So, day 5 of this international trip in Sierra Leone and I feel like I’ve been away for weeks; there has been so much to take in, experience, and adjust to.
Although I was expecting a wall of oppressive heat to greet us as we disembarked the plane at Lungi, the dawn climate was really quite pleasant, with the sun recently risen lighting up a pastel sky, and flocks of elegant white birds soaring overhead. The scene was a paradoxical tropical, lush greenery growing out of seemingly barren red dusty ground.
This paradoxical theme recurs throughout my experience of Sierra Leone so far. The African country with one of the highest annual rainfalls, Sierra Leone is lush and abounding in resources, and yet is one of the most impoverished in the world. A country which has experienced violent civil war in recent history, yet is populated by people of such warmth, welcome and generosity. A country where people struggle for food, yet where a portion size less than plate piled high is inconceivable. A country where people go with little or nothing, yet insist on sharing what they have. It is a truly inspiring and humbling country and people, and I have loved it so far.
The first few days in the capital Freetown were mainly taken up with accustoming ourselves to the heat, environment, culture and people. We had very informative talks and inductions from the CAFOD team at Freetown’s CAFOD office, visited the beautiful Lumley beach (a long white sandy beach stretching out into the far distance),
experienced our first African food (groundnut soup – a delicious peanut-based curry sauce with rice), listened to Capital FM Freetown playing the same tunes as at home, mixed in with plenty of fantastic golden oldies, and had a driving tour of Freetown including the infamous cotton tree towering green and vast above all in the centre of the city.
We then left early on the 27th to travel roughly 3 hours to the city of Makeni, capital of the Bombali district. Although much more rural, it has experienced development meaning that we are privileged with uniform pavements, tarmac roads (mostly) and street lighting. It is far less manic than Freetown, and feels more spacious. Whereas in Freetown driving involves avoiding other cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and walkers often balancing vast packages on their heads, here in Makeni the roads are far less crowded, and there are far fewer cars. The favourite means of transport seems to be motorbike.
We are being hosted by and exploring the work of CAFOD partners CARITAS Makeni whilst we are here for the next 19 days. The CARITAS team have been wonderfully welcoming, and today we began visiting some of the projects they have here in Makeni.
We visited a rehabilitation centre for young women who have been street children and are now being trained in catering to enable them to make their own living and set up their own businesses in the future.
When asked whether this was difficult, one of the students, Isata, grinned broadly and said how much she enjoyed it. Apparently they even learn how to cook Spaghetti, which they delighted in telling us.
A second project also run for street children, taught them the craft of tailoring. So beautiful were the clothes worn by the master tailor and trainee, Elena, all of us have signed up to have a traditional Sierra Leonian outfit made.
These small-scale skills based projects are incredible to witness, and aim to empower and enable the young people both to hope for better by broadening their horizons, but also to live independently and sustainably once they have been through the training and left the project.
So far, so excellent!!