Friday, February 10, 2012
The world over, children are disproportionately represented among victims of cluster bombs. While many countries ban their production as they mostly kill civilians and do so for decades after their deployment, three Canadian financial institutions (RBC, Sunlife and Manual Life) still profiteer from U. S.company-based cluster bomb production, according to the Cluster Munition Coalition. After we heard the news from Mapaki last night, one of our children asked, “But why do people make these bombs?” Why indeed. Not an easy question to answer without thinking of concepts like evil and greed. Check The Cluster Munition Coalition for action suggestions and resources to end this travesty.
We are so grateful for the friends of Mapaki who have quickly stepped up the plate to offer moral and financial support. We’ve heard that, in the village today, headman Brima called an emergency meeting to implore all in the village to rally around and support the victims and family. Messages and offers of support have come in from friends in Canada also. This morning we were able to send some funds to help with the initial treatment and medicines (each shrapnel shard costs about $25 to remove). More will be sent next week to help with continued medical costs. Most importantly though, we send our thoughts and condolences to Mapaki on behalf of all of you and thank you all for your care and compassion. May we all live in a world (and country and province…that’s another story!) that values peace and harmony over war and weapons profiteering. Peace and best wishes to all. (Photo - children in the kitchen area of our household)
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
It’s time. Time for the annual brushing or clearing of the uplands for planting. Time of year when the wells go dry and endless buckets of murky water are hauled by hand and head from the closest shallow stream. Time for many to be dreaming and talking and developing plans. Time for me to pack my box, say good-bye for now and head off to Lungi for the remainder of my stay in Sierra Leone. This morning the sights and sounds and sensations related to all these times have been jumbled up with thoughts of family and friends here and elsewhere as news comes from Cote D’Ivoire and Canada and as I start the always difficult process of saying good-bye. The girls have headed off to their granny for two days and I had our room to myself last night, recuperating well from the previous all-night drumming (preparation for the brushing). My small friends stopped by with buckets of water from the stream, in case I had any last minute “brooking” to do. The guest house has been a hub of activity as cdpeace staff and community members talk on-line with Canada and with the women here about economic development and youth gather to develop a three-year plan with Munafa M'Patie. We hold one last meeting about the nursery school (I’m told of a recent report recommending that all primary school communities develop a nursery school for 4 and 5 year olds) and then the Munafa M'Patie people also pack and head off in multiple directions. For the first time on this visit, I’m alone in the guest house and have a few minutes to simply breath and gather my thoughts, reflect on current experiences and anticipated directions.
As always, I am struck by the incredible ability of people here to find ways to overcome or mitigate the effects of circumstances beyond their control. Climate change affects subsistence agriculture and the response is to experiment with growing different crops, using a combination of time-tested traditional and newer methods. I was delighted to hear that a group of women farmers may travel to the north of the country to see how women there have organized in vegetable-growing co-ops and that women may soon start producing jam. Wells dry up and work begins on constructing a gravity-fed water system to bring fresh water from the local hill-top to the centre of the village. In the country as a whole, 59% of children are out of school and the community pulls together to develop a nursery school to support the youngest and most vulnerable learners. Conflict arises in mining areas and a delegation of local peace-makers manages to bring communities and others together to address grievances peacefully. Global factors (climate change, exploding cost of food, peak oil, unfair terms of trade, land/resource grabbing, etc.) will continue to throw blocks into the path of this and other communities, but the strength, resolve, humour, grace, hard-work, and ingenuity at play here and the connections made with friends like you who share common concern, compassion, and strength will go a long way in keeping this community thriving and flourishing.
At the start of this year’s visit, someone commented that my blog posts sometimes seem full of misery and despair. It’s true that life is challenging here, beyond the experiences of most of us in Canada and that worry and hardship is part of daily life. I hope, though, that the joy and light and inspiration that keeps me coming back also provides you, maybe vicariously, with some small hope or satisfaction.
