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Anne's blog in English

Blog of Anne, our enthusiastic Ambassador in Sierra Leone

 

Engaging and inspiring Children - Post 3

I’ve now been in Sierra Leone and working for Street Child for a while, so time to explain my job. I’ve been given 3 tasks to work on while being here: assisting the After School Program, expanding this program to create new volunteer roles and helping to improve the quality of the volunteer experience.

The After School Program is needed because during Ebola all schools were closed and classes got behind on schedule. Therefor schools currently only give academic courses such as mathematics, English, history, etc. For  sports and more creative learning there is no time anymore, and that’s why we host our After School Program sessions.

4 days per week, we have a 2 hour session of which the first half is sports and the second half is creative learning. We meet the children in a big field near the Street Child compound where our local volunteer Umaro sets up the activity of that days. Usually we start with some exercise to get the children fit, followed by a game such as football, handball, dodgeball, etc. For both the exercise and game, we team up the children so that girls and boys are equally mixed, which is important because it’s less common for girls to do sports. This session empowers them to show strength and makes them understand they are equal. Looking back at how we did sports at my school, I’m really surprised how the girls are fully on it: they chase, attack and quickly move away with the ball…and they don’t let go! :)

After that we return to the compound where the children get some water and snacks. Upon arrival we give them some frisbees and skipping-ropes and they just play themselves.  We then continue with the second part where the purpose is to develop the children’s general knowledge, self-confidence and social skills. There are various way of doing this, so each sessions we try to focus on something: grammar, thinking ahead, speaking in public, etc. We mix the daily activities so that we have something active or creative such as Ninja warrior, drawing or singing, with something that involves focus, such as a quiz, Pictionary or debate.

Sometimes the kids are quite rough on each other during playtime and sports, so recently we did a big talk about respect. The kids were silent and listened carefully to what their sports coach was telling them (in their language, Krio). Now we are taking that to the next step and teaching them to put up a hand before speaking (giving the answer) and by getting them to help collect all games when we finish a sessions. In Europe these things are quite basic and usually being taught by the parents, but here it’s a different world, and its great how they know understand why it’s nice to treat others with respect.

And, well, I’m learning too! It’s completely new for me to lead a group of children, even more so to teach someone something. It made me gain a lot more respect for all those teachers that (tried to) taught me. Since 2 weeks I have a colleague with teaching experience, and I’m suddenly learning a lot. After struggling for 6 weeks with explain things and getting the children to listen, I’m now starting to get an understanding of how a child’s mind works and how to build some logic in every class. And I’m even learning lots of fun games I never knew before :)

The Sierra Leonean Culture - post 2

Life in Sierra Leone…it’s different from life back in Europe. And it’s also different from life in other African countries. There’s something special about it, something that made me come back for the 3rd time.  People smile and people say hi, no matter who they bump into. They even ask each other how they are doing, not the “polite but I don’t care” kind, but actually asking. And they are curious, always wanting to know more and offering help.

Just walking down the street, there is so much to see: mothers doing laundry, some other mothers cooking outside on an open fire, children getting water from the water well for the home, some other children playing, motorbike-boys everywhere looking for a customer, small shops selling ingredients like tomato paste, powdered milk and mayonnaise. And then there are the street sellers, with bread, boiled eggs, pineapples, cold drinks, kill drivers (short bread cookies), peanut butter, bananas, etc.   Also when walking down these streets, I notice 1 clear thing: a Sierra Leonean woman are Superwoman. Really. She does it all: raising the children, running a business, cooking, getting groceries at the market and carrying heavy loads on her head, laundry at the water well…and all of this often while carrying a baby on her back! These women impress me so much!

The country has an optimistic, open-minded and hardworking culture, where the community is central. When getting my groceries at the local market earlier this week, an elderly woman didn’t know how to tell me the price of Maggi cubes I wanted to buy. It was the girl from the stand next to her, that came to help her. She was also selling Maggi cubes, yet she didn’t mind helping her neighbors´ customer, because that’s how it works here: you help each other out. Another day, I was walking home when it was already dark. A teenage girl joined me (and typically Sierra Leonean, she was curious who I was) in the same direction and then explained to me that I shouldn’t walk alone in the dark. She explained that there are bad people that could steal, and it’s better if I would take a motorbike during the evening. It’s surprising for me to see how a teenage girl is already looking after other people ( after an adult even), something that in Europe would be the other way round.

