We’ve finally finished the video of what we got up to in Sierra Leone working on the amazing projects you’ve helped set up there:
We’ve finally finished the video of what we got up to in Sierra Leone working on the amazing projects you’ve helped set up there:
I know…You’ve all been desperately waiting for the answer to the Question. Well folks – 29 it is! We counted one by one as they jumped off and strolled into a roadside mosque. Unbelievable.
Other important news – mozzy bites are dramatically increasing. I’m on 11 but Joe takes the lead with 19. It must be my bitter Irish blood.
It’s been a challenging few days. The traffic in Freetown is so manic and it has taken us up to 3 hours to get home from During Town where the animal husbandry is being set up. After contracting the local villagers to dig and lay the foundation for the base, with the engineer to supervise (God’s provision!) we joined in on the Sunday (Yes we missed church – pagans!) and grafted, marking out the perimeter & digging out the holes for the fence posts.
The villagers have given our now good friend and brother, Willy, a fair bit of hassle with regards pay. The difficulty being the whole village wants to be paid even though it was just a 6 man job! We finally settle it and by Monday, while we were at Grafton, the base was finished with time to set. Tuesday was the big day to fit the shelter. What a turn around since Friday when it felt like all hope was lost.
We left earlier on Tuesday morning so we would have a fuller day on site as we had a lot to do. We soon had the frame up and within 5 hours the corrugated roof was fixed and the doors were fitted, thanks mainly to the component drawings we’d made up. The speed of the build humoured the villagers who were keen to learn, gathering round and watching with fascination the genius of Makita drilling technology, unseen in these parts. Sierra Leonians are a humble people – always wanting to learn and gain something from their surroundings.
The war of 12 years ago is not talked about much. Everyone is trying to forget about it but the effects go deep. Some of our new friends have shared some of the horrors they went through. Behind the smiles, kindness and dancing all have a story to tell. One pastor told me how his thumb and index finger were blown off when he picked up a grenade the rebels had thrown into his house, to dispose of it. It blew up on its way out of the window, but his family had been saved. Another of our newly made friends told me that he and his brother were arrested by the rebels while working for the red cross, stripped naked, tied up and told they would be killed. Fortunately they spotted an old friend, who had become a rebel, who happened to come past. He had pity and let them go.
The ex-rebels remain in the city and many of them drive the “Okada” – the taxi motorcycles that whiz around, often on the wrong side of the road. On one hand there is some sort of peace here at the moment, if you can call it that – but it’s been born in great suffering. On the other there is stress & frustration that things are so slow to improve and the poor infrastructure & economy creates a lot of waste and damages expectations.
The visit is drawing to an end. Desmond, Mick & Iain have just rolled in from Liberia and it’s been great to share stories. They’ve had a significant conference there with powerful encounters with God, pastors traveling over 6 hours to be there and cracking thunderstorms which I’m most jealous about to be honest. It’s been bone dry here.
We’ve been stretched on all fronts. When you are on mission its like God draws out of you everything he’s been forming in you in the last few years. We’ve learnt many things here and our hearts have been shaped and challenged. You cannot just turn up to a place like this, do your stuff, get a few pics and leave, happy that it’s over with. No – you become part of what is happening and see the picture of what the reign of God should look like. You get drawn further in. The risk we take I suppose. We will need to work out practically what more we can do but we’re committed to this for the long-term.
Are you coming with us?
On Monday we took a break from During Town & the animal husbandry to set things up at the sewing school in Grafton.
Grafton is home to the “displaced” people of Freetown – this includes refugees, polio victims, the war wounded and amputees. Pastor Alex who is based here has a huge heart and a growing vision for the place and with a good team on board he’s seeing it produce fruit.
There wasn’t much to do here. All the kit had been transported on the Friday & stored in Alex’s school – but we did have the tables to assemble. The building that is being rented has work going on, both inside decorating and outside to make the grounds more secure, so we had to clear a load of junk out the way before we could set up the machines.
Several of the women, already enrolled on the course, came in to see the place and we got them to try out the machines, had a short interview with one of them about her hopes for the training before chatting to Alex & the tutor about their vision for these women. About 20 or so have signed for the course which includes learning skills from sewing, to embroidery & knitting. Several of the women are from the war wounded & polio camps desperate for a chance to support themselves – which is the aim of the training.
We may need to look into sending more machines over somehow. The machines we’ve sent are very good quality but may need converting to foot pedaled ones if they are to use them for business later on, as they are quicker to use.
