Thursday, 2 September 2010

The School visits on Friday

Friday was an incredible experience for myself and Phil Holme. This was a day I really looked forward to. Thanks to Miriam from Educaid who arranged for us to pay a visit to four schools which have been set up by her charity which does really vital work in Sierra Leone.
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I work in education so really wanted to visit some schools during our short stay in SL. I was told the 1st school was closed due to holidays and would be empty. Imagine my surprise to find 200 home boys and girls there. Home children live at the school in tough conditions.

After the shock of visiting the school in Freetown we loaded up the bus with some provisions etc to take to schools out of Freetown and up country. 3 older boys from the school joined us for the trip. Going out of Freetown was an eye-opener. The country is one of immense beauty but with evidence of extreme poverty everywhere.

Family groups were seen at various points breaking stones into small pieces with hammers. The stones were for sale. Children as young as five could be seen doing this back breaking work. We stopped at a market to buy further provisions for the 3 schools. We had been advised that children at these schools rarely saw sweets. Kind hearted Phil Holme purchased hundreds of toffee lollies for the kids which went down a treat. I purchased a large bag of fish for the schools on learning that schools up country rarely had fish.

Providing fish for the schools was a great idea (not mine) but not the best idea to have in the school bus on a sweltering hot day. The smell didn't put the flies off though who provided further company for the trip.

On arrival at the school No 2 Phil was in need of a toilet. I quickly discovered a rickety shed with 3 toilet doors, 1 for boys,1 for girls and a posh door for staff; Phil duly entered. Luckily for Phil he had discovered another African novelty. The toilet was no more than a hole in the ground and no flushing facilities. Phil was delighted at his discovery.

Phil got himself mobbed by the home children whilst dishing out the lollies. The look of joy on the children's faces was worth the price of a million lollies. I noticed some very young children pumping water from a well into wash basins. The basins were then taken behind a small bamboo fence which was in fact the shower area, but without any actual showers. A quick look round at the minimal, basic facilities including one broken blackboard then onto Rokel Primary School.

I'd requested this visit as I work in a Primary School. On arrival we were instantly spotted by children who ran up the dirt path to greet us. At the front was a 5 year old girl called Deni who threw her arms open and jumped into mine. She gave me a huge hug and called me father. Deni was a ragged yet gorgeous little girl who looked good enough to eat. I asked the teacher and the village chief who had also just turned up for some background on this 'little gift from God'. I was informed dad was dead, Mum was in prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. No other family members existed so Deni was left to her own devices, she was 'nobodies child.'

Fortunately, the good people at Rokel school had taken Deni under their wing and she was now safe and happy until Mum would be freed from prison at an un-known time in the future.

Uncle Phil's lollies went down a treat again but this time the kids had discovered the the lolly stick doubled up as a whistle. The noise was deafening. Meanwhile Uncle Phil decided to take pot shots at some goalkeeper who was about 6 years old and almost 4 foot tall, the perfect match for the man with the lollies. A penalty was taken, the confident kid took up his position, Uncle Phil approached the ball with all the grace of a 3 legged, angry hippo. The ball was smashed towards the top right hand corner of the net, a certain goal I thought but no. The keeper rose to stop Phil's unstoppable shot and pushed it onto the top of the crossbar, the man with the lollies had met his match.

A quick look round this bare building of a school revealed a RIP message to one of it's pupils. Apparently 2 children had passed away in the not too distant past. This is Africa, it happens.

Onto the final school. Phil's lollies created bedlam again with parents joining in this time. The bog standard rock hard, un-even football pitch existed here and at all the other schools. Children from the school could be seen swimming naked in the swollen river. No time for risk assessments or H&S issues in this part of the world.

The whole journey lasted almost 12 hours. I could write forever on these 12 hours but it's back to the footy side of things for now.

Alex Channon

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