Last night we went for dinner in a place called ‘The Clubhouse’. The Clubhouse is operated by a NGO called Street Child Sierra Leone. The profits generated from the sale of food and drink, are used for the charitable work that the organisation does to support the needs of street children in the Makeni area. The turn-over of the organisation is £1.2 million pounds. It seems to be well run and organised. The Clubhouse was full of ex-pats who are living and working in the area. Some of these individuals are working at St Joseph’s School as teachers, others are working for Street Child Sierra Leone, whilst some of the folk have come to Makeni to help organise the Makeni Marathon which will take place in May. Coincidentally we bumped into Carmel Valle. Carmen is an academic psychologist who we were scheduled to meet on Monday morning at the University of Makeni. Carmen is helping to coordinate the University of Makeni involvement in the Enabling Access to Mental Health Sierra Leone project. The EU has founded her post for 4 years. She has already chalked up a year of this contract. She had been working at a University in Madrid prior to taking up her current post. Whilst in her job in Madrid she had organised exchange trips for her students who wanted to travel to Sierra Leone. To facilitate these exchange trips she first visited Sierra Leone in 2008 and promptly fell in love with the country. In 2009 she came to Makeni for 2 months, in 2010 she came for 4 months, in 2011 she came for 7 months, before taking up her contract in 2012.
Carmen spoke of the changes that she has noticed in Makeni over the 4 years that she has been coming here. She said that there had been marked deforestation of the road between Freetown and Makeni. She has also noted a marked increase in the number of workers coming from the UK, European countries and South Africa to work for the mineral mining companies that are situated around Makeni. This increase in foreign workers has generated unsavoury business opportunities for local people. Young women from Makeni who are keen to make money to support their livelihood enter into prostitution that is largely driven by mining workers. It is sad to reflect on the desperate steps that people will take to try and better their lives, and how foreign workers exploit this.
After leaving The Clubhouse we visited Mem’s – an outside club situated by the roadside. It was a busy spot. There was a DJ playing the type of music that people love here. We got a chance to speak to local people as well as some of the ex-pats that we had previously bumped into at The Clubhouse. It was a very friendly crowd. I got chatting to two people who are working with the Craig Bellamy Foundation. Craig Bellamy has played football for Wales, Newcastle Utd and Liverpool amongst other clubs. He has invested a considerable amount of his own money into setting up a school, soccer academy, and football leagues (both male and Female) in Sierra Leone. About 18 months ago I had watched a documentary about his efforts in Sierra Leone. At a time when footballers are often in the news for all the wrong reasons, it has been very refreshing to learn about The Craig Bellamy Foundation and the great work that it has been doing.
We had nothing scheduled for this morning. So after getting up for breakfast at 8.30am, I went back to my room to listen to some music. I also used this time to send some text messages to loved ones. This morning also provided a great opportunity to wash some clothes. On account of my bald pate, I don’t often get an opportunity to use shampoo, but Beate’s shampoo proved very useful for doing the hand-wash. After I had washed the clothes, one of the hotel staff helped me to hang it out to dry. He asked where I was from. I explained to him that I live in Scotland. He asked if that was part of Britain and I told him it was. He replied by saying ‘The British colonised us’. When he said this, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. My understanding was that ‘colonialism’ is a dirty word in Africa. As I did some rapid mental gymnastics to try and figure out how I would respond to this, my friend then said ‘The British are our grandparents, we like them very much’. He proceeded to talk about how the Queen had visited Sierra Leone in 1960, and how she is ‘Grand-mother to the Leonean people’. I appreciate that these views might not be shared by everyone, but it was interesting to hear his take on this. I have been aware of the importance of acting as a good ambassador for Britain on this trip. We have been made to feel so welcome, and I feel that it is so important for us to reciprocate this warmth and repsect.
This afternoon Iain, Corinna and myself went back to the Clubhouse for lunch and the promise of getting a chance to watch Scotland v Ireland live in the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. Unfortunately, the staff were unable to make good on their promise – they couldn’t find it on the numerous channels. We had lunch and then went for a walk through the streets. As been the case throughout are time here we were mobbed by children rushing over to us with big smiles, waving and shouting the obligatory ‘Opotho, opotho’. Iain, Corinna and myself had great fun pointing at each other and shouting with our own broad smiles ‘Opotho, opotho!’. These kids come from very poor families, but the richness of their bright faces is truly a sight to behold.
The group assembled together at 4pm to go and visit a village elder (Aminata) who had attended our workshop here. It was fascinating to get an insight into the place where she lives and to meet her family. There was a loom set up outside her house that she was using to make some of the local fabric that they use to make garments and blankets here. Intricate and time-consuming work, but the end result that incorporates local designs is very impressive. There was a chance to take some photographs, before we returned to the motel.
It has been great to recharge the batteries today and gear ourselves up for the start of the 2nd week in Sierra Leone.