Thursday, November 15, 2007

its for real

Photos of school in progress continue to come into my mailbox unexpectedly. Every time I am amazed at these children really going to school here. It is not a dream or a project. It is real! And there are textbooks, and resources in the resource centre! Still some shelves to be filled.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thinking of Kabala

I think what happens for some when they travel to places like Sierra Leone and have experiences like mine is that when you leave you end up thinking more about the place rather than less! I guess the fact that my Thesis work is a continuation of my work there makes this unavoidable. I have been doing much exciting reading and looked at many case studies working in similar situations. We have a lot to learn, but have also been privileged in the way the construction and the rest of the project has come about. I am beginning some design work by studying many of the building types and settlment patterns that I was aware of but never drew while in Sierra Leone. Having a knowledge of the available materials and trades will be extremely important to the development of a design for the thesis that fits well with the building we have already built. The images are drawings first of the neighbourhood I lived in in Kabala - Bankolia. This is compared to Tengbeh Town, right in the centre of Freetown where the corrugated homes go right down to the edge of the stream.
My visa is in the mail. I have three week left of school. Then three weeks to prepare at home before I go to Kabala for two weeks. I am excited to return there, but also to take that and turn it into a real useful design for the future over the next few months here at Dalhousie.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Back to Africa

school continues at the CRC Primary Kabala.
I am excited that I will be returning to Kabala over the Christmas Break! My thesis work here at Dalhousie is concerned with developing or trying out a method for design and construction in development projects like this one in Sierra Leone. In addition to learning from the last 10 months working on this project I am hoping to design potential future construction on this school and elsewhere in Kabala as part of the program of the school. Athough it will be a theoretical endeavour, I hope that the design in the end is a useful tool to use in any future building with the CRC primary (or secondary??) school. So in addition to a very joyous reunion when I return to Kabala, I plan to survey potential building sites (including the current one) see how the school is working and being used, and observe more local construction techniques in Kabala and in the villages that might aid in reducing the use of concrete and steel in the buildings. It is incredible to still be working on project so close to my heart even half way around the world.
the pictures aren't loading that will have to wait

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

endings beginnings

School began at the CRC Primary School in Kabala on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007! This opening brings to close the introductory chapter of what should be the long story of Christian nurture in Kabala. The work that had begun so much earlier with the acquisition of the property, the groundbreaking ceremony, digging the footings, putting up the walls and roof, and finally making the furniture and the chalkboards and securing teachers. CRC Primary School Kabala is now a reality!! There was a passion for an alternative in education. That soon gave way to action for we know that when passion disappears there will not be much serious energy. This school became a reality as people on both sides of the ocean between them had a wide-eyed commitment and interest and put the "hand to the plow." A hope became reality. We are ordained of God to be people of hope. Hope is what we are called to do because it is God's community invited to be in God's Story-the ultimate story of hope.
We are back in BC. What a great time we had in Sierra Leone. What a delight to be present at the opening of the school! The partnership of Fraser Valley Christian High School, Surrey Christian School, complemented by the work of some others who are helping with such things as adult literacy, all of these with the Christian community of Kabala is dynamic. And so we journey together. We journey not as those who have much to give and who have all the answers, but as fellow travelers toward truth and light. We are always on the road. And it was done together. A slower job done together is better than a fast job done alone. We are learning by doing.
The Kabala community speaks so appreciatively of those from Canada and the USA--and British Columbia in particular--who have joined them in their dream for a Christian school. They repeatedly asked for promises of ongoing pledges of prayer and support.
We celebrate that we have been allowed to be part of the first chapter of the story of a new school demonstrating that a new way of life is possible, not only for those in Christ Jesus, but for all. We saw the children of Christian parents come to school in hopes of distinct education--even from parents who cannot read themselves. We saw muslim parents too bring their children to the school in hope of something better. The school looks great. It is off to a great start. People are there in hopes of a better world. May God continue to bless this school as a ray of hope in a land with so few financial resources but with a big faith in a God who changes things. A regular morning song for us while in Sierra Leone was "Cast your burdens unto Jesus for he cares for you!" This school exist as a hope. And I think the greater blessing was ours for being allowed to walk a common mile with wonderful people of Kabala who displayed hope in their love and care. Truly the Lord is moving in Sierra Leone.
Lee & Ilean

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Allah Tanto! Halleujah!

