In spring 2010, the Essex Family of Schools embarked on an amazing venture when they decided to a build a school in war-torn Sierra Leone, which had been devastated by 11 years of civil war. Over 95 percent of the rural infrastructure and buildings, including schools, had been destroyed. When peace was finally restored the returning refugees, each with his or her own horror story, came home to nothing but rubble.
And so, in February and March 2010, the Essex schools – Maidstone Central, Essex Public, Colchester North, Gosfield North, and Essex District High School – raised the necessary funds to build a school in the small upcountry village of Maforeka. Since then, enrolment has climbed steadily to over 230 students and Essex students continue to support the school on an annual basis.
This summer, former EDHS teacher, John Garinger, traveled to Sierra Leone to attend the school’s official opening and bring greetings from the Essex students. This is his account of that experience:
I thought I knew all about poverty and third-world problems, but reading about it and actually seeing it are simply two different worlds.
We arrived in Freetown in the rainy season and for the first three days what I witnessed left me speechless, sad and overwhelmed. I just could not fathom it. I could not get it.
Freetown has one million people and over 400,000 have no jobs. They live in tin shacks and survive by trading and selling goods in the streets just in order to eat.
My hosts, Joseph Lamin and Cindy Nofziger from the Masanga Children’s Fund and Schools For Salone, helped me understand these people and took me into the streets to meet them. I began to understand just how amazing they are – they are survivors and they are grateful to be alive. They are proud, and they are working to establish a democracy and rebuild their country.
We visited several schools, some were simply tin shacks, in Freetown and met many wonderful teachers and again many had survived their own personal tragedies. But without exception they were strong and kind and full of love for their students.
It took us six hours to travel the 125 miles to Maforeka as the roads are very primitive. The people in the rural areas practice subsistence farming, but this day they were resting to attend the celebration of the Miracle of Maforeka. It was a festive time, to say the least, complete with dancing, speeches, and laughter.
I witnessed the school firsthand and saw the children in action. I spoke with them and I am satisfied that there are many good things happening. The teachers are dedicated and follow a responsible curriculum – they all know that education is the answer to rebuilding their country and providing a place in the world for their children – and the students love school and learning.
We stayed and slept in the village and met the people but that is a subject for another day. It was truly interesting – block cement houses, mosquito netting and no electricity.
They were gracious hosts and we had great fun. And here again I saw this pride they have – they are clean, washing clothes every day, and they wear bright colours and they are so kind and friendly and tough. Their days are long in the fields but again, they all have a special secret – they have survived, they are alive, and they are happy – and they hold their heads high.
I was so pleased to see the effect our school has had on this village. Our students can be proud to know that the village now has hope for the future thanks to them. Well done Essex Family of Schools – you have not only brought help and learning to the children, but you have given hope to the village itself.
• The Essex Family of Schools will be embarking on a new project soon. The students in Freetown and Maforeka have no children’s reading books. They math and grammar class sets, etc. but nothing to read. Our goal is gather at least 1000-1500 children’s reading books from the community this fall.
Note: I met and became friends with many special people, such as Aunty Musu, Principal at the Children In Crisis School. You can get a sense of her, her work, and what is happening in this wonderful story through this 3-minute video: vimeo.com/29738973.
It is worth it to take the few minutes to watch this video. Her story is typical of all the schools in Sierra Leone and I consider it a privilege to be her friend.