Being in Sierra Leone is like a never-ending SAT study session: dogged exercises that strain the mind and knowing that there’s really no point in resisting cause what has to be done will – and whether you like it or not, problems will jump out, for which no amount of preparation you’ll be properly equipped .
Last week on our way back from the shelter at Kissi Town we got into a small accident. Small for us, but a bit more severe for the people behind us. Ashley, Jon, and I were sitting in the back seat of a poda-poda, the 18th, 19th, and 20th person to be jammed into the vehicle. We were temporarily stopped to let out a passenger when we heard a loud crash. We turned to see another poda-poda barreling towards us. Oh great. In milliseconds, reflecting on family, God, how-in-the-world-am-I-going-out-before-Castro?, and a few books I’d always wanted to read. Fortunately, the poda-poda had lost much of its speed, so we only sustained a moderate jolt. Wails of hysteria went up from our vehicle and we piled out of the van like clowns on a circus floor.
We quickly learned a car had tried to overtake a huge truck, which slammed on its breaks in seeing a slowed poda-poda in back of ours. Everyone involved was okay, except one man who stumbled out of the truck with the bridge of his nose split open. His eyes were shocked saucers and blood dripped down his shirt and pants. Ashley yelled, “Pressure, pressure!” and a man put a rag to his head. He was put into a poda-poda and taken to the hospital; I was surprised with the speed it all happened. We all piled back into our vehicle and couldn’t help but turn our heads at every screech and horn honk for the duration of the trip. Thankfully, that has been our first accident in Sierra Leone. Breakdowns, however, are par for the course.
Meanwhile, progress at the shelter is going well! The last week and a half have been especially busy with finalizing fund allocations, drafting of necessary documents, and co-coordinating project completion, both at the shelter and at the farm.
At the school/shelter, bunk beds are almost complete. They will provide proper bedding for all 32 students and the shelter, many for whom this is the first bed in their life. Toilet construction is also underway: the 16-foot pit has been dug and we are finalizing estimates for construction of the toilet structure. Our primary goal for this trip was to make improvements for the student living conditions and it is a blessing to see our donated funds take shape in tangible ways.
Ashley did much research prior to our trip about solar lights and we were able to bring two such lights for the shelter. A small crowd of children, teachers, Reverend Spencer, and distant onlookers with baskets on their heads watched as we instructed use of the solar plate and the charging process. This will lessen the need for kerosene lamps, which cause respiratory problems in children and adults. We hope to supply more of such lights in the future as they are unavailable here.
The agriculture project continues to do well. 4 acres of land have been cleared using a method called intercropping. As you can see from the pictures, trees are not completely cut down, allowing for regrowth and prevention of erosion. Crops planted are the following: peppers, eggplants, potatoes, corn, groundnuts (like peanuts), cassava, rice, pumpkin, okra, and pineapple. Abdul Smith, the head farm laborer, consulted farmers in the area and decided that diversifying the crop types will result in greater selling profits. Moreover, as we are now using donated land near the school for agriculture classes and food for the students, we can focus the profits at the farm for school/shelter improvements and food for the children. The Ministry of Land recently visited the farm to commend the work being done with the agriculture project.
At the end of this month, under the supervision of Compassion First volunteer, Jon Fjeld, Makripodis Secondary School/Fountain of Mercy Shelter will embark on an Okada Service (Okada = Nigerian word for motorcycle taxi). This Okada will operate in the Freetown Peninsula and is hoped to bring in significant profits for the school and shelter.
With the agriculture project and now the Okada service, we hope to help the school/shelter move further towards self-sufficiency and sustainability.
As noted several times in other entries, things in Sierra Leone work so incredibly slowly. Due to cultural differences, certainly at times, and to the obvious difficulties like poor infrastructure and lack of materials – but usually simply in the fact that what you’d never expected to happen, will. It works both ways, too: I have been enlivened and amazed by the support so many people in the Kissi Town area are giving to the projects at the farm and shelter. Reverend Spencer summed it up best in reflecting on the recent improvements at both sites: “It is great….fine, just fine!”