Another thing that strikes me, is how the culture lives with 2 religions. Yes, to live…not to argue and look at differences, but to just live and be fine with it. I met an Islamic boy, and when asking him wat he wants to become when he grows up, he said “Priest”. To him, church was fun and changing religion seemed easy, because he could be Christian and his family Muslim and that’s just fine.  Also on the streets you’ll find many signs and quotes on cars that say “God bless Islam” or something similar, because wherever you go, you will travel or pass by people from the other religion, so why not pray for your whole community instead for just your own religion. Especially being here during Ramadan it shows how 2 different lifestyles can live perfectly together, because quite a few people as fasting and the rest will show them support. It’s inspiring, and I wish it was this way everywhere in this world.

Sierra leone marathon - POST 1 

On the 25th of May I travelled to Sierra Leone, with a 5 hour transfer in Casablanca where I met some of other SLM runners. In Africa it’s always difficult to plan things, and that was clear upon arrival: our transport to Makeni was 2.5 hours late…so at 4 in the morning we went to the airport hotel for a tea and for a chat with the all the people I had yet to meet. By Thursday late morning, we were in Makeni and ready for some busy days, visiting projects in Bumbuna and Tambakha. Especially Tambakha was impressive, as it takes 3.5 hours to get there by driving on dirt roads and crossing a river with a local ferry (more like a raft on which 2 cars can just fit). After a talk with the local Chief, it was time to play with the kids: football! Roz and I had to join the girls team (vs the boys), which had some very good players. Though we probably didn’t add much to the game, our team did win: yeah, girl power!! This trip also included a car breakdown, very heavy rainfall and bringing home a goat (present from the local tribe). After spending so much time in the car, we felt like some exercise on Saturday and so we climbed Wussum hill. From the top we looked over all of Makeni, which seemed far, but the sounds of the city (children shouting, motorbikes, etc) were still very close. Coming down from the top was a challenge, but after going straight through some (well, a lot) of bushes, we safely got back to the bottom.

Then came Sunday, race day! After waking up at 3.30 and a quick breakfast, we we’re picked up and brought to the start & finish point: the Wussum stadium. Here I found my running mates, Josh & Bart. We only had one mission for the day: finishing last (a.k.a. Sweeping)! While everyone was busy doing some final stretches and finding a spot at the front, we waited at the back for the start sign. Once it went off, the whole group spread out quickly. Though it was still almost dark, the people of Makeni were already awake and supporting our run by shouting “Tenki ya” (means Thanks – because we are raising money for Street Child). Every corner had a marshal (army, police, red cross, etc) to show us the right way and sometimes to provide water. We told them “Tenki ya” as well, because not only do they volunteer and help during race day, but these people also worked very hard (risking their own lives) during the recent Ebola crisis! As we kept running, the sun came up and we saw less and less runners in the distance. Our mission for the day was not only to finish last, but also to entertain whoever would be running in front of us, and help them if they would struggle to complete the 42 Km. We were lucky: some familiar faces were taking it easy and soon we formed a nice group of 10. The marathon included a long stretch that you had the run back the same way as you came, so we witnessed the fast people and cheered and clapped for each of them. Little children kept shouting “Apato” at us, every now and then an ambulance drove by to check if we were all doing Ok, we often stopped for pictures and our fellow runner Helen kept offering Flapjack (Thanks!!). At about Kilometer 30 we found the best drinking station ever: they offered fresh coconut – what else do you need during a race, right? From that point surroundings became even more stunning, going right through the jungle and passing by some small villages. But it were also the last 10 kilometers, so it was very hot by then (35°C) and some started getting a heath stroke or blisters. It was time for us to act like sweepers, to cheer up the group and bring them to the finish. When running hand-in-hand into the Wussum stadium a nice crowd of familiar faces was cheering for us and welcoming us with splashes of water. MyStreet Child España (best team evah!) friend Phil handed out my locally wood carved medal and it was time to look for some shade, eat a bit and rest.  We were out for 6h59, 1 minute longer than SLM 2015, but it’s such an unique and great experience that I can only be happy to have taken it easy and enjoy the day.

I’d like to thank everyone who has support me with generous donations: so far I raised £763! This money will support the project “Girls speak out”: it gives girls access to education (according to Unicef research, every extra year in school increases their future salary with 25%), it helps them with family planning (because child marriage and teenage moms are unfortunately very commons here), empowers them to stand up for themselves and it helps mothers to set up (or expand) their own business (so she can send her kids to school).

Anyone who still would like to contribute to this great cause, please visit: https://sierraleonemarathon2016.everydayhero.com/uk/anne