It is incredible to final see these photos. The first day of school with their pink and blue uniforms! We did it!! The dream has really become reality for the CRC and many other people in Kabala and around the world. It is a long way from when I first started only in January. Now it is september and school has begun! It is exciting to see the children of people who have been instrumental in this community now attending here. Allah Tanto! Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Amen!

The sound of a brass bell began a new chapter in Christian education in Kabala. At 8 AM on Wednesday, September 26, 2007, when the bell rang out, over 100 students, their parents, their teachers, and a number of other local people who were instrumental in the formation of CRC Primary School in Kabala, began with singing a Krio hymn and other choruses and prayer. Ilean and I were filled with joy to represent the Fraser Valley Christian High School and Surrey Christian School communities. The people in attendance expressed great joy and thanksgiving for the school, its qualified teachers and the encouragement from the international community.
Later we spent a couple of hours just walking through the classrooms as teachers were beginning to implement some very creative teaching with most of their teaching materials still on the way. But that didn't dampen their enthusiasm for learning. They are trying to be a real alternative to many local schools where students are encouraged to be passive learners. No here.
Few of us get the opportunity as we have had today of seeing students and teachers come together for the first time in a community, in a country. In Krio we say, Plenti, Plenti, Tenki!
Lee & Ilean

Monday, September 24, 2007


In Sierra Leone, a good school has a good bell. The CRC Primary School of Kabala had none. And so a bell was purchased in Freetown and presented by us at a meeting of the School Management Committee (the board). The brass bell will be rung for the first time on Wednesday, September 26, 2007, for the first time. Over one hundred students will enter these classrooms for the first time. More will be coming until they reach the maximum for now of 120 students.
There are many prayers of thanksgiving here for the school, for the Canadian and American friends, and for God's providence. As one member of the School Committee told us, Ilean and I would not even have been here (in Sierra Leone) if Christ had not come first to show the way to one another.
Lee & Ilean

Thursday, September 20, 2007

a Wednesday Start...

The planned opening for school is set for Wednesday of next week. This means that Lee and Ilean will be there to see the ceremony. Much celebration in Kabala for this new school. Much like the woman in the photo celebrating the APC election triumph! Blackboards are nearly ready. Apparently the Paramount Chief Ali Marah will also be sending his children to the school!! Quite a show of support for this new school.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Almost Ready...

The election is over. A winner has been declared. The new President has been installed. In a country without a history of democratic changes, this is big news. So now hopefully, schools will begin next week across the country.
The Christian school in Kabala is almost ready. Teachers are planning for the excitement of the first day. The building looks great. The desks have been made. Some supplies are still missing. But school will begin. Shortly students will be standing in the school yard in their new uniforms. The national anthem will be sung along with "Good Morning, Jesus; Good Morning, Lord." Students will then go to their classrooms and teachers will begin the Good News of Jesus Christ in the classrooms beginning with a study of God's action in the world by creating and sustaining His world.
Meanwhile, time is moving along so fast here. We regret that we have only about a week and a half left here. What an exciting time to be here.
Continue to pray for this new venture here.
Ilean and Lee

Here is an excerpt from a great SL news website concerning the recent changeover displayed under a photo of the incoming and outgoing Presidents and VPs standing together. "The picture that should make all Sierra Leoneans weep with joy and pride. After all the rancour of electioneering campaign : From left : President Ernest Koroma, former Vice-President Solomon Berewa , the new VP , Sam Sumana and the outgoing VP , Momodu Koroma . Credit : APC website" (
We have abused each other enough .We have flung accusations at each other enough . .We have fought each other to a standstill, thankfully with words. In many ways than one, we have done our best and our worst ( All in the name of democracy ) , but now the elections are over. A new President has been elected and now we must go back to the serious and noble task of national reconciliation and national reconstruction

