First time back in Sierra Leone since 2013. Many changes, most of them positive.
1. The airport has been upgraded including biometrics at passport control. Easier to get a trolley and customs is more efficient. The scrum of people offering to help is now outside the airport entrance so you can be met without too much hassle.
2. The seacoach from the airport is a more effective if expensive way to travel to Aberdeen, although it is a less atmospheric way than the ferry to be introduced to Sierra Leone.
3. Many roads have improved including dual carriage ways and toll roads. Many of the side roads also have tarmac including nearly all the way down to the school. However there are still unimaginable barriers of rock in some roads which reduce speed to a minimum and do great damage to the cars. Improved roads mean greater numbers of cars and on-going problems at bottlenecks like Lumley.
4. A great deal of construction including hotels, private accommodation and business premises. Often these are cheek by jowl with far more basic accommodation.
5. Still the vultures circle slowly on the thermals but this time I have seen many more hawks including kites. There are also swifts swallows and martins in abundance.
6. This is my first visit to Sierra Leone outside the rainy season. Most of the time it has been very hot and humid but it has been great to see the country without a backdrop of dark low clouds and rain coming down like stairrods.
7. I don't know if it is because it is the dry season or whether it coincides with the inauguration of a new president but the power supply has been more reliable. Power has been on for longer and at useful times as well. There has been less imperative to dive for the charger when power is on. We have even managed to use computers in training sessions and Skyped with students in London.
8. The people are just as friendly and welcoming. Students, staff, parents and the outside community have been very hospitable, so generous when they have so little.
EXTRA MILE SCHOOL
Since my last visit the charity has opened a secondary school. I am really looking forward to meeting the staff and students and seeing how the school operates. The school has been open for two years and has 72 students on role in three classes. Class sizes are much smaller than local schools and the quality of the classroom furniture mean that when the power is on the classrooms have a light airy feel which makes for a conducive learning environment, much appreciated by staff and students alike.
Students start arriving at school at 0645 for a 0730 breakfast. Generally they will wash their hands on entry to the school but sometimes need reminding by a beady eye whilst I am having breakfast. Students value the tea and bread they get for breakfast, sometimes the only food they might have. Others take advantage of food provided by local ladies who offer food to eat at the two breaks during the school day.
Students play well during breaks including the girls playing a type of British Bulldog with a homemade ball made out of plastic bags. Football is always popular.
Students are really grateful for the opportunities offered to them by education at Extra Mile School. Some are already thinking ahead to when they complete their WASE and wonder how Extra Mile will support them in the next stage of their education. They are really ambitious, both girls and boys, and really wanting to do well for their country. There are many reminders around them in school of what life might be like if they don't succeed at school, with adults and youngsters working hard as fishermen and others breaking rocks. Both backbreaking occupations.
School staff appreciate the availability of the dongle to give them access to the internet. A first for me to use the internet in the staff training sessions. Much angst as to whether the laptops are still charged and whether they will log on. In the end staff with mobiles with internet access use their phones and this proves most effective. Note to self. See if we can get a larger monitor to use for training. It would be useful in the living accommodation where the tv only works on half the screen so when watching football the ball can disappear for minutes on end. Staff, including those from other partner schools, really enjoy active sessions in the training and our staff enthusiastically try some of the strategies out in their lessons the following days. I hope they continue to do so when I am no longer around in Sierra Leone.
Really impressed with the morning assemblies, both outside and in class. The students recite prayers like the 23rd Psalm by heart and sing the hymns with gusto. Though some of the students are Muslim they all partake in the Christian-focused assembles, admirably demonstrating the religious tolerance found in Sierra Leone.
Holy Spirit Catholic Centre
Since my last visit a new Catholic Centre has been built . Services whilst familiar in many respects to those in the UK also have a number of differences. The length of the service is much longer with
the record for my visit being 2hours 45 minutes and that's quite short compared to other denominations. When observing to the parish priest that a live chicken was an unlikely offertory offering, he replied “ That's nothing, when the bishop was last here the offering was a live cow. The music is stunning with a full on soul choir complete with backing trio, complete with dancing in the stalls. What is similar is the stunning welcome I was given by the congregation.
Limited opportunities to go shopping. Artisan products are very similar to ones seen in Lagos although the vendor assures me they are handmade by him. Bright locally designed material bought in the local market proved a better option. There are duty free shops at the airport but terribly expensive and limited merchandise.