Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My last day in Kpetema 2013

As usual, Kpetema town was very clean and most people were in their farms when I arrived yesterday morning. It has been raining all these past days but I was lucky yesterday that it did not rain at all and hence my journey on a motorbike to Kpetema was great. Passing through all the 7 villages namely: Kabawanah, Benga, Massahun Kpaka, Jabama, Kotumahun, Gandon and Karlu before arriving at Kpetema and seeing all the palm tress along the way to Kpetema makes me feel sad to be leaving.
It was good to return to Kpetema after a month.  Everyone was excited to see me and they kept on asking about Omar and Andrea, trying to find out whether they arrived safely. Although the chief was having a slight headache and fever, that did not stop him from telling me all that has been going on after we left, as he walked with me around the village to see the toilets. The toilets are in very good conditions and each toilet has a caretaker that checks it everyday.

The chief explained to me that they have come to an agreement as a village to slightly change the condition for the distribution of the soap in the village.  He said that they make new set of soap almost every week (soap is in high demand for other purposes and therefore the soap sells very fast) and most people would still be having the soap that was distributed to them from the previous week. This results to people having more soap than they need and also the income that will be generated will not be high. Hence the chief and the village agreed that they would construct 2 soap points by each toilet, where soap will be available at all times for anyone that goes to the toilet.  There are 3 caretakers; one for each toilet and it is the responsibility of the caretaker to make sure the soap is available at the points when it runs out. Each caretaker is provided with 3 reserves all the time.  This procedure has been in effect for 5 days now and I think the idea is great and the caretakers should really monitor very well. This means the profit they make from soap production has also increased, which enhances them to do meaningful things for the village. In addition, the manager of the guesthouse we stayed in Pujehun, made a contract with them to supply him 25 soaps every month.

The people of kpetema raised some money together and were able to buy 5 cement bags to construct a fence around the well to further protect it from things that will make it dirty like animals, children e.t.c. They already made the blocks and are waiting for the structure to be built. I also asked about the zinc roofs, I was pleased to hear from the chief that no one has reported any case of leakage in their house. I was also informed that all the women decided to come together as a group, after the end of the Ramadan period to further improve the Traditional Birth Attendance house.

Finally before biding them farewell, I presented a picture we took during the community event, to the chief and everyone was so happy to see himself/herself in the picture. It was in a frame and is going to be hanged in the community center to be seen by anyone that visits Kpetema. They told me that the picture would always keep them motivated to work, as a solid unit and the memory of the work we did together will always stay in their hearts.
I promised to keep in touch through the growth center and that growth center will come to check from time to time on the progress in Kpetema.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Andrea and Omar last days in Sierra Leone.

They say nothing last forever, oh well guess the adventure for Omar and Andrea in Sierra Leone has come to an end.
AndrĂ©a was introduced by the priest (we have met him before) to the congregation at the end of church service yesterday, It was interesting that the priest knows a little bit of Spanish, which they spoke. 
After the church service, Omar and Andrea had to say goodbye to my relatives and we visited few places in Freetown including the Lumley and Aberdeen beach.

Today everything seemed to be going really well apart from the heavy rain that accompanied us to the airport.

We had a very good meal this morning before leaving for lungi (where the international airport is located). They also bought the CD of their favorite Mende Sierra Leonean Musician named Bobby and we ate a lot of groundnuts.
We were also lucky to get a free car ride to the airport from one of my dad’s friend.

Finally it was time for them to say goodbye to me. It was sad that they had to say goodbye and for a sec I wished that we could have traveled together. We had become one and did everything together, I will miss them a lot and can’t wait to reunite with them in 3 weeks.

Anyway we hugged each other so hard before they proceeded to check in. I realized that indeed my Davis Peace Project buddies have left but yet the work we did together is having a positive mark on the people of Kpetema. I will go back to Kpetema on the 5th of August to check/see how the facilities are being used and also to check the progress of the soap production.

They will arrive on the 24nd and I hope they have a pleasant flight!!!!!!! Goodbye :(

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Extra Photos.

 We are spending our last day in Bo. Tomorrow we will be leaving for Freetown. We will spend 5 days there before we head back to the States.

While we were in Bo we met with another Macalester student, Anoushka. She was working with a local organization for a couple of weeks.

Kumba, a Sierra Leonean student that just graduated from UWC South East Asia came to stay with us and help us with the project for a week.

Omar's best friends. These are the peppers that people here add to the food.

Pineapples, this is how they sell them in Karlu, the village next to Kpetema.

Coconuts on the tree.

Gari production. Gari is made out of cassava roots.

These are cassava leaves from the farms of Kpetema. Cassava leaves are also used in cooking, they pound them and make a sauce that you eat with rice.

Palm oil production. In this picture women in Kpetema are pounding palm nuts. Palm oil is used for cooking and also for soap production.

Groundnut plantation (peanut).