Monday, September 17, 2007

A New Leader for Sierra Leone

The people of Sierra Leone have just elected a new president. Ernst Bai Koroma of the All Peoples Congress was today announced the new leader of the Republic of Sierra Leone. It is amazing that things have remained relatively peaceful. "By God een powa" they will continue as the changover takes place. It is the first time since independence in 1961 that there has been a peaceful transfer of power to the former opposition party. Now hopefully school can begin peacefully!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

waiting for results

No firm date has yet been set for the beginning of school as the election results are still not in. Today was hopefully the next to last set of exams to help finalize the student lists.
Attached are a few photos of the election which took place on Saturday. One photo shows me with a person about to vote holding her valued voting card. Another shows the pinking with the dye on it. A couple of others are of the school and one with Ilean working alongside Sunkarie, the keeper of the house in which we are residing.
Lee Hollaar

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Around the world

Here is an email we received from Lee and Ilean upon arriving and starting work in Kabala.
We have arrived in Kabala, Sierra Leona. We are residing with JT in the CES Guest House. Have had a meeting with the teachers and saw the school site yesterday. It looks great! Today we met with the SMC. It went well and we will have further meetings. Have another meeting with teachers planned for tomorrow. With the election coming school opening has been postponed until at least next week Monday.
As we approached the school yesterday Ilean rode on the motorbike and Lee walked—by choice—escorted by two young men, Martin and Joseph who worked with Asher on the school. There were many parents with smiley faces as they were picking up their letter of (enrolment) acceptance. Some spaces are yet to be filled from a long list of applicants. The parents were pleased to see the newly whitened buildings. They look great. Impressive! Classrooms are being finished—and it will be a challenge to get everything ready by the first day of classes—whenever that will be next week. Desks are still being finished. (They are made of a local hardwood redwood. They will last a lifetime.)
We met with the teachers: Dixon, Fina, Bocharie, Steven and the Headmaster “JT”. The three men and one woman composition of the teaching staff is unusual by many world norms for primary schools, particularly in N. America. Further, they all are trained teachers and together have lots of experience. (Most local schools are 70% staffed by UU’ s [unqualified & untrained]).
When we flew into Freetown aboard the plane there were several international election observers. We were told that 5400 such observers are now in the country for Saturday’s run-off election. Please pray that things may continue to go well in this nation with a short history of democracy.
A couple of days ago we were taken to the palace of the Chief in whose chiefdom the school is located. The Chief was very actively intentional about securing the land for the school even against some negative opposition who feared the securing of a valuable piece of land as is sometimes the practice here, once holding entitlement would be slow if ever to be built. With an alternative model school now on site, some of those who were negative, he said, now ask appreciatively, “Have you seen the new facility in our community?” (This Koronko Chief has recently been elected to the Sierra Leone Parliament as a chief and now a member of Parliament he goes by the title of Honourable Paramount Chief Ali Mbalansama III. In the foto he is the younger man in the beige suit) He thanked CES and its Canadian partners for the difference he sees it making in his chiefdom. He identified literacy as a major priority as the first step of helping the people to help themselves. It is a pleasure to see someone who has the courage of his convictions to carry out this mission. He welcomed us, as the foreigners from Canada, and partners in this important work. He also told us he hoped to meet us again. He told us we would be safe here.
After the visit to the chief, Sunkare, the capable woman who keeps the home where we live and wife of J.T. Koroma, headmaster of the school, treated us to delicious meal consisting of a local variety of rice called swamp rice, garnished with local potato leaves served in a red palm oil sauce. The potato leaf is locally renowned for its nutritional value for preventing anemia. And now anything but anemic we continue to participate in the exciting and unfolding story of CRC Christian School in Kabala.
One closing note: Asher deGroot is a celebrated name in Sierra Leone! For a young man he has been an effective witness for the Lord. In the words of Wm. Shakespeare it could be asked, “What is such an old head doing on such a young body?”
Lee & Ilean Hollaar
you may have noticed...
I just added something to the blog which I should have done months ago. On the left there is a map of the world. The dots on the map show where people who have visited the site are viewing from. Click on it to enlarge and it will also display how many people have visited the site. It is incredible to see in a few days where news of the school has travelled to and how many more people are becoming involved and excited about the project.

