Thursday, October 6, 2016

September 19, 2016 - the concerned women of treeplanting - this is actually 3 entries

sunday sept 19
Once a year in Freetown, in the month of September, there is a terrible storm that does a huge amount of destruction. That happened today. Oddly, the storm only hit the south side of Freetown (it did not go over the mountain). The damage was huge. Many houses and outdoor kitchens were destroyed, retaining walls fallen over, trees uprooted, and many bodies washed down the mountain and found on the ocean beaches. A sad day for many. The mission home and office were not affected and we live on the back side of the mountain and did not get any rain at all.

Three women came into the office to see me today. They are from a group called "The Concerned Women Association of Treeplanting". We went into President Clawson's office and sat around the round table. They explained to me the purpose of their organization, showed me their constitution and then asked me to be the "mother" of their organization. I asked what the "mother" was suppose to do. They said, "you know, give advice, teach how to grow, be a mother". At this point they handed me an envelope. I opened it and it was an invitation to a huge celebration on the 29th of October launching their organization for another year. The invitation read "The honorable Mr. And Mrs. Carley invite you to the Celebration of the Association of the Concerned Women of Treeplanting, on Saturday, October 29th. . . Keynote Speaker, Mrs. Carley. . ." I had to tell them I am not available on the 29th of October. Our boss from Accra is coming on the 26th and will be working with us for 2 days on humanitarian projects and then on the 29th & 30th we are in training. However, I told them I would read through their constitution and think about it but I was not promising anything. They have a meeting every Sunday night at 5:30 and I want to attend a meeting. They thought that was great. I committed to attending their meeting this next Sunday. I asked them a ton of questions. Basically, they are a Relief Society. They go out and do odd jobs for pay and contribute the money to their organization. Then when they know of someone having a hardship within their community, they use their funds to help. Basically, what they want me to do is help them with business opportunities and help their organization to grow.

Sunday - September 25, 2016 - I went to Treeplanting to attend the Concerned Women of Treeplanting meeting. I met Mrs. Blake at the top of the mountain and walked half way down the mountain to the home of one of the members. I saw a side of the "poor" I have not seen before. This house was made of concrete and was among all the zinc houses. When I walked in there were 25 black women sitting in a dark room that was much too small for that many people. I was the last person to arrive because Mrs. Blake and I have a different definition of a "round-about". When we finally found each other, it was passed the starting time. But when I walked into that dark room with all those dark women, my eyes were not adjusted to the dark yet and I could not see the women. But a round of applause rose up so I turned toward the direction of the noise and curtsied. They laughed. I saw white teeth. My eyes adjusted and I could see their beautiful faces. Each of them was eating something. I learned later they were eating homemade yogurt. I was positioned on a couch facing the women. Mrs. Blake called the meeting to order, briefly introduced me as their "mother" and then had each sister stand and introduce herself to me. Once that was done, Mrs. Blake looked at me and said, "the ball is in your court." I was surprised but prepared. I thanked them for the invitation to attend their meeting and for Mrs. Blake, Mrs. Turay, and Mrs. Conteh coming to my office to visit me. I told them I had read through their constitution and believe their organization is a wonderful asset to their community. I told them that, indeed, the Sisters (Blake, Turay, and Conteh) had invited me to be their "Mother". I told them that I do not feel I can do that. We are moving to Makeni in two weeks and I will not be here to attend their Sunday evening meetings plus I am not available on October 29th. However, instead of being your "mother" I would like to be your Sister. I referred to their constitution that said one of the goals of the organization is to "Be my Sisters Keeper". I explained our humanitarian work which takes in all of Sierra Leone and that I work with many other NGO's (Non-Government Organizations) and if an opportunity arises that I can steer work to their community, I would. There was a round of applause. I do have a job opportunity for them, maybe. We are working with Willamette International, a hand-dug borehole NGO who has a man on their team that is trying a new thought. He drilled a hand-dug borehole , mounted a 5,000 liter Milla Tank above it and built a Kiosk to sell water. He has a water purification system within the Kiosk with a flow meter. He has a man stationed in the Kiosk all day selling water. The man gets a fraction of the sale and the owner gets the rest. Because there is a flow meter, the owner knows exactly how much water was sold and how much money should have been collected. There is no skimming off the top. He has only built one of these as a pilot project, but it is working incredibly well. He is looking for another place to put a kiosk. We have suggested Treeplanting. I put a bug in his ear about using the Concerned Women of Treeplanting to man the Kiosk. There are a lot of "ifs" here, but it just might work out.

 The women were disappointed that I would not be their "mother" but we're quite happy to have me as their "Sister". I sat down and waited for the meeting to continue. Everyone sat there staring at each other. OK, what was this all about? I looked around the room, and there were two fans running on electricity, a big screen TV with a bunch of small boxes with a lot of cords going from the boxes to the TV. Wow! All this among a bunch of zinc houses where no one has water or electricity. The hostess produced a case of cold soft drinks and gave everyone a choice. How could she afford that? Mrs. Blake did not have an agenda and was lost as what to do. Was this normal? After a few awkward moments, Mrs. Blake produced the most beautiful piece of lace I have ever seen. It was a soft shade of pink and gold. For their October 29th celebration they are all going to have "uniforms". Which simply mean they are all going to have dresses made alike out of the same material. The lace was the outer part of the dress and it will have a matching pink underlayment. It will be gorgeous. But, the dress is going to cost every Sister over 200,000. Leones. Yikes! 200,000 Leones for one dress. Most of the people in this community barely have enough food to eat and water is a major issue. How in the world can they afford 200,000 Leones for a dress? Then I learned that each woman pays 10,000 Leones a month to belong to this organization plus if you comets the Sunday evening meeting late you are fined 2,000 Leones and if you don't come at all you are fined 5,000 Leones. This is not an organization for the poor. But where do all these women get their money? And why do they live so poorly? What is it we don't know?

 Monday, September 26 - Saidu Conteh asked me if I attended the Concerned Women of Treeplanting meeting last night. I did. I told him of this woman's house, the dresses, the fees and fines. He was shocked. He could not get over 200,000 Leones for one dress let alone someone with electricity and could offer yogurt and soft drinks to that many people. He asked me the name of the woman who chairs the organization. I told him Mrs. Blake. His eyes got big and he said "Ohhhh". He explained to me that Sierra Leone has a program here called the Diversified Visa Lottery. You can join the lottery as a single person or as a couple. If you win you get to go to America and they will give you a house and a job and help you in you new culture. If you play the lottery as a couple, then you and your spouse have to go together and you have to live together. The trick is, you have to pay for your own passport and transportation to America. Mrs. Blake's husband played the lottery 8 years ago as a couple and won. But they did not have the money to get passports or transportation. So, Mr. Blake found a wealthy woman who would go with him as his wife and pay for his expenses to go to America. He has not come back and has not sent for his wife. But people say (rumors) he sends her money. But that doesn't explain how 34 other women get their money. I am back to wondering what is it we don't know? Are these people as poor as they say they are?

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