These are the farms of Kpetema, where they plant groundnut, rice, cassava, and even palm trees.

Art on one of Kpetema's windows.

A class on how to wash hands in the local primary school.

A new canoe made in Kpetema.

People in Sierra Leone have exceptional abilities to put and balance objects on their heads.

Andrea painting the toilet doors.

This picture was taken early in the morning, on the road to Tiwai island.

The tip of Tiwai island. It is an island in a river. We took a speed boat to get to the island.

The shores of Tiwai island. Tiwai means 'big island' in Mende, the local language.

Fire ants in Tiwai.

A red colobus (monkey) in Tiwai island. If you look in the center of the picture you will see it jumping from one tree to another.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thank You

This blog entry is different. It is not about what we have done. It is about what others have done to make this project a success.

First of all, thanks to the Davis Foundation for their generous grant that enabled us to conduct the project. After we received the grant, Kathryn Davis passed away, may her soul rest in peace. We will always remember her and her vision of peace.

Thanks to Mohammed Junior Humper, the manager of Leilema guest house, for hosting us for around 2 months. By hosting us, he enabled us to save a lot of money that we used to buy more zinc instead of using it for lodging. Also, thanks to all the workers at the guest house for taking care of us.

Thanks to Paul Sengeh, also known around here as the giant Mr. Sengeh. He helped us with planning the community events, contributed financially to the project, hosted us in Freetown and most importantly, took care of us as if the three of us were his children.

Thanks to Mary Fullah for providing a mosquito net, helping with the closing ceremony and taking care of our visa issues together with Mr. Sengeh. Also, thank you for the beautiful clothing you gave to us.

Thanks to Growth Centre, our community partner. They made sure things are ready before our arrival, took care of our food and answered our calls whenever we needed help.

Thanks to our professors at Macalester who wrote our recommendations and gave us advice. Also, thanks to the staff at IGC who helped us with the paper work.

Thanks to all the people who made our fundraise a success, alums and student of UWC, Macalester and our friends and relatives. With your support, we were able to fund $2500.

Huge thanks to the Brownie Troop 75023, a group of young scout girls from Boston. They made the biggest financial contribution to our project after the Davis Foundation. Your work and contribution is really impressive!

Thanks to MJ, Vandy's aunt in Bo, for hosting us and providing food that is cooked with love.

Thanks to  Mr. Naddaf, also known famously around UWCM as Gaby, and Mrs. Best for hosting us during the time we spent in Maastricht. They treated us like their children and took care of us.

Thanks to Vandy's roommate's mother, Jennette who helped us tremendously. She established the fundraising website for us, helped us get additional funds, and most importantly, believing in us. She is the 4th member of our Kpetema team!

Thanks to the Mongiat family (Jan, Mark and the rest of the family) for helping us with several arrangement before our departure. I am sure they have been following the blog religiously. Thanks to Gogo for her prayers, they have helped us a lot in this project.

Thanks to the Graf family for all their contributions to our project both financially and in spirit. We appreciate it a lot.

Thanks also to Dorothea and David, who helped Andrea not only before but will be helping after the project.

Big thanks to Alexandra Mclaughlin for reviewing the proposal of our project so many times!

Special thanks to my parents (Mohammed and Ana Mansour) and Andrea's parents (Liliana and Daniel) who supported us financially and spiritually. We are who we are today because of them.

Thanks to everyone who followed this blog. More than 2000 people checked the blog from more than 50 countries around the world!

Finally, thank you the people of Kpetema for hosting us, taking care of us, working with us and making us feel like at home.
Stay tuned for more blog entries! Vandy will write about his last visit to Kpetema, which will be during the first week of August and we will also upload more photos soon.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Project summary in photos.

The first community event at Kpetema. We introduced ourselves and talked about the objectives of the project.

The people of Kpetema collected the sand, prepared the sticks and made the blocks before we arrived. This helped to reduced the cost a lot.

Andrea working with the people of Kpetema on preparing the roofing nails.

Unroofing of one of the buildings.

Putting the sticks together before putting the zinc sheets.

Putting zinc sheets on the mosque. It was the first building we finished.

A house after putting the zinc sheets. This house is the chief's house.

Working on the foundations of the second toilet.

The first toilet when it reached ground level.

Omar putting sand in the hole around the second toilet.

Fixing the frames for the doors of the toilet. Omar is adding cement before putting the blocks ( or at least he was trying to learn!)

Vandy plastering the first toilet ( or at least trying to)

The first toilet ready to be painted. It took around 3 weeks for us to get it to this stage.

The carpenter from a nearby village working on the doors for the toilets.

This is the second toilet painted and ready to be utilized.

Stage 1 of the soap production: cooking palm oil, adding blue and caustic soda.

Stage 2 of the soap production: letting the mixture cool down and dry.

Stage 3 of the soap production: cutting the soap into smaller pieces for distribution.