Monday, September 3, 2007


Below is a message from Reverend John Phiri of the CRC in Kabala, sent to me this morning.
Dear Aasher and Dennis,
Greetings to you. May God bless you always.
The Hollaars are now on their way to Kabala with Joseph. Thank God for their safe journey.
All classrooms are now floored including the administration and the corridors. The white wash is being put and furniture being made. Will take a few shots today and will send them tomorrow by God's power.
Greetings to all who are supporting the work in all forms.
There has been some concern in the past week over excalating violence running up to the second election. Police were using tear gas in Freetown. All sides were calling for peace and quiet. Only yesterday the two candidates decided they will hold a joint rally, riding in the same vehicle through their supporters. Both parties were also advised by outgoing president Tejan Kabbah to distance themselves from ex-combatants of the civil war. Voting is scheduled for saturday.
Kabala is relatively free from the tribal conflicts associated with the ruling parties. We hope Lee and Ilean arrive safely this evening and can begin meeting people and starting some important work. The headmaster JT is here showing off the new uniforms. I was a part of this most interesting colour discussion!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


On Friday of this week Lee and Ilean Hollaar are leaving for Sierra Leone to begin over a month of work with the new faculty and staff at the CRC primary school kabala. They are looking forward to the experience and will be bearing gifts to the school from communities here in Canada.
Lee and Ilean will arrive a week prior to Presidential Runoff elections. The opposition party has already won a majority of seats in the cabinet. APC leader Ernst Bai Koroma and SLPP current vice-president Solomon Berewa will face a second round of polls on September 8. Koroma lead in the first round but without enough to win the presidency directly. Thus far there have been few incedents of violence, and we all hope that peace will prevail and the outgoing government and supporters will go quietly.
When the Hollaars arrive in Kabala, they will be adding updates and photographs to the blog. They will celebrate the school opening and the first children filling the classrooms!

Monday, August 20, 2007


As some of you may know Sierra Leone is waiting for the results of an election which took place on the 12th of August. Ballots are still being counted and the results will likely be in this week. The ruling party (Sierra Leone Peoples Party SLPP) under former vice president Solomon Berewa is currently standing in second place with around 35% of the vote. The frontrunners are former opposition party All Peoples Congress (APC) headed by Ernst Bai Koroma with 45%. In third is the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), a split off from SLPP lead by Charles Margai: nephew and son to Sierra Leone's first and second presidents after independence in '61. With no party taking 55% of the vote there will likely be run-off elections between APC and SLPP. Charles Margai of PMDC is now backing the APC. Those I have talked to in the country are still concerned about the possibilities of violence, particularly in Freetown. But thus far voting and rallies have all occurred peacefully. In spite of accusations on the part of the leading parties, UN observers have stated that the elections were free and fair. Hopefully this will continue as the next round of voting will likely take place in September.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Long time gone

so I have been back from Sierra Leone for a month and a half. It feels like yesterday and it feels like a world away. I have been in regular contact with the headmaster and school board chair to get updates on the construction. It is exciting but also frustrating not to be there to see things through. In my absence things continue but decisions are made in a different manner than they were. These adjustments are necessary for the autonomy of the school, but slow things down a little. Fortunately the workers are committed to seeing this project through in spite of any setbacks.
The furniture and the latrines are the two things remaining to be done. The buildings are painted, sealed, and electrified, with blackboards installed. The teachers have visited the site and are eager to be teaching in such a wonderful space. Johanna Kuyvenhoven related to me their first visit to the school where one of the teachers asked "so how many classes will be in this room?" One class per room and one teacher per thirty students!! They are looking forward to the arrival of several more visitors at the beginning of september. Lee and Eileen Hollaar will be in Sierra Leone as a support to the staff to help shape some of the aspects of the curriculum and school that will make it unique among schools in the country. It will also be a chance for me to send greetings and gifts for friends in Kabala, as well as support for my AD Stars club!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

All is not lost!

