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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rain in Surrey = Sun in Kabala

"Plenti Tenki" to the Grade 2 class from Surrey Christian Elementary school who raised enough money to sponsor over seven children through their garage sale this weekend. It was raining in Surrey and Kabala both this weekend. But the sun has come out to allow us some more dry days to complete the roofing. As the building comes to completion it is exciting to know that the support for the students once school begins is as strong as the support we have felt so far in the building of the school. We now have plenty blocks and other materials and tools stored up for future construction, and a wealth of knowledge on how to build in this region.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Christening the Field

so yesterday we held our first match on the CRC primary field. AD Stars vs. AD Site. Quality game and a quality field. The one stump remained gave us a few problems but has been removed this morning. The young stars thought they would have no problem with the old guys. But it was a good match. 3-2 Stars at the half. With minutes remaining in the match I tied the game up at 4-4, only to have the AD Stars score a goal off a defensive mistake. We will practice over the next two weeks and have a rematch just before I leave. The site has some good players and I think we will take them when we play again. After all some of the guys have not played in years. All reports say that the field is superb and the guys on site are hoping to make good use of it over the next months with daily training.
My usual pronouncement is that by tomorrow or next tomorrow we will have zinc on the roof. So "by god een powa" we will! The Fascia boards are being prepared today and put up. The plumbing for the administration building began this morning and will be commpleted in a few days. The window and door material has arrived to the welders and he will begin our work today.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

from Johanna Kuyvenhoven

Hurrah! A small guest appearance on the blog I’ve been following since it began! Before I say a few things about why I’m here, I’d like to lavish praise on Asher. HE’S DONE AWESOME WORK!! I hope he’ll agree to publish my praise and wonder.
I know well the kinds of constraints he faced to get bricks, boards, gravel, cement … let alone getting rafters that meet in the middle and windows on the same plane. And to imagine that he’s kept the momentum of this building going for four unflagging months!?!! This is really a sign of God’s empowerment. Everyone I talk to is full of praise and some awe of the young man who works “pass all.” He was entrusted with much – and has returned far more than anyone reasonably hoped for. AND – best of all, he works in companionship and community with workers, church leaders, the school management committee and others.
I’m the very white woman you might have seen a few entries down – locally known as Yowannah. In Canada/US, it’s Jo Kuyvenhoven. I’m staying with Asher and several others in Kabala… It’s my annual privilege to come here to learn about the teaching of reading and language use in Sierra Leone – and to also do some teacher training. I also facilitate an annual national conference for studies in language and literacy teaching. I lived here from 1981-1985 and worked and studied here for a couple of months every year since 2001. I’m blessed with some very good friendships and connections in SL.
Last week we finished a 1 week intensive workshop for community school teachers from 11 chiefdoms in this district. Working with the 51 uncommonly eager students, I often thought about the new school that will open this September. We are working for a place where learning is soaked with understandings about our Creator and Saviour. The school is also going to be a place where teaching and learning methodologies are deliberately developed for greater effectiveness. Currently, most students in class 3-5 are still in the (very) early stages of print literacy. We will work for nearly fluent readers by class 5. We hope we can develop ways to help our graduates read fluently, ably calculate, have a breadth of knowledge and skills related to the subject areas under study when the finish class 6.
It won’t be easy to find teachers who are ready to bring new methods, strategies and materials to bear on this. Teachers in this area were raised in schools with nearly no materials and overcrowded conditions. One teacher in my workshop has 152 students in his thatched classroom/shelter. Imagine the classroom management issues! He has 7 books for his students’ use. Most participants in the workshop couldn’t write the alphabet the same way twice and struggled to find the number and place where we are reading in our workbooks. Teaching is guided by rote memorization and copy strategies. This is why I do workshops, work with the government ministry of education, teacher training colleges and many other NGO’s in an effort to develop more apt methodologies and materials. Print literacy is a new language learning here.
Sierra Leone culture is fantastically rich with stories, highly developed social and oral abilities and – by western standards- advanced abilities for remembering. We hope that this school becomes a place where the best of two cultures for education can come together to complement each other under the Son’s Shine.
Asher leads the construction of the building - the bones and body of the school. What a great and beautiful promise is becoming visible. Now, we search for the beating heart. The school’s character and much of its possibility resides in the staff of teachers and their headmaster. What divine affirmation that J.T. Koroma, the headmaster was led to this new school. Now we hope God will lead the right teachers to join us. On this Wednesday we will interview 6 candidates. Pray!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Day 152

