Kristin’s Story

I met Kristin when we gave her a ride home from a meeting . . . we dropped her off in Kroo Bay, one of the poorest slums in Freetown. It was 10pm but the streets were full of people selling things from their small tin shack shops/homes. As she walked away I wondered if she would be safe . . . later I learned that the people in the neighborhood knew her and watched out for her.

Kristin in front of her house.

Kristin in front of her house.

She works with Word Made Flesh, a community of Christians who lives alongside the most vulnerable children, giving out medical care, food, and teaching them about Jesus. Kristin, from Alabama, is a nurse and lives in the same tin shacks as the people she serves. There’s no running water so she uses her neighbor’s shower.  She and her colleagues find joy and meaning by caring for and loving these people who have little food or material possessions.

WMF compound overlooking Kroo Bay

WMF first came to Freetown in 2002 and supported a local Christian leader who was already providing for the needs of the community by offering a place of refuge from the chaos caused by the civil war. Gradually they started building relationships with at-risk youth to help them finish school and develop skills to support them and their families. Some of these youths have stayed and serve as leaders to the younger ones.

As I followed her through the slum to her house, many people greeted her and it was clear that she was a part of this community. It was an inspiring example of how we can be used by God to live out his love in the lives of those less fortunate.

See here for more information on WMF.

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A very cool thing happened . . .

Several months ago I wrote about a volunteer job I found at a school/resource center called Transformation Education. The kids are all nine or ten years old, and this one boy I noticed, Babah, had something wrong with his right eye. Herb and I had become friends with an eye surgeon and his wife (from the U.S., here for a year) who lived below us. I showed him a picture of his eye and he said it looked like a cataract, a common problem here.

Abraham (one of the TE teachers who speaks Krio), and I met with Babah’s aunt, (his guardian – no parents), to explain how to get him an eye exam (basically free), a diagnosis, and treatment. When I returned to Freetown after a Christmas break in Seattle, I learned that his aunt had visited the clinic, but decided to take him out to the provinces to visit a “doctor” there. I’m not sure, but I think she may have been afraid of the surgery (as would anyone). Sometimes it is hard to get the full story here because of the language barrier.

A few months later I’m still seeing Babah at the center, with the same problem. I had a sense that our Lord was prompting me to act (having prayed for such opportunities before we came here) so I made another appt. for an exam. This time, we got permission from his aunt, and I took him myself. Sulaiman drove us.

after surgery

The next morning the bandage came off; in a week he will have a checkup.

I was happy to pay the 300,000 leones ($75) to make this happen. (Surgery is free to those who cannot pay.) Acting on Sul’s advice I had decided to have him stay at the clinic overnight after the surgery where it was quiet and away from the chaos. The next morning when the nurse took off the bandage, she covered her hand over his good eye, held up two fingers, asked “how many fingers?” and he said TWO!

The German doctor who has done thousands of these surgeries said he had not been 100% sure that the surgery would be successful; apparently Babah had suffered an eye injury after which the cataract had formed. He thought the optic nerve might have been damaged, but at the very least his eye would look more normal. So hearing Babah say “TWO” was especially heart-warming and joyful.

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New Bathrooms for Evans Primary School

One of the great things about being here is that one sees many opportunities for doing good that aren’t that hard to make happen, but that make a HUGE improvement in the quality of life of people here.

One of the classrooms divided by partitions.

One of the classrooms divided by partitions.

Evans Primary School present bathrooms

The one bathroom with tarp walls.

Pastor James in front of toilets

The new bathrooms almost finished.

toilets beside Evans School

The main school building is on the right of the new bathrooms.

One such opportunity came up when Sulaiman showed me a primary school he had helped build with funds from a generous British ex-pat and her family and friends. The one big room houses six classrooms (with dividers), a small principal’s office, and a computer lab.

A septic tank covered with a cement slab with a hole in the middle serves as the one bathroom. Walls were made of plastic tarp; boys and girls took turns using the one hole.

I contacted my P.E.O. Sisterhood in Bellevue, WA. When they heard this story and learned of the need for a real bathroom, they donated nearly $500 and sent me the funds in a Moneygram. Sulaiman oversaw the project with the help of the school principal, Pastor James. Through the generosity of these women, a solid structure has been built with separate bathrooms for boys and girls, and a sink with soap for washing hands.

P.E.O. is an international women’s philanthropy based on friendship. Its purpose is to promote educational opportunities for women around the world with grants, loans, awards, and scholarships as well as Cottey College located in Missouri. Over 500,000 members serve in local chapters in the U.S. and Canada. More than 90,000 women have benefitted from these projects. But it is more than just a philanthropy – it is a sisterhood. We care about and support one another. For more information, see http://www.peointernational.org.

I’ll keep you posted as more progress is made on the finish work.

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“How you sleep?”

Around the corner from us.

Around the corner from us.

That is the first question I’m greeted with (in Krio) as I walk down our street in the early morning. First I thought the question was odd, but not any more: the noises during the night can be relentless: fighting dogs, loud music, and people yelling into megaphones. A good night’s sleep is hard to get.

DSC07159On my walk to the market, I pass by this school, one of the 100-year-old British colonial houses, where children are always playing. They usually 
ask me for a “snap”.

We live in a place called Hill Station . . . Graham Green wrote about it in his book The Heart of the Matter (made into a movie in 1953), about a British intelligence officer stationed in Freetown during WW2. Though the city isn’t mentioned by name, we’ve found the landmarks he refers to throughout the book.

In front of The Cotton Tree.

In front of The Cotton Tree.