I will be incommunicado for two weeks and then will be spending more of my time in Canada but will be returning to Mapaki, the home of my heart, every year that I can. A number of blog readers have been helping with various community support projects over the years…rebuilding cdpeace, health, education, agriculture, etc., and I hope this support can continue. Each day I see or hear about another initiative that could go far with small support (as I write this blog, I've just heard of one more initiative from a neighbouring area that I hope can be supported). There are numerous ways and means to contribute to the community; please drop a line if you want more information. Looking forward to seeing you soon. As always, thanks for reading!!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
This morning my routine was slightly altered when visited by a delegation of women who asked me to join them in the community centre where they were holding a discussion on the needs of the young children in the village. About sixty women with small children in hand or on laps and backs explained that, while huge gains have been made in education, there are still too many children who are not attending or not succeeding in school and that the girls, in particular, seem to struggle the most. They worry about the number of girls who end up out of school and pregnant at an early age. A nursery school, they felt, would give the young children the extra boost they need to be successful in school. The community has chosen a space (an empty room in the primary school), a teacher, and held initial discussions on class size and student selection to make it manageable yet most accessible to all. Next steps for the community planning committee and teacher are to visit nursery schools in surrounding towns, organize some training for the teacher, set up and equip the space, and seek funding for a salary. When I return to Canada, I hope to help try to raise the $2,000 needed for the first year of operations. The nursery school will be an excellent complement to the other educational initiatives in place…the library, new junior high school, and youth training centre that serve the needs of this and surrounding communities.
As for me, teaching junior high students here directly myself for the first time is quite an eye-opening experience as I reflect on the challenges for teachers and learners operating in a second language with limited resources. It gives me great respect for those who successfully negotiate this system of education. Time to return to our science lesson on soil and check in on reading logs. Break’s over!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Sunday evening in Mapaki. From my comfortable vantage point on the guest house porch, I am lulled by the whirring of the foot-operated sewing machine the tailor is using across the road to craft piles of bright freshly tailored children’s clothing. The sound of a thousand weaver birds in the tree next to the tailor provides a pleasant contrast. Small children, as always, love stopping by to chat and drop off small gifts. My latest was a tiny weaver bird hatchling, tenderly placed in my hand with detailed instruction on how I was to roast this delicacy. When I politely returned the gift, the children told me that tomorrow morning the bird would fly back to the tree. Let’s hope they’re right. The generator is running in the community centre and young people wander in and out to take in the last of a football match. Chief is on his porch, surrounded by community members dealing with the latest community issue. I’m just back from sitting with friends in the kitchen where my attempts to read from a borrowed Krio language book brought riotous laughter from all. I’m chatting with my house-mate about the latest plans and dreams for health education and organization in the Chiefdom, a topic made so much more personal by last night’s frantic round of visits to medical clinics in Makeni on the back of a motor-bike through dust and dark. Makeni, where people also delight in the daily six hours of electricity that is now available. When the lights finally did come on in Makeni last night, shouts of joy resounded from all the houses. As always on short visits, my time to just sit and take in the sights and sounds and smells of this Chiefdom is just too short and there are too many people and places that I’ll miss seeing. On this evening, though, as the sun is setting and the searing heat subsiding, I take great comfort in simply sitting and “genoting”.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
People at the junction have been weeping and crying this afternoon, having heard of the death of one of our young men who had been taken to Freetown for surgery. On my arrival here last Monday night, I was informed that the son of a friend was seriously ill and not expected to survive. He’d been treated with local herbs for some time and was taken to hospital after it appeared that the local medicine was not going to work. The first hospital had no x-ray machine to determine the problem. The second hospital was able to x-ray but did not have the required surgery tools. They recommended a third (known as a place of last resort from where people often do not return) or going all the way to Freetown to the emergency department. The young man was brought back to Mapaki where family and community members met to decide what to do, given the anticipated prohibitive cost of travel and surgery in Freetown. Fortunately, we had just received a generous donation to help with health problems and the cost of travel was covered. Our health officer accompanied the young man and was pleased to be asked to donate blood for surgery on his arrival, as this indicated that the hospital was willing to accept him at emergency (hopeless cases are often not accepted). Thank God the news from the junction was false. The chiefdom ambulance returned from Freetown just now, with the good news that the surgery was successful. A few more hours and he would have been dead, they said. This experience will have a long-lasting impact, I expect, as the hope is that it will encourage community members to seek medical assistance before they reach the same critical state.
