As many of you know, I am currently serving as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in Sierra Leone. I have lived here for just over one year- boy what a year it has been!
I integrated slowly but surely into a village I now consider my second home, Rokulan. The population here ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 people, depending on the crop season. When rice is being harvested, relatives are called in from the city to lend a helping hand. The roads become crowded with a hub of activity: picking planting, sowing, sorting, and drying. During the dry season, things quiet down. Our rhythm is guided by the wax and wane of subsistence farming.
Another big part of life in Rokulan is religion. The community is culturally conservative and Muslim dominant. Respected elders pray five times a day, and school-going children sing Islamic and Christian songs every morning during assembly. I take part in the 2:00 p.m. prayers in the mosque every Friday. I am accompanied there by "Aunties", a common name given to an elder woman. They teach me the do's and dont's of Islam as interpreted by a small sect of Muslims, the Ahmadiyyas. I enjoy praying and revel at the opportunity for cultural exchange.
In my free time I like to read, play games with the kiddos, and hang out with my Auntie Zainab and Uncle Sesay. I cook together with Auntie Zainab most afternoons. We sit under a baffa, an open hut that provides much needed shade and protection, while Uncle Sesay regales us with funny stories. Auntie Zainab and I prepare a host of delicious African dishes. My favorite is foofoo soup. Cooking can be difficult without the assistance of machines, but I am making progress. I have only sliced my finger open once.
After cooking, there is a wide dirt road intersecting the village that beckons me. As I run, I ponder the beautiful view: the sun setting behind rolling green hills. The highway connects a string of villages from the big city, Makeni, all the way to the Guinean border. Just before I reach my house, darkness envelops me like a cloak, save for the brilliant fireflies that guide me back. From my veranda, I gaze at a million stars dotting the night sky and if I'm lucky, shooting stars and the Milky Way. Life here is peaceful.
Before I go further, I would like to introduce you to one of my star students, Sheik Immam Jalloh. Despite great odds, Sheik has made his way to the big city to attend university. He is a dedicated student who I know will go far. I would like to support his education with a gift of a laptop, a hotspot modem and four years of dorm housing. This cost for all this is $500. Any donation towards this fund would be much appreciated.
Sheik is a highly motivated student who has big dreams for the future. His goal is to become a Minister of Finance for Sierra Leone and restructure the economy. His plan b is to become an economics professor who goes by the alias Dr. Liberty. Towards this end, he has been accepted to Ernest Bai Koroma University in Makeni. There he plans to study business and accounting. After completing this course of study, Sheik wants to receive a master's degree.
Sheik's achievements thus far cannot be understated. He is one of only a couple thousand candidates nationwide chosen to attend university this year. Even more impressive, Sheik passed his university entrance exams on his first try- a rare feat. Sheik is a talented and driven young man.
Part of what makes Sheik so unique is his family background. Sheik is one of twenty-one siblings; one full, the rest half. He is the third youngest of the bunch, a position that taught him to be independent and hard-working. Astoundingly, eighteen of Sheik's siblings are male. Here I thought the Manning sisters were a fluke of nature. Sierra Leonean families raise the bar. Sheik says he experienced many hardships growing up with so many siblings. He was not raised not by his birth mother, but by his father's wives and girlfriends. This experience hardened him, but also taught him the importance of family planning. He swears he will only father two children, and only after he is economically stable. I think Sheik is mature beyond his years.
I have and will continue to mentor Sheik. I plan to meet with him once a week over the course of the next ten months. In this time, I hope to teach him computer literacy. In addition, I have made a plan to keep this project sustainable. Sheik has agreed, upon learning all the requisite computer skills, to pass on his knowledge to three other promising young students. Sheik is passionate about education, and his passion is infectious.
Thank you for taking the time to read about me, Sheik, and Sierra Leone.
*One added benefit of helping Sheik is that I will be able to borrow his hotspot modem. With this device, I will be able to keep you updated about my adventures in Mama Salone!