Hello all. Its been quite a hectic 3 weeks out here with the festive season and the euphoria over the declared end of the ebola outbreak. The scars of that outbreak are still evident.
With its 2 million or so population you’d always expect Freetown to be busy. So too the 3 provincial cities of Makeni, Bo and Kenema which also have relatively high populations and are effectively microcosms of Freetown. Nevertheless despite the veneer of business as usual in the aforesaid localities the complaint of financial hardship is universal.
In far flung provincial districts like Kono, Kailuhun, kabala etc the story is different. Economically challenged even before ebola and when Sierra Leone was recording two figure percentage development indices, (albeit almost entirely arising from the four main cities), the story remains bleak.
In Kono the situation is compounded by the fact that Octea Mining, the main employer, seems to have lost its way. Management has been at loggerheads with Koidu City Council the past two years both for non-performance of corporate social responsibility and continued non-payment of long overdue City Council taxes and rates. Interestingly the ebola ravaged government, (once champion of Octea), also appears at odds with the company for non-payment of government taxes leading, I hear, to a major falling out between the erstwhile two friends.
The economic situation in Kono remains dire: all around you see desperate faces. On every street corner the skeleton frame of Hardship in its tattered grey garbs sits playing repeated games of draugth telling its dreary jokes. Around it and under a still hot sun tired flies threaten suicide by flying blind through miniature dust clouds raised by the hot winds and crashing headlong into anything beyond them. To add insult to injury, Octea is busy making some of its few remaining employees redundant – without benefits! Another source of serious of contention I met on the ground.
But all is not bleak: work on the renowned killer trunk road from Matotoka to Kono is going at good pace; electricity supply of sorts has been established in Koidu and slowly expanding. The township road works however are still slow going – over 6 years for a project initially estimated to take 15 or so months. As a result the first thing I received when I opened my mouth to say hi on arrival in Koidu was a mouthful of dust! But at least it was home dust.
Challenges of pupil registration which we’d hoped to overcome this January at Ahkom may not be pushed away so easily after all. As the local economy, also ravaged by ebola, continues to shrink and businesses are finding it hard to find customers, the unemployed have risen sharply. Government has decided to extend free schooling in government and assisted schools for another year which adds serious pressure on enrollment in community and private schools. Particularly in impoverished districts like Kono. The funny thing, as my teachers and some pupils were telling me, is that the throngs who forced by poverty reluctantly registered for free tuition in the fee subsidized schools now complain they are not receiving adequate tuition. Indeed, a good number continue to copy notes from remaining Ahkom pupils and are asking their former Ahkom teachers for extra classes.
But as I mentioned earlier, all is not doom and gloom: the people of the district continue to show a remarkable resilience. Many hope the improving infrastructure will mean more inward investment leading to increased employment and available liquidity. Ahkom will also be enrolling some nursery 1 and primary 1 year pupils to commence its long stated plan to create a feeder school for the Junior and Secondary Sectors. The Right to Read project also commences at Ahkom this January.
I hope on arrival in Kono tomorrow the funds to make some of the tech voc windows would have arrived; installation of which I personally wish to oversee. In Kono we shall also deliberate on ways and means to procure steel doors, school furniture and undertake some initial much needed classroom and compound rehabilitation.
I have been told by the school admin the Paramount Chief has donated 10 bags of cement as his own contribution to our development efforts: I will visit and thank him profusely for his gesture. Half a bread is better than none. I may also ask if he didn’t perchance have any extra bags tucked away in his store that he wouldn’t miss: nothing ventures, nothing gains!
On this wonderfully optimistic note, and as the early morning harmattan wind rattles the zinc pan on my poor roof making my heart skip several beats, I take my leave of you for now but not without thanking once again all of you who have been helping us out over the years. May God bless you much for doing so.
Please inform everyone that we are still open to any contributions: we welcome additional learning materials for the nursery and primary pupils and any assistance to improve on the pupils toilets, construct a school water well and put up the much needed perimeter fence. Any support for our teachers or individual pupils is also most welcomed. Until our bank account is activated, Love Sierra Leone has been kindly receiving donations on our behalf.