Recently, I came across some notes I made after returning from a trip to Sierra Leone, Africa. After reading them I felt I needed to share a couple of excerpts. I have made two trips there and these notes were written after my second trip. The pictures are from my time there, the above pictures is of some of the children that attend a school we visited on my first trip.
Sierra Leone is on the west coast of Africa and is one of the poorest countries in the world with the average person trying to survive on less than $2.00 per day. Sierra Leone is rich in diamond wealth but it only benefits a select few people in the country. For most of the population, extreme poverty is the norm. Though conditions are improving, very slowly, there is still so much work to do.This was not my first trip to Sierra Leone. My first trip was in June of 2010 as part of a team of 15. I had no idea as to what to expect when we arrived in country, had never experienced this level of poverty. We were in the city of Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone, Africa. The population is estimated to be about 500,000 people. Think of the population of El Paso County living in an area smaller than Colorado Springs, none of the side streets being paved; tear out most of the electrical grid and the water distribution systems. Waste water and sewage is, at best, flowing in newly constructed gutters or older ditches next to the road, and running down the middle of the road on the side streets. No buildings taller than about 3 stories and no basements. This barely begins to describe the conditions that exist there. There is something that the camera misses when you try and take a picture to show people what the conditions are like over there and I still cannot find the words to describe it so that someone who has not been there can understand.
Footbridge we crossed on a hike out to a village
outside of Bo on my first trip. (Above)
School children at the village we visited. (Below)
One of the guys on the trip (Mike) went back about a year later with his family in order to do some long term work. I wanted to do what I could to help Mike out and so I went to Sierra Leone for a week so that I could provide some small amount of help for the short time I could be there, hoping to make a difference.
The first time I remember seeing him was while Mike was putting petrol (their version of gasoline) in his car. The young boy was carrying a tray of small plastic bundles a little bigger than a golf ball on his head. Poor nutrition makes it a little harder to pin down his age but best guess would put him at 8-10 years old. He approached my side of the car to see if I wanted to buy any of his peanuts (they call them soup nuts and use them to make Crushed Nut Soup) just as several other street vendors already had, hawking their various wares. Being a Pumwee (white person) you are a magnet for anyone selling anything. After I politely declined he moved on to continue trying to sell his nuts.After Mike had finished filling up the car we headed out, our first stop was a grocery store (more like a small country store you find in smaller Midwest towns) so we could pick up items needed in order to make lunches and dinner for a team of Mennonites from Virginia that were building a clinic. When Mike realized that peanuts were on the list he commented that we should have bought some from the boy at the gas station (the stores don’t always carry the raw nuts needed for the soup that was going to be part of our lunch the next day).Knowing he couldn’t make it far on foot we headed back over to the area we had seen the boy and were able to track him down. He was cautious but didn’t seem afraid at first. Not until Mike picked up one of the bundles from the tray while they were discussing price. I’m not sure if it was because he was afraid of the two Pumwee in the car or if he thought Mike was just going to take the bundle. Mike assured him he was going to pay him and they settled on a price.I don’t know this little boys name or any details of the circumstances of his life. Is he an orphan? Does he have a home or does he live on the street? How much does he need to sell in order to afford to buy something to eat for dinner? These are some of the questions that keep rolling through my mind as my thoughts keep returning to this little boy.Apparently it is not uncommon for parents there to put their children to work as street vendors. Some may even sell their children to the local chief for land or a building and the chief puts them to work to earn their keep. You see them out there selling a wide variety of things; soda, bread, gum, nuts, and ice just to name a few. I can’t fathom my 14 year old nephew having to spend all day in downtown Colorado Springs, regardless of the weather, selling things just to try and survive, much less either one of my 8 or 10 year old nieces.