Alex was eager to show us the small school he runs which is just across the road. He gives us a guided tour and we are officially welcomed by every class (they all stand up and chant at you) from nursery to secondary level. The primary class were less formal and after the welcome, dived to the front to give us high fives and pull at our skin – it was hard to get out! This is perhaps the greatest contrast with England – the kids are so friendly and engaging! Probably due to less technological junk around and the fact that they cannot be work shy – all have to pull their weight to keep things going. We often see kids of 6 or 7 carrying large water containers on their heads from the wells and rivers. Many unfortunately are not at school but work along with the market traders or on the farms so it’s a real achievement to fill the schools as it really eats into the family pocket.
But there is a light in Grafton. The displaced are finding purpose and support. The good news to the poor so clearly in action. May God strengthen the crew here in all the challenges they face.
It’s been a busy & focused couple of days. Following the word of knowledge to make the most of any opportunities, we managed to get an engineer who is a friend of Liz (great woman who is cooking marvellous food for us) to come & supervise the work, building a level concrete & block base for the animal shelter.
Funnily enough he’s turned out to be another God send! He came down first thing Sat morn to lay out the ground for the foundation and did a great job organizing the local villagers who were keen to work – they haven’t had any for a long while.
We quickly quizzed him on the mix of concrete & mortar before doing a few quick calculations and then sourced materials locally at a good price. You’ll appreciate building is a different business over here – supplies can be bountiful or non-existent & slow to be delivered, but after visiting several local merchants & tough negotiating we had 6 tips of sand (dug straight out of the nearest beach!) & 2 of granite on site by sundown, Willy sorted the blocks and cement to be delivered first thing Sunday morning so the work could begin – what a guy!
We left site much more confident than we were on Friday – with the engineer happy to be with us until the work is finished and the villagers glad to do the heavy graft (at a price!) it was looking like we would finish up here on Tuesday as planned.
Sunday saw good progress – the foundation was put in (it looks level!) and 3 courses of blocks were laid. The base has to be a couple of feet above ground level to survive the rainy season when the ground becomes saturated and erosion is a big problem. It also means the wooden shelter will be protected somewhat from the termites that are all over the place & from these monstrous ant hills.
Me & Joe got stuck in marking out and digging the holes for the fence posts. We had several post stakes set in concrete before we stopped for late lunch. It was hard work and we were filthy but no sun burn to report. Happy days.
Some “evangelists” turned up on site late this afternoon, armed with bibles & mega phones. They had a go at one the villagers about smoking, then left. Success.
The day before we prayed together for a lad who had been cursed by a witch doctor at the age of 4 & had grown deformed since that day. We were advised not to attempt deliverance ministry however – apparently these sort of things can be a bit lively and require wisdom.
We had some great guys from the conference come to help us today – one of them 32 the other 40, both unemployed but capable men, just eager to get out of the city for a couple of days. This is sadly the story of many men here – and there are so many everywhere with little purpose or opportunity to develop skills or to be creative and show their colours.
As we pile our way through Kissy Road, which is packed with hundreds of market traders, I realise that the grip of money is just as strong here as in the west despite the apparent lack of it, it just takes a different form. People are forced by this sick system to fight for survival, selling anything to get food for the day, struggling to make ends meet with no chance of a long-term plan. A beggar grabs my leg through the van window before we pull away. It’s hard to realise you can’t help everyone’s short term needs – they are endless; it is about thinking long-term and helping those within our range. The Multiply partners here are in our range, our relationships are strengthening and there are capable & committed guys behind each project. It may be a drop in the ocean but I believe it’s a reliable approach.
Despite the success at Lungi both me & Joe were nervous about this project and woke with a growing sense that the day may not be too smooth a ride.
After yet another heavy breakfast (fish, chilli pancakes, bacon etc) we moved out with renewed vigour. We stopped by at Wills house, our project manager and a good one at that – sharp sighted, passionate to help the poor, never fails to get a price down and has contacts all over the place.
A quick bargain was made for a wheelbarrow and a couple of head pans (used for measuring sand) before we cruised into the army barracks (as you do) to hire a truck. Really felt God with us on this one as we left the place with a large military truck in tow and 2 soldiers to boot. The price was nearly half that of the commercial options and the soldiers both grafted with us as we loaded up all the stuff for Grafton and During Town in searing heat. We had to laugh at the scene…
The sun here is seriously strong – it only takes a few minutes in the middle of the day to get burnt and sun cream doesn’t last long with all the sweating you do. It means that the working day needs a bit of coordinating otherwise you can get caught out easily.
The military vehicle became our escort through a very busy midday Freetown. Kissy Road in the centre just blocks up with crowds and market traders but our military friends soon got things moving, forcing the stubborn taxis away to free up the flow.
We dropped by Grafton to drop the sewing machines, materials and tables at Pastor Alex’s school ready to move across the road to the building we will be renting – we plan to settle the rent for the year tomorrow.
