other schools and headquarter towns.

Health - Sierra Leone has the worst record of basic health indicators (life span, maternal and infant death, etc.) cdpeace is working with Canadian Fundy Peace Foundation which as provided a container full of health materials, equipment, and supplies to six community clinics and one hospital in the region. We've also provided copies of "Where There is No Doctor" to clinics and schools and have been linking health professionals here and elsewhere.