Final Days in Makeni

The Presidential House, so big, Julia says  "The whole of Rofenka could live in there"

The Presidential House, so big, Julia says “The whole of Rofenka could live in there”

Julia has sent a few blogs at once as Internet access is, not surprisingly, unreliable in Sierra Leone. So we’re still catching up on her journey…

So quickly we have come to nearly two weeks in Sierra Leone which means only two weeks left. How time flies?! Since getting back from the community I’ve had a shower (in the community we had to wash with water in a bucket filled from a pond) and I’ve never felt so clean! I was one of the lucky ones as two of our group are in a different building and the water was off for the first two hours after we returned.

On Thursday (yesterday) we went to the University of Makeni Youni Campus- which is where the law faculty and IT faculty are. For me this was fascinating after studying Law with Politics at University. We were able to have a tour of the campus and look at the law library. I may have become slightly geeky and disturbed all the students studying in the library by going through the books and being like “That’s the textbook I used”. Sierra Leone has the same LLB as the UK as it uses common law as its main source of law as case reporting has only been around for 10 years. The main difference between my textbooks at university and the library’s text books were that mine were all brand new and the latest edition (2010-2012) the editions in the library were 2007-2008. Knowing from my own degree how much the law has changed in the last 5 years means I can understand it must be very difficult to be able to keep up to date with current law cases especially when there is no internet access.
On our tour we were also able to meet one of the law professors, he was an American (from Boston) who explained to us all about the university and the difference how Caritas and CAFOD work together, he was also able to tell us about two projects CAFOD have provided in Sierra Leone that none of us knew about and it made me very proud to be visitors from CAFOD, one was about women and voting, the other about mental health. I had a good chat to him about the Law course and when he asked me where I studied he knew of Hull’s Law department. We found out a lot of information from him about the current state of Sierra Leone before he rushed off to class (he was late) on his way out he told one of his students “I’m allowed to be late, you’re not” in a very American law lecture way.

One of the interesting things about this campus is the fact that the president’s house is very close and he has decided while he is living in Freetown that the university may use the site for offices. This meant we were able to go see the house. I have never before been inside a President’s house so I was excited to go see it. However once inside it, something didn’t feel right, this grand house the president had built on government money had never once been lived in- the showers were brand new. And in reality the whole of the community of Rofenka could have lived inside of the house.

Seeing the difference between rich and poor in 24 hours left me feeling uncomfortable to say the least. But I remembered that was the reason why I’ve taken this year out to make a difference in the world. When I return to the UK I will have a great story to tell of the difference between the happy smiling children who lived in Rafenka and the cold empty house the President will one day return to after being President. Each person can make a difference in the world and it is up to us how we decide to make it.

If you think that you could make a difference by Stepping into the Gap, check out http://www.cafod.org.uk/Education/CAFOD-Gap-year for more information.

Singing Children, Folded Chickens and Moves Towards Gender Equality

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“If you want to be the president of our nation, all you have to do is go to school”

The title of this blog is my new favourite song. It’s the song the children of Rofenka sang to us when we visited their school.

We arrived at the school on the second morning of our community visit expecting to teach- I was down to teach maths and was grateful that it was primary level as I’m sure my GCSE maths is a bit rusty. I was thankfully let off the hook as I didn’t have to teach directly but be the assistant teacher. If anything this was a distraction for grade 3 from their fractions as staring at the visitor was far more interesting than learning about the lowest common multiple.
The fact that at the end of the lesson I gave each child a painted chicken from the UK meant the children weren’t going back to their work anytime soon so the teacher decided for them to sing songs for myself and the other “gappers”. After grade 3 were done singing the class on the other side of the wall that divided the room (grade 4) joined in with the singing and it wasn’t long before every child in the school was out of the classroom as we attempted to leave.
I was first back to the vehicle and the children that were with me tried to repeat my sentence of “and now we go in the car”. When we drove off the children ran off after us and later in the day when we meet up with the grade 3 teacher he informed us that the children were so excited by our visit that most of the day had been taken up by a football gala as none of the children wanted to go back to class.