Then to During town to survey the land for the animal husbandry and make a plan. We were faced with new challenges – the concrete base now needs to be 3 ft high to endure the rainy seasons and we have to pay for leveling work to be done and to make the plot accessible for trucks. We came away discouraged while trying to assess the situation and how we should make the best of our time here.
We had a word of knowledge that this would be the case so we pulled our socks up and followed the instruction to take hold of opportunities. We have booked an appointment first thing tomorrow morning to meet with a builder to assess the costs and get a more concrete plan in place.
Added to these challenges is the distance to the site – a good 2 ½ hour trip each way from where we are staying. We need to play this one well in the next couple of days if we are going to get this project on a good footing. We are reminded that God is unlimited in resources and time – that’s certainly what we’ve experienced throughout so we stand on that.
The journey to Lungi is quite an ordeal and we have cargo to transport as well. What we are learning is that everyone wants paying for everything here and they do stuff for you without you arranging any terms and then expect you to pay up. There are smaller boats for example, which you can cross the river on and they deliberately stop short of the shore whereupon 20 guys rush down the beach to pick up the passengers so that they don’t get their feet wet and then charge a small fee. We watched with great hilarity a white man being hoisted up by 2 guys, while he attempted to resist and failed!
The ferry is perhaps the only place other than the beach where we have met white people.
We get chatting to a couple of guys who turn out to be from Rotherham and are also on a Church mission helping at schools etc. We end up chatting most of the way and swap details – they are quality men with real genuine passion. Another God encounter for sure.
It takes a good 4 hours including the ferry crossing before we arrive at Pastor Henry’s house. We have time for a quick survey round The Word Of Life school before sitting down for dinner. Esther, Henry’s wife, fusses around and serves non-stop – we eventually manage to sit her down to enjoy her company. They both are clearly called of God to do the work they are doing here, running the school in order to give the children greater opportunities and spiritual input. Henry and Esther are clearly the Mum & Dad, with a lot on their plate they are clearly running at full pelt to keep the operation running.
The school backs off their home compound which is open in the day and often overrun with the kids, grabbing water from the well or naughtily using the swing which is broken.
We were formally welcomed by the kids the next morning with a sing song and then less informally as they ran up to us in droves with shouts of “Aporto Aporto” while tugging at our skin, all wanting to hold hands. At one point I was engulfed by about 30 of them, all showing affection and interest, all happy and full of energy despite their challenging circumstances. Many of them cannot afford to pay the fees so Henry & Esther subsidise them because they know it’s better than them being at home.
Its time to start the hands on stuff – several guys roll up from nowhere to help us assemble the benches and tables. They look great especially with the cushions. It seems a bit surreal that all the stuff is here to be honest as we made them back in August.
We moved onto mounting 3 large blackboards in the nursery classrooms and then Joe fixed all the rickety door frames while I figured out how we were going to make a swing out of a few bits of scaffolding and a random mix of couplings. By the end of the day we had the swing up and running with the swing seats attached and frame concreted in. A great first day and everyone was happy. The kids were getting a bit excited and hard to control – the teachers were worn out.
James Buckley has been with us throughout – just want to give him a shout out at this point as we haven’t mentioned him much. What a guy, at his age battling with the elements out here – as he regularly states to me & Joe – “We are survivors!” He’s been great on the team and teaches us a lot.
We finished off on Thursday by setting up poles to facilitate basketball & volleyball and Joe made a load of bookshelves out of junk wood, for Henrys office. We then rounded it off with an official donation ceremony with banner and all (they love official stuff here – anything that mentions ceremonies or certificates and they are buzzing). We wanted to get some good footage and pics for you guys back home so you see the impact of the donations you’ve made. Henry cannot thank us enough as we left to make our way back to Freetown – its been an epic couple of days and the kids have moved us; we’ll miss them.
We haven’t had internet so this is a quick blog to keep you all on board. Lots happening everyday but can’t go into details at the mo. Sunday saw 300 of us march through Freetown after the team was split up to preach at different churches, we all survived. Crazy climax of celebration to finish the conference, then home eager to rest. Monday was meant to be a rest day – ha! Not before Desmond ferried us around to various appointments including an interview with national Television and Freetown newspaper of which we have now been in twice. We eventually made it to the beach – awesome place and good to let our hair down for a bit before the projects start and it gets a bit hectic.
We parted from Mick and Iain and made our way to Lungi on tues taking all the last items for the school with us. We were warmly welcomed by pastor Henry and his wife who both hope to make it over next year. Their lives are laid down for the people here-they are clearly called of God for this place. Appreciate all the support from back home-hope to get fuller blog out on Friday.