Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ten Key Ten Key

What an eventful week we’ve had!

Started off on Thursday with The Peoples Foundation of Sierra Leone Youth Conference, which was a 3 day conference centered around overcoming obstacles, Canadian and Sierra Leonian culture and traditions, and exposing our talents. It was so interesting hearing the different perspectives on societal issues… such as dating, abortion, suicide, decision making within the family, and traditions/ cultural practices. I think that everyone, both Canadians and Sierra Leonians, left the conference with so much more knowledge, and left with a new perspective on how to overcome the obstacles within our lives personally and as a society. We also made so many new friends… so saying goodbye on Sunday was not a very enjoyable time. Although little did we know… that would be only one of many very difficult goodbyes, because for the rest of the week we’d have to say goodbye to so many other people.

We also went to visit Yarah, which is a village about a 2 hour drive from Kabala on a very, very, very bumpy road. On the way there we stopped at Badala, which is a town that has a big Easter celebration every Easter Monday. Everyone goes swimming  in the river and hangs out at the beach all day… and when I say everyone I mean everyone! There were sooo many people there… it was insane! In Yarah we went to visit a mine, called Dalakuro mine, which is a large mining village centred around mining for gold. The poverty that we saw there was overwhelming at times, but I think that our entire team walked away from it with a new understanding of what poverty can look like. In my journal I wrote, “This mining village was full of people, and it was just hill upon hill of slums. The poverty I saw walking through there was unfathomable. It was ridiculously hot, very dusty, smelt like a mixture of feces, urine, body odour, and dirty water, there was garbage everywhere, people were bathing in dirty water, and many of the people that I talked to did not even have a job.”  But the crazy thing is, even amongst all that, I could feel a sense of community, and a sense of joy within every person there. I saw kids laughing and playing, and I saw mothers sitting and talking with smiles on their faces, and I saw people working together. I think that it’s easy to just think that because people are not as wealthy as us they are not happy… but I now know that joy is in no way dependent on material wealth... in fact many times wealth has the ability to hinder joy, and wealth can hinder people from living in community with one another. Visiting the mine I also learnt that poverty does not define who people are. And poverty does not steal people’s ability to love, to be hospitable, to worship God and to be joyous.

Yesterday was our last day in kabala… one of the most heartbreaking mornings of my entire life. We had to say goodbye to our families, to our dear friends, and to CRC Primary/Junior Secondary school. We had to say goodbye to people who have made us feel like one of their own, who have welcomed us in a way that we’ve never been welcomed before, who have loved us, and who we have all built lasting relationships with. As mr.melissen said, “In order to go back to our families we must leave our families”, which is so true, and I think that’s why it was so hard. There were many, many tears, but instead of saying goodbye we said “until we meet again”, because it is not a forever kind of goodbye.

And now, on our 19th day in Sierra Leone, we’re sitting out on our porch at a private beach house in York (just outside of freetown) eating mangoes and oranges watching the waves hit the sandy beach. I will never forget my time in Kabala, I will never forget the incredible people that changed my perspective, I will never forget the dancing, the singing ,the church services, the insane amount I sweat each day, the culture, and all of these things have been engraved in my heart forever. It’s easy to say that Sierra Leone has already stolen a large part of my heart

Photo of No.2 River (near York) by A. deGroot August 2012

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"You are an African Princess!!"

“You are an African Princess!!.” This was enthusiastically stated by a JSS 1 boy to Caitlin after seeing her with ‘planted’ hair.  Not wanting to miss out on such compliments, all 4 girls now have their new hair style (pic to come soon).
We are still having a great time!  All are safe and well.  Today was our last day witnessing classes at the school as Easter break starts tomorrow.  We were able to read the SCS ‘buddy’ books to the classes, collect all the remaining letters, observe in classes, read different stories to classes, and even teach some computer lessons to CRC staff members.  Our time at CRC school each day has really been a blessing in so many ways. 
On Wednesday we went around to different schools in the town to ‘bring greetings’ from CRC School, and also walk around and see what other schools in the area are like.  It was a real eye-opening experience first of all to see the conditions that other schools are in, but also to hear them talk so positively about CRC Primary and Junior Sec. School.  Every school we visited referred to CRC as a ‘partner’ or ‘sister’ school because of the fact that it shares workshops, resources, and other things with them.
The girls have now begun their youth conference, run by TPFSL (The Peoples Foundation For Sierra Leone).  This NGO, which among other things provides scholarships for post-secondary education, and is now registered nationally in SL.  It was started by Krissy Bucholtz, a member of Kabala Team #1. During the 3 day conference (held at CRC School), the girls will work with local youth on articulating problems and potential solutions for a variety of topics.  They will also play soccer, perform at a talent show, dance, and celebrate together on Sunday night. 
Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers! Blessings to you,
Team 4.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25, 2013