Despite not being able to update this blog with photos, the work does go on!! I have received emails and calls that all the windows and doors are installed, wall plastering is nearly complete and the ceilings are completed. The gutters are going up and the interior whitewash has been purchased as well. I long to be able to just take the 2.5km motorbike ride from my house in Bankolia to the school site to check up on the progress.
I have just finished reading a book called "Blue Clay People" chronicling an NGO worker's time in Liberia, just south of Sierra Leone. His recollections of the experience are both comfortingly and frighteningly familiar. I know that already my undestanding and perceptions of my experience are changing and maturing. But I know that it will take time and energy and more visits to Kabala to keep alive the relationships I have begun there, and the great work of this school that we have all been a part of.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

work without Mista Asha

I have spent the last week telling stories and sharing my experiences in Sierra Leone with family and friends. But while I sit and evaluate the experience of being in Africa and that of returning to North America the work goes on unabated. For the first time I think I am seeing the excitement of new pictures posted on the blog showing the next stage of construction. It is incredible to see where things have come in a week! Reverend John Phiri, the head of the CRC church in Sierra Leone, will continue to take pictures for me to keep all of us up to date on the construction.
Over the last week it has also been incredible to hear how many of you have actually been visiting this blog. I am blown away by this show of support. And so I also need to think about how this blog changes with my no longer being in Sierra Leone. Because as much as my stories may have filled much space on the blog, my own part in the story of this school has changed now. The stories may no longer be firsthand but the photos will continue and my own work on the project will continue from this end for several weeks yet, documenting, writing, drawing... there are still many things to be done. This blog is the story of this school and so it will continue to be that, all the way up to time when the doors open and the children fill the verandas and classrooms with laughter and learning.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Out of Africa

I am having a hard time expressing or contemplating what the last week has been like for me. I am back home in Langley, British Columbia, Canada with many family and friends around to celebrate my return. With everything still fresh in my mind I was sitting on the coach bus travelling from London Gatwick Airport to Heathrow. I could not help overhearing a conversation going on between two American travellers about their house purchases and the reasons why they had taken one house over another because of the fact that it didn't have a large enough walk in closet as if that was the most necessary thing in the world. I thought, "the cost of your closet or renovation for your bathroom might be more than the entire amount of money we put into this school." But I am absolutely convinced that the value of this school in the Kabala community is incomparably more than all the bathroom renovations we have all done put together and multiplied several times. I don't know yet what to think about it all.
I will miss my family in Kabala more than I can imagine over the next months and until I return. They have been unimaginably welcoming and generous. As I walked around the the school compound one last time the morning of my departure I was blown away by what has been done in the last six months. I remember stressing about the construction of the well and now I see a roofed structure nearly in readiness for children to run down its verandas and sit in its desks. I am so grateful to the workers on the site who have tought me so much about construction technique and work ethic. I may have showed them a few things and I know they will miss me as much as I will them. And more importantly I know that they are so committed to seeing this buliding through to completion. They are as proud of it as I am. Just today I received a phonecall from one of the workers. More than half of the windows have been installed and the entire interior of the Administration building will be completed tomorrow. I am sure the classrooms are coming along as quickly. I may have been slightly worried when I left but that word has brought me confidence that we will be ready to receive children by September.
On Sunday morning before I left kabala a group of people gathered together on the school site to carry out a symbollic ceremony. We laid out a line of trees dividing the new football field from the driveway. Our neighbours at the Red Cross Technical Training centre donated 10 trees to the project. I planted a pear (avocado) and others planted Mangos, Oranges and Acacia, each representing a different person, present or not who has given significantly to the project. In the photo JT Koroma the new headmaster is planting a Mango tree. We charge him with caring not only for this little row of trees but with the future students. And we trust that these seedlings will bear fruit as the efforts of many supporters from around the world have born fruit in this project and will likewise bear fruit in the children of Koinadugu District and Sierra Leone.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Under the red roof... and none too soon

