Yesterday it hit me…the reality of it all. I spent months researching and writing my senior thesis on Sierra Leone, learning everything I thought there was to know about the war and the state of this tiny West African country. I learned that Sierra Leone is ranked second to last on the United Nations Human Development Index and that Kambia is the supposedly the poorest district in Sierra Leone. I know statistics, facts and figures. But the truth is, I came here knowing nothing. What I didn’t learn is how to tell the group of hungry girls who continue to knock at our back door that I can’t continue to feed them each day, or pay their school fees, or save them from having to work in the streets to earn a cup of rice each night. Really knowing a place means knowing its people, their circumstances and their personal stories…here, they are haunting. War, poverty, human trafficking, child labor, forced or early marriage, FGM, domestic violence, AIDS, unemployment, illiteracy…the list goes on and on. I know now that even though the war has ended, life has not made much of an improvement.
Tangible memories of war are everywhere in Kambia. It is seen on the streets as you pass skeletons of once beautiful colonial buildings, decimated by the rebels when Kambia was their last stronghold during the eleven year war. It is seen in the weary faces of women left widowed with too many children to care for and no income or skills to support them. Many, if not most children, lost one of both of their parents and now they roam the streets hungry and burdened by the bleak future that lies ahead. To say that jobs are difficult to come by is an understatement. I have yet to meet a young man or woman who has something productive and gainful to do during the long, hot days here. It’s no wonder that Kambia holds the title for highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. There is little hope for anyone here to go on to university. The costs of higher education are astronomical compared to the meager income of Kambia’s poor. What a shame it is, too! I’ve been so impressed by the intellect and dedication to learning of some of the youth here. Our neighbors across the street study tattered, outdated textbooks all through the day and by candle light at night so they can get ahead of their fellow classmates in the coming school year. THEY DESERVE A CHANCE!
The need for computers in Kambia is critical. I haven’t met anyone who is computer literate, including the AMNet office coordinator, Arun. There are no public computers or internet cafés anywhere near Kambia, but the curiosity and desire for them are immense. Crowds gather around the windows of the AMNet office at night, faces illuminated and wide eyes fixated on our laptop screens. Many people have asked for us to teach them computer skills, but how are they going to practice or maintain these skills once we are gone? There is no electricity here…even if computers arrive, the task and cost of power by generator, maintaining and bringing internet to them are substantial. Even so, I hope to bring computers here one day.
The nights are peaceful in Kambia. Once the sun goes down, the only lights that shine are those of flickering candles in small dark rooms and moon beams skirting swollen clouds above.
That’s it for today…