Thursday, September 17, 2009

Visit to Gbonkolenken

I’ve just returned from 2 days in Gbonkolenken chiefdom, visiting the communities of Mabarr Line, Makonkorie, Mathombo and Yele. We stayed overnight in the cdpeace guesthouse in Mbarr Line and I had my first experience with a pit latrine (an outhouse). The outhouse wasn’t so much the problem, just the fact that we had to walk outside to get there and it poured rain most of the night. I’m definitely spoiled here in Mapaki with a bathroom right in my bedroom.

A few interesting stories to tell:

On the first day in Gbonkolenken, some kids from the neighbour’s house came over to sit with us at the guesthouse (we were all sitting outside). One little girl, maybe around 3 or 4 years old (it’s difficult to tell someone’s age, and the kids don’t know how old they are) immediately adopted me. Her name was Maio. She started telling the other kids that she owned me and they weren’t allowed to touch me. One of the other adults asked her how much she paid to bring me from Canada and she said “5 block” (that’s 500 Leones, or about $0.25 Cdn). She generously also offered to pay that amount to send me back home too :-) Maio is the little girl on the right in the picture – the kids here are generally all familiar with cameras, and “opporto, snap me” is heard quite often (meaning, white person, take a picture of me).

Another story: we met on the second day (this morning) with the women’s groups from the 6 surrounding villages. Cdpeace gave them groundnut (peanut) seeds to plant this year. The women told us that apparently the seeds weren’t good and the crop they have is poor. The women were asking about the possibility of getting access to microcredit to help them earn additional income in times like this of poor harvest. I was curious how they knew about microcredit – turns out that a lot of the bigger towns have access to microcredit either from government or NGOs and that’s how these women heard about it. The women would use the loans to supplement the food they got from their farms through petty trading. For example, they would tie dye cloth or make soap. Selling these items would then help them earn a cash income that could be used to buy additional food, to pay education costs, or any other household expenses. I’ll have to look into the microcredit situation here and see what I can do.

While in Gbonkolenken, I also saw much more evidence of the conflict than I have seen so far. For those who don’t know, Sierra Leone experienced a horrific 11-year civil war (1991-2002), and there are still plenty of reminders about the war around the country. In Gbonkolenken I noticed many more homes that were burnt out or destroyed during the conflict. We also visited the community of Mathombo, where they have just had a new school built by cdpeace with funds from the PSI-cdpeace project supported by CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency). I was told that the old schools was burned down by RUF fighters, with many children still inside. The effects of the war are visible in other ways as well – when we stopped on the highway to buy some bread, a young man came and stared in the windows of the car. Sally told me that most likely he had probably fought during the war, and gotten addicted to drugs (the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel fighters, used drugs to fuel their fighters, especially child soldiers), and was now crazy. She said that there were many boys like this all around the country, and no help for them, so they just wander the streets. I met someone last week who works on mental health here and the situation is pretty dismal. There is almost 0 support for mental health, so many of the people who are dealing with mental health issues are left to fend for themselves if they have no families to help care for them.

Oh, I also learned an important lesson on my visit to Gbonkolenken: Never go anywhere without your raincoat in the rainy season. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, even if it seems nice, just bring it anyways :-) I was caught in the rain more than once over the two days I was there, and riding on a motorbike in the rain is not so fun!

1 comment:

Jane said...

Clare, your posts are fascinating! It's now part of my morning (and afternoon, and evening! :-) routine to check for new ones. Keep them coming!

The pictures are great. The children are absolutely gorgeous! I love how they all want to hold your hand and touch your skin. Cute.

Anyway, just wanted to check in and let you know how much I enjoy your writings!
Take care, have a great day!