It’s another very hot day in Kabala. We hear about single digit temperatures in Surrey and blizzards in Alberta and we are trying to relate, here in Kabala, as we lather on sunscreen and guard our burnt shoulders and arms at 38C-45C.
Every day we spend time at the school. The grounds are dusty and dry as we are one month away from the beginning of the rainy season. The school buildings are well maintained and attractive. The teachers are doing good work here and the students seem very happy. It’s amazing to see the innovative ways that the kids, dressed in their pink uniforms, keep themselves entertained at recess and lunch breaks – even without playground equipment! They play clapping games, a form of dodge ball that is played with a stuffed sock, and lots of ‘football’ in the shade of the huge mango tree that marks the center of the school yard. Right now a group of JSS (Gr.8) students are playing volleyball with “Mr. Joe”.
Kabala is a city set on a mountainous area surrounded by many rolling hills. There are all kinds of trees here with lots of mango, banana and palm trees. The mangoes won’t be ripe for a few more weeks so we will likely miss them! The roads are rutted and dusty and it is not uncommon to see many chickens and goats as pedestrians dodging the ‘Okadas’ (Honda cycles/taxis that are the main form of transport here).
On Saturday we climbed for 40 minutes, almost straight up, to the top of a local hill where we sat high above the town on the heated rocks looking out over this entire region. The girls used the time to snap some photos. We were escorted up the hill by two local boys (ten year olds) who clambered ahead of us and then charged back to us, running the whole time like energetic puppies. It is clear that the people here are in much better shape than we are! Each year on December 31, most of the population of this area, including women with babies strapped to their backs and many others carrying heavy bundles of food and equipment on their heads, climb that hill to greet the new year. It must be something!
We miss our families and friends, of course, but we are thoroughly enjoying this experience. It is so good to meet fellow Christians in this distant country – we find that we share more similarities than differences between us! We are all in good health and, yes, we’re remembering to take our medications! Sleeping in the heat is a bit of an issue sometimes and the food is taking some getting used to but we are well and wish you all well too, as we enter together this Passion Week.

Blessings, Kabala Team #4

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday, March 22

Today is the first day that we’ve all really felt adjusted to this new place. Maybe that’s because it’s a little bit cooler today, only 35 degrees! We are trying to be as African as possible. We aren’t really succeeding. Everywhere we go, we feel like we’re famous. All the kids at the school yell our names, and on the streets kids yell “white man!” Everyone says we’re all beautiful too. If you need an ego boost come to Africa!
                We’re learning new things every day.  We’ve learned a lot of Krio phrases like “how de body” and “small small.” Constantly we see differences between our cultures. Two of our team members visited one of the chiefs, and as a gift they got a live chicken. Their homestay father asked if they knew how to cook it, but they said no. They were very shocked. That chicken was breakfast for two days in a row.
                Yesterday we took individual pictures of all the students and teachers. It took a long time, but apparently we did it quicker than other teams in the past. Chalk one up for team #4! Today we took a school picture. First we had the Junior Secondary School, then the Primary School, and then a full school picture. There are a lot of students! Being here has us all feeling like our school is going to be making a lasting change in this town and this country

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kushe Kushe!

Greetings to everyone in Canada….
We have truly enjoyed our first few days in Sierra Leone!  It’s been a wonderful trip so far….so many stories and events to tell, but we only have time (and the battery/internet power at the moment) for a very quick update. 
We were warmly greeted by driver extraordinaire Bilalie – and the Land Cruiser – at the airport.  After a long ferry/car ride up to Kabala, we received a wonderful welcome, complete with rice and sauce, from Reverend Bahago, Reverend Ezekiel, and their families.  JT Koroma was also there as his usual warm and energetic self. 
Monday morning was our first day at the school, and we were able to witness a great 1 hour long welcome assembly complete with speeches and welcome songs.  The staff and students have been extremely appreciative of the gifts we brought along: an electric piano, 2 computers, and individual gifts for each staff member.
The girls have settled in very nicely with their homestay families!  Anna and Caitlan are staying with two CRC teachers (who are married) named Mahmoud and Namisa Marah.  Malissa and Kaitlyn are staying with Daniel Koroma (a longtime CES worker) and his wife Sunkarie.  Both houses are close to the school, and also to each other. 
The girls have had a great experience at the school thus far!  One highlight has been working with CRC Primary students on promotional and educational videos – about CRC School, life in Kabala, life at home, etc. 
We are happy, busy, learning new things, getting to know new people, and enjoying our time here so far very much! (we are also extremely sticky and sweaty from the heat) 
Thanks so much for all your thoughts and prayers! 
Kabala Team #4

Friday, March 15, 2013

Only 24 More Hours!!

How is it possible that we are leaving tomorrow!! We seriously could not be more excited right now and have been buzzing about our trip all day. It all seems so surreal and almost too good to be true but as soon as we take off tomorrow I think it will all sink in. Through all this excitement there is still some fear and nerves about the adventure we will take on tomorrow. I think the biggest thing on our minds right now is just that we have a fairly limited idea of what to expect or look forward to. Deuteronomy 31:6 is such a huge reminder of the great God we serve and that he will provide us with all we need on this trip and through our lives. It says "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." How perfect is that for our situation right now? We are so excited and feel so fortunate to get to experience this and grow together in our faith and character. Thank you for your continued prayers and for thinking of us as we take on our fears and anxieties over these next few weeks. Blessings, Caitlin W.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kabala Team #4

Somehow the fact that Team #4 is leaving in only 3 days has finally become real to me. For a long time I couldn't believe that we as a team would be heading out to Sierra Leone and I couldn't even begin to imagine what that would be like. We have been so overwhelmed with the support and love that our school and our greater community has given us. Everyone's prayers and genuine interest in our trip has really blessed us and helped to prepare us for this amazing opportunity. As we leave this Friday it is such a nice reminder to know that our friends, family and school body will be thinking about us and praying over us. We couldn't be more excited about the opportunity we have been given and we are looking forward to how this trip will shape our lives and to the stories we will remember for a lifetime.