As well as teaching during our visit to the community we were able to have a go at fishing, harvesting rice, playing a community football game, learning traditional dancing, meeting the chief and witnessing a local court session.

One of the things that struck me the most about the living arrangements in the village was the role of women. As the majority of the village was Muslim, most of the men had at least two wives and when on our second night of talking to the women about this, their view was that they didn’t like it. Every husband had a clear favourite wife and none of the wives were treated fairly. The women walk to Makeni town every day and sell whatever they can in order to be able to buy food for their family, they will then cook the food and give the best portion to their husband’s and then the rest for their children, they themselves will only eat the scraps that are left. However the women informed us on our second evening in the community that they have seen much improvement to woman’s rights in their lifetime thanks to NGOs such as CAFOD who promote gender equality.
While at the moment the situation is still unbalanced at least it is improving and that gives me hope for the future. After talking to the woman I offered to pray for the woman in the community and they were so grateful for this small act of compassion. It showed me a lot about the world we live in.
While I sometimes struggle in the UK with being put down for being a woman it is nothing compared to what these woman go through every day and it made me grateful for the hard work that women (and men) in generations before me have done in order to improve gender equality in the UK and across the world.

Long may it continue!

Julia is clearly seeing a different world but is also seeing that changes for the better can and are being made. In 20, or 30 years, the children she met will be the leaders of their communities and, if they keep going to school, perhaps the President!

Julia and our other Gapper, Kat in El Salvador, are having this chance to see the world throgh CAFOD’s “Step into the Gap” programme. Applications are now open for 2014/15 at http://www.cafod.org.uk/Education/CAFOD-Gap-year

More from Julia next week.

One Week Over But There’s Still More To See

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We’ve finished our first week in Sierra Leone.

This morning as I was packing up my belongings, I was checking I had all my malaria tablets and I counted I had 21 left which reminded me we have completed our first full week in Sierra Leone.

The last time I wrote a blog we had been busy visiting lots of different places and meeting lots of different people since then we’ve visited a few communities and now as I write this (on Monday) I am sat in the Caritas Makeni office waiting to go to the community we are going to be staying with till Wednesday.

Up until now we spent Friday in three communities seeing the projects that are supported by Caritas Makeni in sponsorship with CAFOD, these projects involve building big huts in order to keep chickens in. About 400-500 chickens and a few months of feed are also provided. The communities build the huts themselves and are responsible for the chickens once they arrive.

On Saturday, we went to see a local farm that is funded by Caritas Makeni. However while this particular farm is not funded by CAFOD we were informed that across the world CAFOD does support farms similar to this one. We were informed that the farm provides for many different families from the local area and they all work together to harvest the food.

Yesterday, we spent our morning in Church. First of all we attended Mass- it was a mixture of Krio and English. So we were able to understand part of the Mass. Interestingly this particular Catholic Church seemed to have a policy of woman sitting on one side and men on the other. We only noticed after Mass had started and we were sat on the men’s side. However it didn’t cause any major problems. At the end of Mass we were invited to come to the front to introduce ourselves and what we do in the UK and the reason we are in Sierra Leone.
After Mass we were introduced to the Catholic Youth Organization and had the opportunity to talk to them in more detail about our work. In the afternoon, we went on a two hour drive in order to look at a waterfall. It was lovely to feel the spray of the water as it was a hot afternoon.

Right now, we’re off to have lunch before we go to the community. I will blog as soon as we’re back on Wednesday about the experiences we will have while there.

As we said before, we received a batch of blog entries from Julia, so we’re catching up on her adventures. It’s no surprise that Internet access isn’t the best. When you Step into the Gap, you’re living with people in poverty and their problems. You won’t be a tourist!

If you fancy Stepping in, get more details at http://www.cafod.org.uk/Education/CAFOD-Gap-year Applications close at the end of March