Published: October 27th 2010October 27th 2010
“ow di bodi?” (local greeting)
Just spent an incredible 10 days in Sierra Leone and have totally and utterly fallen in love with the country. Right from the moment of landing, I had this amazing buzz of excitement about being there - just such an energetic country at a really interesting stage in its history and development. I was a little nervous and unsure as to what to expect but was most definitely pleasantly surprised and would go back in a flash.
Freetown (the capital city) is located on the coast of Sierra Leone and is a city of tremendous character. 2 million, out of a total population of 6 million, people are crammed into the smelly centre, living in an array of shanty towns and old colonial houses, connected by red soiled roads scared by pot holes. There is no middle class in Sierra Leone so the disparities between the rich and poor are very apparent. The city buzzes with motorbikes weaving in and out of constant traffic, women carrying babies on their backs, children selling pop corn and water, and the constant flow of people walking along the roadsides carrying huge weights on their heads and pushing carts full of goods. The city beach is kept beautifully clean and becomes the footballers’ playground come dusk. Endless supplies of delicious barracuda and sea food, accompanied by Star beer don’t make for a bad life!
Despite many people insisting that it was a little jaunt, I was in fact working and had a fascinating week. Right to Dream is involved in a partnership with The Craig Bellamy Foundation and UNICEF who, together, operate a football development league. Over 1600 youths partake in the League across 4 regions and points are equally awarded for match play, education attendance rates, community development work and the adoption of fair play. Last year, the school attendance rates went from a nationwide average of 29% to 84% for those players in the League - it seems to be having a huge impact and has considerably helped with reducing a culture of youth violence. I heard so many comments along the lines of “I love playing in the League as we no longer beat each other up or attack the referee”! I was helping to train the Team Managers who are responsible for the implementation of the programme and was blown away by their passion and excitement for the role that they could play in the future development of their country. One of the biggest cultural differences from Ghana is definitely the means of communication - whilst Ghanaians will tell you what you want to hear, Sierra Leoneans are far more direct and argumentative. You constantly hear people shouting and the noise levels are unreal - the beginning of every training session was like a school playground with games going on everywhere, incredible singing and drama sketches. Our focus for this year is to try and make the League sustainable before expanding it to include more Sierra Leonean youths and we held interesting sessions on microfinances, conservation projects and how to communicate sensitive health messages to the communities. I could go on for ages as it was such an inspirational and exciting experience from which I learnt so much.
I was lucky enough to have a couple of days on the beach to chill out and went to stay at a project called Tribewanted (Google it!) - a really cool eco-tourist venture involving members of the local village to develop a sustainable tourist programme on the shores of the most beautiful beach. The programme has only been going for about 6 weeks but they have already managed to build compost loos, construct the majority of their first earth-bag building, set up a wooden framed kitchen / dining area and now have fully functioning solar panels. The project employs about 25 local staff who are all trained in specific skills and encouraged to make the programme theirs. Tourists pay to come and be a part of the initiative but it is proving to be a hard sell due to pre-conceived perceptions about the country. Please do spread the word though as Tribewanted has the potential to turn tourism around for Sierra Leone and play a massive part in the nation’s development - www.tribewanted.com
Arrived back in Ghana on Sunday eve and felt as if I had returned to Europe due to the huge cultural difference from Sierra Leone. Great to be back but really hope I will return to Sweet Salone at some stage - it’s a very special place.