Sorry about the slight delay between blogs – we have been out in the far north of the country, not far from the Guinean border, in a town called Kamakwie, where internet is rarely available, and unbearably slow. So I figured you could all wait with baited breath and enjoy this post all the more for it.
On our first day here, we were privileged to meet with the Paramount Chief who lives in Kamakwie. We all practiced a new handshake where you hold your shaking hand arm with the other hand which is a sign of respect to the person whose hand you are shaking. Sierra Leone has a system of chiefdoms, with head chiefs known as Paramount Chief.
The country has 149 chiefdoms, each of which has one paramount chief and a series of smaller chiefs filtering down to smaller geographical areas. This traditional system is closely linked to their political government, so the two appear to work hand in hand. It turns out that one of our CARITAS leaders taking us around is a potential candidate for the Paramount Chief role, and as a result it feels like we are being taken around by a local celebrity as literally everyone knows him.
As March is the hottest month of the year here, the temperature seems to be steadily rising every day –we had our first heat haze on the horizon today. We tend to visit the projects during the morning before the heat of the day gets too intensive.
This week we have been visiting livelihoods and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) projects. We went into communities which CARITAS (with the funding of CAFOD) has provided seeds for well-chosen crops which enabled the community to eat as well as selling their excess food.
Speaking to the communities, it was clear that CARITAS involvement with the community had meant that whereas they used to only have one meal a day, they now had enough for three meals for everyone. They were also able to send their children to school as a result of the extra produce they could sell. Training they had received on early warning signs of bush fires (common out here and always visible somewhere) and what to do with them, combined with the choice of cashew, a particularly resilient crop to fire, meant that the communities livelihood was far more stable and sustainable than it had been previously.
Unfortunately I was struck down by the dreaded ‘dehli belly’ yesterday, and so made the sensible decision that being out of range of a toilet for the whole morning was risky in my fragile state, and stayed back at the ranch. On return, the rest of the team came through the door, brandishing a live chicken, which turned out to be a hugely generous gift from one of the communities as a thank you for all that CARITAS/CAFOD had done for them. We aptly named him Dinner, and cooked by a local he was delicious. We were very appreciative! Although it was slightly odd having a chicken tied up in the kitchen regularly serenading us with a piercing ‘Cockadoodledooooooo’.
I am now almost entirely recovered, and so headed out today for our final excursion in Kamakwie where we visited three local schools, one Catholic, one Muslim, and one non-faith government-run (the oldest in Kamakwie set up during colonial times). As usual we were greeted with a hugely warm welcome, and since it was break during the first visit, crowds of enthusiastic students wanting to high five and shake all of our hands shouting ‘Aporto, Aporto’. This greets us wherever we go in gleeful tones from all the kids and harks back to when the Portuguese first came and ‘discovered’ Sierra Leone and were the first white people.
Interestingly, the Muslim school employed mostly Christian teachers. This caused problems on Sundays when Muslim schools here are open, but when all the Christian teachers took time off to go to church. It is shocking the lack of facilities that many of these schools have to deal with; some have no clean water, no toilets, few school resources and learning materials, limited teaching staff, far too few buildings for the number of students. Average class sizes are much larger than in the UK, often 50 or 60 to a class; I thought a class of 25 primary kids was challenge!
Interestingly though, the content of lessons in many of the primaries was very detailed and pertinent to the local situation. This blackboard was from a primary lesson on Agricultural Science in class 6 at the R.C. Primary School at Kamakwie.
Interestingly this profundity and depth of messages around the place here has been a common theme. Schools, primary as well as secondary, regularly have powerful mottos describing the strength and necessity of education for development emblazoned around their premises. A school in Makeni had wrought iron work across the front of a building saying ‘Without Education there is no Development’.
There has also been a repeated position from a range of people here when speaking of their working not for themselves, but for the future generation and so sacrificing their lives for those who will follow. An employee at the University of Makeni, Victor, said ‘You don’t work for yourself, but for the common good. But the common good may notbe for your generation, but for the next’. This is a hugely inspiring and refreshing position coming from a country where the highest goal is ones’ own self-improvement and fulfilment alone. Granted, these views have been from the more educated, wealthier members of society, but it doesn’t diminish the meaning.
We are here until tomorrow, when we squeeze 7 of us into the car, plus luggage, along the bumpy roads, masterfully driven by our driver Thomas, back to Makeni.