It started with 5 widows trying to keep their children safe from leaking roofs during the rainy season. While visiting the new homes we built, we were beset by children asking for school…meanwhile in a country with one of the highest infant mortality rates, there was not a clean room to deliver babies…all of this became our work!
"Nothing's gonna change in that village until you send the kids to school..."- one of the teen orphans that helped us run a camp in the village
A NEW SCHOOL…Parents at Blama asked us to open a school so their children could learn to read. Using the village meeting space, we began our Pre K – 5 school as a one room open-air schoolhouse. What YVA’s Tato Primary School lacks in facilities, it makes up for by the talent and commitment of the staff our head teacher’s assembled. In an amazing cultural shift, the village elders saw the achievements of the girls at the head of their class, and asked us for a female teacher! We now have two! CLICK FOR VIDEO.
Two years of success has brought us to the point where we know we have something that works. To move forward and teach these kids to read and write most effectively, we need classrooms and a building so our teachers can focus on their children and vice versa, without distraction.
If you want a job in Sierra Leone you usually have to create it for yourself. Entrepreneurial economies demand confidence, initiative and creativity. In other words, they demand the skills of an Artist. Our first team trip was centered on modeling Drama, Music and Film instruction for the teachers there. This is refreshing for third world education that’s bound to play catch up to outdated colonial models (read passive, rote learning). It was a joy to see the kids and teachers finding and using their voice in a country that already loves music and has a rich tradition of storytelling. What we hope to do is fan these skills until they become innate attributes of future entrepreneurs.
THE VILLAGE CHURCH
Ever since we first began traveling to the village, some of the Muslim villagers asked us to start a church. Our 2015 trip was blessed by the presence of Reverend Enid, a YVA board member from Guyana. At the end of that trip, Reverend Enid was committed to coming back to the village to stay 6 months. This idea itself was radical and unheard of, but we had learned not to doubt Reverend Enid! Nine months later she was with us again and this time she was staying in the village for five months after the rest of us left!
As the first foreigner brave enough to live without running water, electricity, transport, etc in a subsistence farming, illiterate village, Reverend Enid is clearly the bravest member of YVA!! She went there to grow our new church and to assist our school. Her term climaxed with a crusade she organized that led to the baptism of 16 people! (Many of them were converts)
As it turns out, the love of Christ is also the opportunity for female independence and self-sufficiency. Called to reject polygamy, the women and girls who make up a majority of the church, are setting an absolutely new standard in this very conservative Muslim village. Princess, our female worship leader and one of our teachers at the school, sets an example for the girls of her song team, as an independent single mother. That was recently unheard of for a young woman in the village. She is also leading a small business venture for the women of the church.
The church is bringing new life in a very literal way! Reverend Enid left the congregation with a clear message of commitment to God and a new way of life distinct from their tradition. It’s our hope and prayer that our small congregation will find and feel God’s new life and love, directing and strengthening them as they seek a different way of life.
AMERICAN TEAM TRIPS pictures and videos
In late June at least six of us will be heading to Sierra Leone to continue the long-term war recovery of this poverty stricken nation. Young Vision Africa focuses on a rural primary school and sponsored, closely followed middle school and high school youth. With a goal of local self-sufficiency YVA is also developing a restaurant to generate income. Team members on our trip get to see a place COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than America, spread love to our children by their presence in this mostly forgotten and isolated nation, and take part in the education and inspiration of young people who have an incredible opportunity through our work there.
These will be some of our activities:
* modeling and habituating good teaching practices for our faculty in the classroom, teaching English and the Arts.
* Working towards a presentation of English, Drama and Music for the parents.
* Witnessing the opening of our new teachers lodges which is being funded by our trip money.
* Inspiring our middle school and high school youth by spending time with them.
* Spending some time at a Chimp Sanctuary, right in the midst of the trees of West African jungle terrain, seeing the amazing environmental work of the Santuary and the rangers as they care for chimps and protect the enviornment.
Here are some of our past pics and videos…
$700 million US dollars spent on Ebola never touched our remote area of Sierra Leone, where the people originally believed Ebola was a plot by the government. The stories of the sick being taken away by men in suits to never be heard from again only heightened the people’s fears. To an illiterate population without access to any media, the best story wins the narrative.
Prevention of Ebola.
Long before the actions of the U.S., the villages surrounding ours were actively protecting themselves, having received lifesaving information on the disease months before. A 6 year relationship, including the building of a medical center, had put us in a position of respect and trust with the people. It was this trust that allowed us to communicate the urgent truth.
From the 6 villages served by our health center, we gathered together elders, teachers, and transportation providers (motorcyclists), to be educated on Ebola by our health staff and government representatives. Medical personnel distributed bleach and modeled its use in workshop format. An orphan whose work with YVA brought him to America, was home on summer break from college. He saw the danger of the epidemic and the urgent need, and he organized the efforts to make this happen.
The truths about Ebola were not only shared, but also understood. The people were educated on the fatal dangers of Ebola, and so the villages implemented a very serious plan that restricted travel and normal visitation. To this day we’ve never heard of anyone else implementing a program as simple as ours. It is sobering to consider what could have happened had Abdulai not been there to put our relationship with the area to crucial use. This area initially shared the same misconceptions as other communities in West Africa. In this case relationship and trust proved more valuable then millions of dollars.
Our district was the first in all of Sierra Leone to be declared completely Ebola free.
What was the amount we spent on our program? – $1,000!
Relationship and trust proved more valuable
THE FATMATA HEALTH CENTER
Sierra Leone boasts the 2nd highest first-day and first-month mortality rate for newborns (2nd to Somalia). It holds the highest rate of death for children under 5 years old. Out of every 1000 children, 185 will not live to see their 5th birthday.
THE BASIC NEEDS
During Alan’s first trip to the village, the women pleaded for a space where they could have hygienic births. Our Health Center was opened coincidentally at the very start of the Ebola epidemic, during Alan’s second visit. The center is a Sierra Leone PHU (Peripheral Health Unit) and is technically under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health. Nurse Mariama was assigned to manage it and she has been an incredible blessing to the area. An independent woman who tirelessly delivers babies in the middle of the night (that has happened on every single one of our trips), Mariama’s smile says it all.
Mothers and healthy children
At Fatmata, mothers are educated and given resources to ensure that they have healthy children. The center currently has three rooms, furniture, nursing quarters, a front desk, a waiting area, and an area for storage. Plastered walls and tiled floors make sanitizing easier. The amazing solar energy system brought the first lights and the first refrigerator (for medicine) to the village. To date, 5000 people have been treated and provided healthcare services. The center supports malaria prevention programs, infant and toddler acute malnutrition programs, and general healthcare initiatives for people of all ages.
On the first trip to the village, the people pleaded, “Fix our roofs!” The leaky roofs were causing sickness and death during the cool, rainy season. Within two years, we built four three-family homes for 50 villagers, all possessing 15-year zinc roofs. It was a careful process.
We watched as the villagers pitched in alongside the local construction crew we hired. We finished fundraising just in time to secure the houses before the rainy season occurred, making our first project an adventure! We have since completed homes for 24 families, including widows and children.
It was time to take action when the only well in the village was running brown with rust. Many villagers took water from the nearby stream, which led to health problems from parasites and amoebas. The Sunday School of Trinity United Methodist Church in Highland Park raised $1000 in a week to replace the piping
of the well mostly through the production of their music video.
Technicians were hired from the city to change the piping, and the water problem was resolved. Young Vision Africa plans to build many wells throughout Sierra Leone and expand its efforts to neighboring countries.