not that it is significant for any reason other than that I just looked at the calendar I made when I came here which counted down the days up and down to my departure. The rafter are ... nearly complete. I have been fighting the last days to get the crews to do more than one small job in a day. Some days are frustrating, but we come through them and the building continues. The Windows and Doors have been contracted to a welder near the school site. He does quality work and promises to have the job finished by the end of the month. By next weeked some of them should be arriving to the site for installation. I realize that much of what I speculate on this blog for finish dates for certain jobs is way off the true time it takes, but that is just the way construction goes here.
My motorbike has been fitted with the logo of the new CRC Primary School - Kabala. The bike still feels brand new! I will miss the freedom of riding a motorcycle when I leave. We have also begun clearing the school playing field and doing some levelling in preparation for the match this weekend between the AD Stars and the AD Site (the workers from the site). There is much talk. The young Stars think they will have no problem with the guys from the site. I get to choose which side I will play for, so I will be playing for the construction site; being older and also thinking that they may need my help. You never know how many will show up completely "chuck" from drinking too much poyo. Should be a fun game. I am trying to convince everyone that the losing team must level the ground for the school driveway. I think my bargaining skills have significantly improved since I have arrived!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Distorted Panorama

So here is what the site looked like sometime yesterday afternoon from the Water tank in the centre of the site. Don't worry, although the walls may seem to curve and the floors slope in the image, thats just photoshop! Hopefully it give an idea of what the school will be like from the area where the students will gather. To the right will be two flagpoles! one Sierra Leonean, one Canadian. Already today there are rafters up on all the classrooms. I am overwhelmed trying to think of all the possible things I can prepare before I leave here to leave things in capable hands by the easiest way possible.

Monday, June 4, 2007

thinking of flying?

I am relieved and excited that the "zinc" sheeting has arrived on the site and we have enough boards to complete the roof. The smell of creosote permeates any action on the site as we yell over the constant noise of the chainsaw.
Yesterday afternoon I bombed out to the old Kabala airstrip some 7 miles out of town. The small dirt road suddenly turns to ashphalt and about 200 metres later... there it is, a 1.25 km (measured at excitingly high speeds on my Honda XL) strip of pavement. Maybe 25metres wide. It is a very surreal thing to see, right there in the middle of the bush. In 1980 you could fly from Kabala to Freetown; Makeni; Bo; Kenema. There was electricity in Kabala and running water. It is incredible to see the direction the country has gone!
In related news, we have been shocked and many are mourning the loss of 24 lives on sunday evening in Freetown. The Paramount Airlines helicopter service running between Mammy Yoko Airport (in Freetown) and Lungi International Airport which I took on my arrival to Sierra Leone, had a serious accident. The helicopter exploded just before landing at Lungi airport killing all but one of the pilots. The passengers were primarily Togolese sports officials who had been in Freetown for the African Nations Cup qualifying match between Togo and Sierra Leone. Pray for the lives of the families as well as for Sierra Leone as the repurcusions from this event will be felt for a long time I fear.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A dream becoming reality

Yesterday afternoon I would say that I was privileged to see Dr. Johanna Kuyvenhoven see the primary school for the first time. After years of dreaming and scheming the school has finally become a reality in the last six months. Johanna was in Sierra Leone when the land was purchased a year ago, then again when my parents were here last july, and again for a workshop in December when JT Koroma was hired as the new headmaster. Each time the site was a little different, overgrown, then dry, then brushed and NOW!! I don't think that words can describe just being there to witness her seeing the buildings taking shaping. I am so proud to have been one part in this big project.

Friday, June 1, 2007

I figure that you haven't seen enough pictures of myself in a while so here is me on the site contemplating how to direct the drainage around the building and the size of trench needed to direct that water to the far side of the site. Its sunny and rainy and my days are spent thinking about gathering timber, shipping it, ripping it, coating it in an incredibly harmful acid-gas mixture, putting it on the roof and securing it there. (apparently the best remedy for those applying the mixture is for them to drink goats milk afterwards, anyone have know why that might help??) The roof sheeting will be arriving from Freetown today and I am excited about what it will look like. Brick Red. I am off back to the site to see the reaction when Dr. Johanna Kuyvenhoven sees the site for the first time after years of dreaming this project into existence.