so the roof is finished. And overall I am completely thrilled with how it has turned out. Apart from a few minor bumps it went smoothly. Nobody believed that such a small pile of sheeting could cover all those roofs. So I bet anyone who would take me up 5000 leones that there would be a balance left over. I think I was too confident and said make it a million so nobody took me up on it. But we have enough sheeting left now to roof the latrines which have only just been started. Our completion of the roof was just in time for my going away party. Rain came down hard in the afternoon, pouring off the roof as we all lounged on the spacious verandas. It was very moving for me to see the genuine appreciation for the work that I have done and the life I have lived in this community for the last six months. I think that the tears I cried could hardly express the sadness that I have at leaving this place and how important these people and this project are to me now.
The football match which preceded the program was a gruelling one. The rain had soaked the field and the play was a bit messy. Nil nil at the half. But early in the second half, the young AD stars went ahead on a controversial ball going in off a corner kick. The AD site poured on the pressure, myself getting a few headers and passing up a chance to shoot from close range only to see my teammate put it into the keeper's hands. "We done try, but ee no do" I was taken from the game to attend the party in my honour, but the site couldn't equalize. So it was a hard fought and messy game, but in the end the AD Stars prevailed on the lone goal 1-0. I can't really complain, it is my team! they now even have my initials on their chests. Most importantly I think that they also now own this field and the school and will continue to be involved in the upkeep and maintenence of the football pitch and other work that needs doing.
Today was a day spent organizing last minute contracts and jobs that are better done before I leave. Trying to tie up lose ends, with everyone trying to see me for one favour or another, giving gifts, expressing thanks. It is all a little to much to do in the next 48 hrs. I have not even begun to pack.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Busy Busy Busy

last week and lots of things to do. Here is a quick snapshot of the building yesterday afternoon. The guys had a well earned football match after the days work. Today the most difficult roof is going on right now. The corner classroom with 4 gables. Who thought that would work? Well I wasn't sure myself until we started it and now it looks pretty sweet from almost any angle you see it!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

At Long Last...

I am so thrilled that the guys on the site want to see some part of this building really feel "completed" before I leave. So because of problems loading the photos I have had to edit this because now... two classrooms and the administration building are completed roofing. It is tradition that the guy who finishes the roof has to come down on a ladder off the edge of the roof which I had to put up for him. It is very exciting to see it come together. And I daresay it is none too soon. This morning we had extreme winds that brought down trees and torrential downpours. I rushed from Church to the site to check the building. But even the classrooms where the sheeting was only tacked are still okay. Inside is dry. The verandas are very wide to protect from rain and sun. I have also continued the "oddjobs" around the site, like completing the drainage trench. I was more than a little unlucky. The guys were urging me to start the work so we mixed the concrete and about 20 minutes after we started the rain began to come washing away the bottom of the trench which I was attempting to smooth out. So we ditched that idea for a sunnier day. You can see from the photo the importance of the drainage around the building. There is a tonne of water flowing down this trench and it will help protect the building and landscaping both.
Although I don't always feel like I have had busy days, I can now say "Me na masona, me na carpenta, me na bomba designa." Everyone is always surprised to see that I actually know how to work (and sweat about 10x as much as everyone else it seems).
As a side note, the football field gets daily use, and is slowly getting larger as we clear and level more land for it. The big rematch will be on Friday or Saturday and i think the AD Site will have no trouble with the young AD Stars.