This week I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with many of the junior and senior high students receiving scholarships and the teachers who have finished, are in the final or first year of distance education. Everyone sends thanks and shares stories of how this support has impacted themselves, their families and communities. Yesterday four junior high scholarship students came to visit. Most had lost either a father or both parents and consequently had no one else to pay their fees. When asked about future plans they shared dreams of becoming nurses, lawyers, office workers, the Minister of Health, all in order to support their extended families, the community or in the case of the prospective Minister of Health, to prevent diseases in the country as a whole. The senior high students, all of whom have had to leave the community to board or stay in the towns share stories of struggle and determination. As for me, I am still so humbled and grateful to be able to share in a tiny slice of life in this amazing place and thankful to all here who have invited and welcomed me into their community.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
My heart soars and crashes here in Mapaki, at the start of my fifth visit in five years. On my arrival on Monday night, the chief had just returned from taking a young farmer and father to hospital. He’s home now and we're waiting to see if he’ll need surgery. And as always on my return, I’ve learned of all the children and wives and mothers and teachers I know who have passed on during my absence. Thankfully though, there are also some very positive developments in health care here and we look forward to better news in the coming days.
The Ministry of Education has sent its representatives here to see if they can figure out what’s going on. From being at the bottom of almost all social indices in the district to having the third highest scores in the junior high leaving exams in all of Bombali District this year, this chiefdom has made remarkable gains in education and people want to know why. For me, it seems obvious as I wander into the library at night and see all seats occupied by the older students of the village, intently studying their class notes while the young ones sit side by side on the floor, sharing and poring over boxes of beautiful picture books from Africa and elsewhere under the solar-powered lights in this country that is just starting to see electricity return to the towns and cities. Or after sitting and talking with the Chief and several community members who always place education first when talking about needs and plans for the chiefdom. Or chatting with the several well-educated Sierra Leonean young women who are here from the city to learn first-hand about life in a remote rural village and who serve as strong role models for the girls who soak up their every word. Or seeing how well the support that has come from local, national and international organizations and avenues is used and valued. Or chatting with the various volunteer or underpaid teachers who devote their hearts and souls to teaching, scrambling to further their own education through distance learning while struggling to also feed themselves and families. Or meeting the students, some lucky enough to continue to senior high school, but also needing to scramble to find food to sustain themselves from week beginning to end. Or simply counting the number of primary schools that have sprung up throughout the chiefdom over the past ten years without external support. I think it’s the interplay of these and other factors over time in an area that has come to see first-hand the value of education in improving lives overall, especially when community members like the Turays leave, do well, and then return to work for the community. That’s not to say that the struggle is over. Students still have no desks or benches in the newly build junior high school. Teachers are still unpaid and trying to further their own education. While more are passing junior high exams, literacy skills are still weak and there are now more who can’t continue to senior high because of fee requirements. However, the incredible community cohesion, commitment to education and collective efforts will, I’m sure, continue to drive progress long into the future.
Stopping by the school yesterday, I was delighted to also meet up with my little Class Three friend, Alusine. I’m told he decided to leave his grandma’s house (my neighbour) and moved in with his dad and twin brother in the village up the road some months ago. Alusine promised to stop by for a visit and I look forward to catching up on news with this little bright light I’ve come to know and love over the past few years. This morning he arrived in the village, solemnly presenting me with a gift of a pineapple and an invitation to join him for a stroll to the river beach close to his house. I think we’ll make a picnic of it and all go for an outing in a few days.
There is so much to write about after too long an absence. More later. It's so good to be back!