Stage 4 of the soap production: the soap is ready for packaging.

Distribution of the soap during the last community event. Each adult in the village received a packet of soap for free.

The pipes of the well at Kpetema. Fixing the well was not part of our project; however, not having safe and clean drinking water would hinder all of our efforts.

Putting back the different parts of the well including the new parts we bought.

A kitchen at Kpetema. Many people took the lead to built their own kitchens outside their house. Cooking indoors is unhealthy (since wood and sticks are used) and destroys the zinc sheets.

The entire community of Kpetema.

A glimpse of how the houses look with zinc roofs.

The committee that the people of Kpetema created to get the local materials before our arrival and to coordinate the project with us.

Collecting the removed thatch to be used for kitchens or taken away from the village. While unroofing and removing the thatch, we found bats, rats, insects and many other things!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Andrea and Omar Last Day in Kpetema

Andrea and Omar made their last visit to Kpetema today. It was not under the best of weather condition. It was raining really hard and we had to take the motorbikes again. Oh well we had our UWC Maastricht raincoats, which protected us a bit from the rain. The small river you cross before entering Kpetema this time was huge, so we had to come down the bikes and cross on foot.

At Kpetema we were able to check the two toilets, in order to make sure that they do not leak, the doors are well painted and everything is fixed and ready for the toilet to be used especially after heavy down pour of rain these few days. We were also able to ask the chief how do they feel about the zinc houses now that they have been using them for a week and also ask whether there is any sign of leakage in any of the houses.

Furthermore we witnessed the second set of soap production in Kpetema village. Just like the first time, 2/5 gallons of oil was used to make soap that will be given for free to every grown up person in Kpetema. We strictly advised that the soap given for free should be predominantly used for washing hands after using the toilet. We told them that we trust them and we believe they will use it in the way that is stated. The chief also went ahead to make laws that forbid using the soap for something else.  The rest of the other oil is used to produce soap that will be sold in order to obtain revenue that will help sustain the soap making process.

After that we took numerous pictures of the kids especially to share with the Boston Brownie team that helped us raise up to $600 dollars for our project. We then went on to say goodbye to everyone in the village and it was very sad. We shook hands with everyone and they prayed for safe travelling mercies especially for Omar and Andrea since they will leave in about 2 weeks. We are very happy with the way everything worked out and we really appreciate the little contribution from everyone.

I will visit Kpetema again in August before I leave for U.S.A. I hope the bond we have built between us and the people of Kpetema will continue to grow.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Project completion

We have now finished the core part of our project. We are enjoying a few days resting at the Guest House, the road to Kpetema is very bumpy, and going back and forward everyday has had an impact on our backs.
We are not leaving Sierra Leone until the 22nd of July, but we had to fasten things up because it is impossible to work once the rain comes seriously. Until now we had had a few minutes of rain everyday, but once it comes for real, it can rain for seven days on a row. The soil in Kpetema is sandy, so it becomes almost impossible to work.

Our last week of work was very interesting. Our car broke on Thursday, so we couldn’t go and finish painting the toilet doors as we had planned. We stayed in Pujehun, and arranged for motorbikes to take us on Friday. Junior, the manager of the Guest House where we stay in Pujehun (and Vandy’s cousin) took Omar and I, believe me it was not more comfortable than the car ride. L

On Friday we had our so long planned community event. Every woman in the community was there, and most of the men, at least those who were not working in their farms. The chief helped us with the translation. We talked about the zinc, and how to maintain it for it to last longer in a good shape. We also talked about the toilets, and how to keep them clean, the chief made laws for the community to use them the best way possible. We also discussed soap production in the village. They told us they have sold most of it, so we arranged to have the next production this coming Friday. We distributed soap for free for every adult in the village. We also talked about the Traditional Birth Assistant house (TBA) and the plans for the future, to see if it will be possible for us to help them zinc the houses that could not be zincked this time.
After that we stayed and painted the doors for the toilets, we were in a hurry because we planned a big closing ceremony for Saturday, we had invited a lot of important people in the region, from the Paramount chief representative to the District Councilor, and we wanted all the facilities to be ready on time.

On Saturday we woke up early in the morning. We received Vandy’s parents, coming from Freetown especially for the ceremony. Growth Centre organized a pick-up truck to take us all to the village. We had coverage from the local radio. It was really an important event in the Pujehun district!
In the village we were received by the women dancing and everyone ready for the event. There were speeches from all the parties involved (I spoke on behalf of the three of us), and the meeting was directed by Vandy’s father, who has also been helping a lot with the project. It was a very successful event, hopefully everyone in the village is happy with the work done in the past month and a half.

On Friday we will be going to the village again, starting our monitoring and evaluation phase of the project.

I hope soon we will have good access to internet so we can upload pictures and you can get a better idea of how things were. I also want to encourage you to ask us any questions or leave any comment, we can reply and give you more information you can be interested in.
Keep following us! J