Iona writes from the CAFOD office in Freetown…..
Well, we’ve made it to our final week, and have returned to the hustle and bustle of Freetown – quite a shock to the system after the relative peace and tranquillity of smaller Makeni. Our driver Musa, drove us magnificently through the busiest market street in Freetown, heaving with vendors, women carrying vast baskets of produce on their heads, babies on backs, motorbikes, bicycles, children darting in and out, buggies laden with electrical goods, and all this without the luxury of pavement space. The result felt somewhat akin to a video game where you had to dodge the obstacles to avoid losing points. Although in our case, it was to avoid taking lives. Welcome back to the capital!
But I’ve skipped ahead of myself a bit, so let’s rewind to our final week in Makeni. This week was a mixture of visiting some more projects, interspersed with plentiful goodbye social evenings and events. The projects we saw were slightly different from those previously, in that they were sites of proposed implementation for new trial Disaster Risk Reduction and Livelihoods CAFOD/CARITAS schemes, and therefore were in the early stages of the planning.
To clarify, the disasters which these are attempting to reduce the risk of in this region are flooding (from a nearby Hydro Electric dam), drought, and bush fires. CAFOD through CARITAS are trialling these new initiatives which involve placing fish farms and poultry farms into communities, both as a means of food production for the community and for selling of the excess.
We visited two communities just outside of Makeni where fish ponds were in the pipeline. The communities already had either a pond, or the holes where the pond would go. Most projects we have seen have used this principle of making the most of resources already available in the communities rather than building whole new structures. This makes the projects very efficient, as well as sustainable and easier for the communities themselves to use and own.
One of the most inspiring things about these visits was at Rofainka community. This community had strong links with five surrounding communities, apparently unusual in Sierra Leone. These links were both of friendship, and mutual support. Although Rofainka was the community which has had input from
CARITAS, it shared all it received with the other five communities, meaning that CARITAS work was multiplied five-fold.A spokesperson from one of the communities, Ma Bureh, explained their reasoning behind this collaboration: “if you sit and wait for your neighbour to get bitten, you will be bitten”, better instead to help them when you can. This community were also hugely generous in adding to the chicken gifts we had received – this time two of them: we named them ‘Nice’ and ‘Tasty’… delicious!
The second community we visited also gave us the fullest glimpse into the agricultural activities within communities. Here we saw Cassava plants, pepper plants (the culprit for the amazing amount of spice typical of all Sierra Leonian dishes and a lot of sweat-beaded upper lips), pineapples, and palm trees, all in various stages of planting and growing.
We also saw the making of palm oil, which happened in a hole in the ground filled with a watery looking orange substance. A woman was standing up to her knees in this mixture, sifting out parts of it and putting them into a bowl. The thicker mixture put into the bowl was the palm oil, ready for use or sale. It was the most beautiful burnt orange colour.
We have also been privy to some fantastic lightening storms, heralded by grey clouds which rained down on us several times enabling outdoor showering at our guesthouse, shower gel and all. The locals found it highly entertaining as we danced about in the much appreciated downpour. Although we did inspire one young lad, Iyo, to grab a bike and join in the rain-filled fun. This rain, unheard of in this the hottest month of the year, brought a very pleasant, if brief, decrease in temperature.
The decrease in temperature also enabled us to be more comfortable in our full Sierra Leonian outfits. We had ordered them from a tailor before leaving Makeni the first time and they were ready for us on our return. We do not pull them off even half as well as the locals, but they are the most beautiful array of colourful fabrics adorning each of us from head to toe. They were much appreciated by our fellow CARITAS staff who greeted us with exclamations of ‘Wow’, and clear appreciation of our efforts. On a practical note, it is nigh-impossible to get into a jeep with any dignity in an African full-length skirt – hoiking was the only option; thankfully it was dark!
We now have a couple of days to enjoy Freetown, get some shopping in, go to the beaches further around the coast renowned for their beauty, and generally lap up our last days of Sierra Leone life.
As I type from the Freetown office, I am looking out the window, over the city littered with palm trees and bright pink flowers growing up walls, with the blue backdrop of the sea, and an enormous billboard advertising Peak Milk Powder ‘Now available in a sachet’….says it all!