Today has been a varied day of on the one hand heart-stopping beauty, human vision and care and on the other desperate lives and attempted cons.
We started off heading to a church called Wellington. This I had been looking forward to seeing, as this is a place I have never been to before. We parked just off the main road, and had to walk the rest of the way. This was a real treat for me. Those who know me well know I have a thing about mountains (comes from being a Fen-boy and spending most of my life and sea level!) The road to Wellington is not suitable for vehicles, a mix of pot-holes and scree, trecherous underfoot, let alone for a car. It leads up a step incline towards the mountains tha line the peninsula. The view is breathtaking. We call England a green and pleasant land, so is Sierra Leone, but in a different way. England is green from the grass and plants at ground level. Here the ground is red or sandy dust or rock. The green is above the ground, in the palm trees and banana plants, or in the canopies of of the mangrove swamps.
The church/school is a new building. I think we are the first from the UK to see complete, all but the last touches of paint. It is a lovely airy building, surprisingly cool. This is another effort from our driver, Francis, and the Friends of Sierra Leone. We were, as always, placed, placed at the front for a series of presentations. These included an hilarious sketch put on by a number of children in Krio to demonstrate the importance of education – there is often a real tension between paying for children to go to school and keeping them at home so they can earn money for the family. The actors were wonderful, bags of expression and humour, but the underlying message was a very serious one. The school is run by a handful of in effect volunteer teachers, who through their labour underline this, through working for next to nothing they ae demonsrating how important they see education as being. The work here was instigated by Augustine, and he continues to be the Pastor.
From Wellington Allen Town. Another church/school up a steep slope. This time, however, we were driven (shame, I had enjoyed the exercise!) Our local primary school in England have been attempting to set up an exchange of letters between the two sets of children. They had written, and the pupils of Allen Town had replied. When I had left to come, these last letters had not yet arrived in England, however, just the other day I heard from my excited daughter who is at the school, that they had come. And so it was that I found myself on a quest to find the child that had written to her. His name was Francis Ma???? (it turned out to be Marveh) Shouldn’t be too hard you might think, but Allen Town school has a roll of around 1000 children!!! I mentioned my quest to Augustine in the vague hope that he might be able to help as he one of the heads at the school. Imagine my surprise when he announced that he knew the child, and that he was in fact his adopted son! And so it was that I managed to get my photo for my daughter (you should see it in the slide show) and left one of her with him. Allen Town School is a wonderful contrast to so many of the places we visit. It is such a large vibrant heaving school, with big vision and scope. The reception we get here is always magnificent. From time to time you may see charity programmes where celebrities go to developing countries and get mobbed by children. You might wonder if it is because they are celebrities,or because it is staged. Itis neither of these things, here at Allen Town it is a spontaneous response when anyone pulls out a camera or photo. I have fond memories of another friend who came here with me. You can barely see him, just a speck of light hair showing under a current of African children. Much has changed here since I last came. They now have a church building (almost complete), staff room (although this is currently occupied by a secondary school class,with the teachers gathering under a tree) and perimeter wall.
Eventully, we tore ourselves away from Allen Town and headed to Jui and TECT, The Evangelical School of Theology. When we arrived, however, we discovered the Principle had not been informed of when we were coming and so was not there. We’re going to try again tomorrow. Having spent to long at Wellington and Allen Town, this helped get us back on track with our timings – for today anyway.
To end the day we travelled along the mountain road to Mongegba. I defy anyne to go there and say there is no god, the backdrop is just so staggeringly beautiful. The church is run by Rev. Daniel Koroma, assisted by Lay Pastors Moses and Amadu Sesay (not to beconfused with Rev. Amadu Sesay at Manalo). Daniel revealed himself to be someone for a real love of others. He grew up in this poor village and is currently the only person to be qualified above Secondary School level. He has a real desire to help those who live here, especially the children. He pays the school fees for a number ofchildren out his own pocket – a level of care for others children I have seen in a few others too. We met him and the congregation in the church building alongside the school that was errected since my last visit – for those that knew him, the church has a plaque to the memory of our very own Ted Long. After the formal proceedings were over, Daniel took us for a walk into the mountains, not to show them off, but to introdu e us to the children chipping granite. They come here after school at about 2pm and smash up the rocks by hand until about 7pm. This can be sold for a meager amount, hardly a fair return for the effort put in. Daniel wants us to find sponsors so that they can aid them and ensure they continue going to school.
The journey home was relatively quick. It never ceases to amaze me how much traffic there is, poda podas, taxis and okadas (the motorbike version of the poda poda, often as dangerously loaded too!) It was not without incident, however. As we were crawling through central Freetown, a man stepped out in front of us and got knocked to the ground. It was clearly not our fault, but of course we stopped to ensure he was alright. Francis bought him back into the car so that we could take him towards the hospital to be checked over, and his companion insisted on coming too. It didn’t take long before we smelt a rat. He began showing us other wounds, mainly from the war, including gun shots to his legs, and insisting that we helped wih these too. His friend, we spotted, also had his hands in everthing, seeking for some easy pickings. It was hard working prying them out of the car, but eventually Francis managed it through what I would call firm grace. It was another sad reminder of the war and thecontinuing effect of it on people, not so different in some ways of tales of ex-soldiers in England who can’t cope with ‘civvy-street’ and end up on the street.
There are a lot of photos today as I took many at Allen Town so they could be shared with the children at Wormley Primary School who have ‘twinned’ with them. I shall eventually move many of these to their page, but haven’t time to do that now.