On Fridays we visit schools that participate in our English language/character education program. Abraham and I traipse all over Freetown, finding shortcuts and riding transport buses only when necessary.  We walk as much as possible because sitting in traffic in a transport bus full of sweaty people is not fun.

Yes, they're bats.

Yes, they’re bats.

Passing The Cotton Tree on our way back to school, we notice black objects swooping en mass from its branches. They look like birds, but no, they’re bats. Hundreds of bats swirling around the tree and hanging from the upper branches.

These eleven-year-old girls are some of my favorites. Especially Jariatu, in the middle; she’s kind, studies hard, and is always raising her hand. Jariatu’s parents are dead; she was taken in by a neighbor woman who cares for her.

Mabinty, Jariatu, Deborah.

Mabinty, Jariatu, Deborah.

They are all happy to be in school, especially ours, where they don’t get “caned”. Unfortunately most teachers use the stick mercilessly; I cringe whenever I see this. It is always done in front of the whole class, in anger. There is so much pent up resentment at the injustices in this country; the teachers are usually not paid much, if at all, and the classes are too large.

As the country gets back on its economic footing, hopefully this will improve.

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British Colonial houses

The house next door to us.

The house next door to us.

About a hundred years ago when Sierra Leone was still a Crown Colony, these houses were built for British administrators. They arrived flat-packed from the London department store Harrods. About 15 of them are left in our Hill Station neighborhood. Sierra Leone civil servants now live in them, but they are pretty run-down with no running water, and unreliable electricity.

I walk by several on my way to the market about 1/4 mile down the hill. The one below has been turned into a primary school, and as I walked past this little girl was playing on some steps. Right after I took her picture, several more kids appeared.  There are dogs everywhere . . . they don’t seem to belong to anyone in particular and they all look alike.

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The residents have a creative way of doing local commerce (see below) . . .  such as setting up a little portable shop in front of their house, selling water, soda, little bags of powdered milk, etc. At the end of the day they take everything down and store it in their house until the next day.

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Since we’ve returned from Christmas break in Seattle, Herb and I resumed our jobs – he at the State House and I at the English primary school. The 10-year old kids I teach were so glad to see me . . . I told them I was coming back!

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Sulaiman

Sulaiman takes me running at Lumley Beach.

Sulaiman takes me running at Lumley Beach.

We first met Sulaiman when he picked us up at dawn at the Freetown dock. We had just finished a six-hour flight from London and a half hour speedboat ride from the Lungi airport. During the past months he has become our trusted friend and protector – almost like the son we never had.  Sulaiman is 31 years old; when the war was raging in Sierra Leone, he was 15 and living in a small village upcountry working in his family’s fields with his father and brother. The rebels suddenly appeared and killed his father in front of him; he and his brother fled to the bush, where they hid out for six years until he could make his way to his mom in Freetown.

The thing that gave him hope was his faith in our Lord. He believed that whatever happened, God was with him and would protect him – if not in this life, then the next. Extremely grateful for what he has, he is honest, humble, loyal to his one wife and two children (he has told us “why would a man want more than one wife  – he would be responsible for so many more mouths to feed”), honoring to his mother (he and his brothers support her), willing to ask advice of his elders, hard-working, giving to those needier than himself (he helped build a school for orphans). He has goals, one of which is to finish building a new house for his family on land he purchased in a small village at the edge of Freetown. And when I say build, I mean from scratch; he and his workers mold each cement block on site. The peace and quiet alone would be enough of a reason to move there. Freetown is SO NOISY . . . the decibel level of cars and trucks is way over the top. (I have to put my fingers in my ears while walking down a city street.) Not to mention the noise at night – occasional blaring music mixed with the sound of dogs fighting.

He has a salaried job as a driver for a local car hire company (everyone here has drivers – it is almost impossible to navigate on one’s own the narrow streets crowded with people, cars, trucks, motorbikes, and vendors). On the side he operates his own car hire service with cars he has purchased and repaired (he apprenticed as a car mechanic earlier and worked as one during his early twenties). Now he has three cars which he rents out (with a driver) for $50/day.

Whenever he gets paid a large amount of money, if it is late in the evening he will come by and ask Herb (aka “Dad”) to keep it for him until the next day when he can deposit it in the bank. He is nervous about keeping large sums in his home even overnight – there are no bars on his windows.

Lane leading to property.

Quiet lane leading to property.

The front of the house.

The front of the new house.

Sul and his builder.

Sul and his builder.

Herb.

Herb.

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I Got a Great Job! . . .

. . . teaching English (phonics – something that is not emphasized in schools) to nine and ten-year olds in a school/resource center in Freetown. I met the director in church a few weeks ago, and after hearing about Transformation Education, I asked her if I could volunteer. She works with 10 different schools (each has its own uniform), and the kids – two classes of 20 each – are sent by their regular teachers to this special school to improve their English skills. Since children only go to school half a day, they come to us the other half day. They are really happy to come!

View from the school balcony.

View from the school balcony.

Most of them are on a first grade reading level so we use a first grade phonics curriculum. Their parents, however, aren’t so happy with our teaching them at a lower level, but these kids have been promoted even though their skills are not there yet. Many of the parents don’t speak English themselves, so have no way of really knowing what their kids are learning.

We also teach them a different character word each week, defining it and reinforcing it with a story and memory verse from the bible. A list of these words is given to the teachers at the beginning of the term – one for each week – which they teach the kids as part of their daily assembly. We visit the schools each Friday and test them on their understanding and memorization.

You can see why people walk in the street, instead of the sidewalk. Herb’s office is in the Electricity House below . . . it’s covered with random wires and improper connections.

Why walking in the street is safer than the sidewalk.

Why walking in the street is safer than the sidewalk.

Random wires all over the building.

Random wires all over the building.

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