Coming back to Salone feels like stepping into a parallel universe. It’s especially odd stepping away from a place where I was lucky enough to take full advantage of opportunity after opportunity for three years, to come to a place that was for our Peace Corps cohort of fifty-five a lost opportunity.
Yesterday was a busy day, with many different pieces thrown together. I landed at Lungi at 4am, and after clearing customs and grabbing my luggage I stepped outside. It was still the blackest shade of night, and I could see people waiting beyond the fence at the small arrivals veranda. Someone yelled “Dawson Jope!” and I immediately recognized it as Daniel’s voice. 3+ years disappeared in an instant.
He took me to the hired car where I met Rashid and one of Rashid’s good friends, Sheku. Even at 4am, with all of us shattered, the energy of our reunion was electric. Nothing needed to be said, we were just happy to be in each other’s presence.
We drove about 10 minutes from Lungi to a small country house where we sat down and talked for about fifteen minutes before deciding to get a few hours rest before we started the day.
We woke up at 7am, and Daniel stayed in Lungi because he had to welcome another friend’s arrival later in the afternoon. Rashid and I drove to the ferry terminal for the 8:00am ferry, the earliest in the day. In that short drive all I could think about was how all the sensations were the same, including the distinct smell of petrol, spices, trash, and fresh foliage all stirred together in a hot, humid melting pot.
The ferry took an hour to get across the Tagrin Bay. Freetown and the Sierra Leone Mountains slowly appeared through the dense December fog.
We stayed in Freetown for only a few hours. A lot of it was spent running errands, picking up some provisions and supplies for my stay in Rotifunk, meeting Rashid’s family for a late morning meal, and also meeting the Evangelical Mission. The mission, founded by Bishop Khazali, are the proprietors of Bumpeh Academy, and are Rashid’s direct employers. They’re a Christian mission spread across the country, and have schools all over Sierra Leone. Because of their inconsistent sourcing of funds, many of their schools are to the best of my understanding similar to Bumpeh Academy. Half-finished and somewhat reckless though well-intentioned.
The purpose of my meeting with the mission was to explain Bumpeh Academy Development Project’s general focus and scope, as well as give them some information about the specific purpose of my trip. We talked in-depth about the training seminars that I was going to lead alongside Rashid and Daniel.
An interesting suggestion that was made at the end of my presentation about the seminars and their potential benefits, was the possibility that BADP could work more closely with the mission in training the hundreds of teachers across the dozens of schools under the mission’s auspices across all of Sierra Leone.
I told the mission that it was a fascinating idea, and it would best be done as a series of intensive trainer-trainings, wherein myself, Rashid, and Daniel deliver trainings to maybe 20-30 individuals that were specifically selected by the mission as capable teachers/administrators with trainer potential, and then who would be able to deliver the sessions themselves to more teachers.
I said the prospect of myself, or Daniel, or Rashid training the hundreds of teachers for the mission was unrealistic, but that we could focus on developing trainers and giving them the necessary resources, information, and skill set to conduct their own trainings on the materials I’d designed.
I also told them that there were several crucial checkpoints, however, that would have to be passed before we came to that point. I reminded them that although I’d designed these trainings with the economic and cultural constraints of Sierra Leone in mind, we still had to see how effective and valuable the trainings were with Bumpeh Academy staff. With the benchmark of the training’s success or failure with Bumpeh Academy staff, we could then decide if there was enough merit to expand the program for the entire mission.
In addition, there was the greater issue of funding. The mission executives, very excited at the prospect of having their teachers receive improved, in-service trainings, seemed to assume that this potential project would come at BADP’s expense. I immediately squashed the idea. I reminded them, very politely, that BADP’s development focus is on Bumpeh Academy, and that funding prerogatives would exclusively be devoted to Bumpeh Academy, and possibly the wider Rotifunk community until the three of us co-founders decided that Bumpeh Academy was up to what we believed a serviceable level for educating its students. Only then would we look at additional projects.
If that wasn’t enough I made sure to also say that trying to have BADP fund the project would be a very unsustainable and impractical idea, as our funding sources and donor base were too small and inconsistent to take on a project of that magnitude.
However, I didn’t mention that even if we had the funding I would still veto the idea as whether or not we had the funds, our putting up the full-funding without Ministry of Education or Evangelical Mission support is still completely unsustainable, inefficient, and could even lead to them taking advantage of our donor base.
What I did tell them, was that if 1) we were to able evaluate that the trainings in Rotifunk had been a success, 2) Rashid and Daniel felt confident in delivering future trainings in the subjects that they as well as I led, 3) Daniel and Rashid felt comfortable with the prospect of training up additional facilitators, and 4) we could find a balanced funding agreement that was heavily dependent on local, or sustainable sources rather than BADP, that we might be able to expand the trainings into something that was more widely serviceable for the entire mission.
All told, it was a very interesting meeting. We’ve scheduled a follow-up meeting on December 18th, where we’ll essentially discuss the above points, with the greatest push on the first point.
After the meeting we made the long journey to Rotifunk. Freetown to Rotifunk is only about fifty miles as the crow flies, but the trip can take up to five hours, as the roads quickly disintegrate to barely serviceable dirt tracks that are sometimes no more than eight feet wide. It’s still a fun trip, with a wooden raft crossing halfway through, and a couple spots where the road disappears into small ponds and streams. By about 5pm we arrived in Rotifunk.