Back to Sierra Leone

Posted on Jul 28, 2013

Last month I went back to Sierra Leone. It was just over three years since I had first gone there.

During my original visit I met some of the communities where we planned to build schools. I had wanted to understand their lives and their needs.

Three years later we had funded four schools. Three of them had been completed and were fully operational. I wanted to see what the difference they made to the children, parents and communities at large.

It was a hugely motivating experience, beyond my expectation.

I arrived at Lungi airport at 4am on the British Airways flight from Heathrow. As dawn broke I made my way to the ferry terminal and the short trip across the sea to Freetown, the capital city. I grabbed three hours recovery sleep before four of us jumped into Action Aid Sierra Leone’s 4 x 4 for the seven hour drive north and east to Kono, the capital of the district where the third Millione school was.

At Kono we met Mohammed, Action Aid’s regional co-ordinator, a hugely impressive and energetic man in his thirty’s. In a sweltering room that defeated the efforts of the propeller fans on the ceiling to give us respite Mohammed took us through a detailed presentation of the local situation and the school at nearby Jaiama village. We had been briefed for our visit the following day.

Seven a.m. the next morning we were back in the 4 x 4 and on our way to Jaiama. As we approached the sign announcing the school we saw a flurry of small children in neatly pressed blue uniforms getting into line, ready to sing us a welcome song.

Jerry Lockspeiser's visit to the Millione schools project in Sierra Leone May 2013.

 And what a welcome from children, teachers and parents alike. Their gratitude is humbling, almost overwhelming. Being feted like David Beckham is both a rewarding and an awkward experience. It is wonderful to know that the hard work in selling wine and raising funds is valued by the people on the ground. But we do it because we value it ourselves, without any need or expectation of being treated like royalty.

Assembled

Jaiama School was impressive. As with all Millione schools it has six class rooms, each one for fifty children, to educate three hundred in total. It is a primary school for ages six to thirteen. In common with the other Millione schools demand from the local community and neighbouring villages’ leads to more than three hundred being squeezed in. Separate male and female toilet blocks and the water well in the grounds of the school ensure better sanitation and encourage good attendance from girls, who make half of the students.

Girls who benefitted from the Millione Scholarships and are now in Junior Secondary School Class 1

Jaiama has a strong leadership from the senior teachers and good involvement amongst parents. This is important for championing the cause of the school with local and national Government, especially in securing funding for nationally registered qualified teachers rather than relying on volunteers from the community.

Elders

And the school management committee certainly know a good thing when they see it. After presenting the Head Teacher with a bottle of Millione during our official welcome I put it in his small office to use for a photo session later. When I returned to the office I found three members of the management committee sitting round the small table grinning at me over the empty bottle. Luckily I had a spare in the car.

And then it was gone -  rapid consumption of Millione in the teachers' office!

From Jaiama we jumped back into the 4×4 that was becoming our home and settled in for another seven hour trip, this time to a small fishing village on the south coast.

You can see photographs of the Jaiama school and people here.

Jaiama plaque_0555

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