Education, healthcare and farming in Sierra Leone; Development in our own black hands!

From June 8-18, 2013, I had the opportunity to travel to Sierra Leone as part of a three-person Uhuru Movement leadership con­tingent that also included Luwezi Kinshasa, Secretary-General of the African Socialist International (ASI), and Diop Olugbala, Presi­dent of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (In­PDUM).
 
This was an organizing trip, and had the expressed purpose of further consolidating the Uhuru Movement and our various orga­nizations that exist on the ground in the country.
 
Despite the country’s abun­dance of natural resources— some of which include diamonds, gold, bauxite, rutile and fertile farmland—the masses of Africans in Sierra Leone are forced to live in abject poverty while the peo­ple’s wealth is daily extracted by U.S., British, Chinese and other foreign interests.
 
Sierra Leone has no national electrical grid and an almost com­pletely inadequate health care system. According to the UN Hu­man Development Report 2013, the average life expectancy in Sierra Leone is a mere 48 years and for every 100,000 live births, 890 women die from pregnancy related causes.
 
As the International Director of the All African People’s Devel­opment and Empowerment Proj­ect (AAPDEP), the development arm of the Uhuru Movement, my primary goals for the trip were to assess the effectiveness of our programs and to help develop plans to increase our member­ship and economic development capacity in the county.
 
AAPDEP’s healthcare work in Sierra Leone
 
While in Sierra Leone, I par­ticipated in a series of leadership meetings with AAPDEP Sierra Le­one’s National Executive Commit­tee (AAPDEP-SL NEC), which is lead by Nurse-midwife Mary Ko­roma.
 
The AAPDEP-SL NEC is a small yet effective group of forc­es that are responsible for over­seeing the day-to-day work of AAPDEP. This leadership group is leading our organization into a period of tremendous growth.
 
In 2011, we established the AAPDEP Maternity Clinic in Al­lentown, Sierra Leone. In 2012, the clinic was relocated to Yams Farm, a community on the out­skirts of the capital, Freetown.
 
Although it is officially a ma­ternity clinic and focuses on the care of pregnant women and chil­dren under the age of five, we are the only healthcare facility in the whole of Yams Farm and as such, we serve the entire community.
 
Our clinic has seven medi­cal staff. There is one community health officer, one nurse midwife, three nurses and two nursing aids.
 
Without exception, they are warm, empathetic and highly skilled professionals who provide a high quality of care to our pa­tients. All currently work on a vol­untary basis.
 
We keep the clinic fees ex­tremely low and we never turn anyone away because of lack of resources.
 
The clinic is very decent. It is brightly colored, clean and has separate rooms for delivery, post-delivery and for check-ups. Each room has at least three beds. There is also an attractive waiting area, office and classroom inside.
 
Just outside the main building there is a small administrative of­fice. It is a very functional space that also doubles as a classroom for our free computer literacy classes.
 
Within the first two days of our organizing trip, eight beautiful babies were born in the clinic! All mothers and babies are healthy.
 
In fact, despite the frighten­ing statistics, hundreds of babies have successfully been bon at our clinic without even one death of mother or child.
 
Every Wednesday is clinic day. That’s when all the pregnant women and children under five come to be seen.
 
Clinic is a lively experience. Nurse Mary and the other nurs­es lead the women in song and dance, Mary leads a brief discus­sion around the important of eat­ing well, exercising, avoiding un­necessary stress and coming to be seen weekly at the clinic.
 
Then, one by one the women and babies are seen.
 
Our clinic does have some definite room for improvement. We do not currently have running water and electricity comes from a generator.
 
We have plans to add a rain­water harvesting system that will pump clean water into the clinic and are looking at the possibility of installing solar panels that will replace the need for the gas pow­ered generator.
 
What is needed right now are the funds to make it happen.
 
AAPDEP’s education work
 
AAPDEP operates two schools in Mokanji, Sierra Leone, a vocational school known as AAPDEP-Tech and the AAPDEP Nursery and Preschool.
 
Both schools are doing ex­tremely well. There are ten staff members for both schools and a total of 72 students.
 
We launched the vocational school in 2011 as a way to offer valuable skills training to young women in Mokanji who had not completed high school and were unemployed.
 
Shortly after launching the vocational school, we realized that many women in the commu­nity who wanted to attend were in need of childcare. This prompted us to create the nursery and pre­school.
 
The vocational school is staffed by highly skilled teachers who train our students in tailoring, weaving, catering, hairdressing and arts and crafts. All students also participate in our adult liter­acy program.
 
The preschool has two very loving and committed young teachers.
 
While in Mokanji, I participated in a commu­nity program organized by our staff and students. I was so impressed by the obvious effectiveness of our teachers.
 
During the program, all of our children, some as young as two years old, stood with confidence in front of the audience and made speeches, re­cited poetry and sang songs, all in a language that is not their mother tongue.
 
How many adults would feel confident enough to do this?
 
We are in the process of improving our curricu­lum to ensure that in ev­ery way we are infusing our phi­losophy and worldview into all of our lessons. This is imperative, as our institutions must do more than teach skills, but we must be in the business of developing Af­rican Internationalists who will be driven to change the conditions of our people.
 
For the last two months, we have been offering free adult liter­acy and computer literacy classes in our clinic in Yams Farm. I sat in on classes and was quite im­pressed with the level of instruc­tion and the enthusiasm of our teachers and students.
 
AAPDEP’s agricultural work
 
AAPDEP-SL operates two farms. One is a two-acre cassava farm in Mokanji, and another two-acre groundnut farm is in Kabai­ma.
 
For now, all of our harvest is shared among our members and the local community. We do have plans, however, to begin expand­ing our agricultural work by pro­cessing our cassava and ground­nuts and selling them at a market that we create.
 
Increasing our economic development capacity
 
One of the main issues we are working to address right now is our income generating capacity.
 
All of our programs require tremendous financial resources, and while we have been able to accomplish quite a bit through the generous donations of Africans and our allies who have contrib­uted financially over the years, we must institutionalize our income generating capacity if we are to maintain and expand our current programs.
 
Right now we are looking at the possibility of establishing In­ ternet cafes in Yams Farm and Mokanji.
 
We’re developing plans of action for creating a small bou­tique where we can sell the clothing and jewelry we make at the vocational school, and we are also planning to go after contracts with local schools for our tailoring department to make their uniforms.
 
Always moving forward despite contradictions
 
We have made tremendous gains in our work in Sierra Le­one. This has not been without contradictions, however.
 
Organizing in Africa is not easy. The poverty and depen­dency that have been imposed on our people has created the conditions for opportunism at ev­ery level of society.
 
We were forced to split with the Passengers Welfare Associ­ate of Sierra Leone, an organiza­tion who merged with us in 2011 and whose national leadership took on key roles within AAP­DEP because they attempted to use our relationship to its nurs­ing school as an attempt to steal resources from us.
 
At times we have had issues with members and community forces who expect us to operate like the thousands of NGOs in Africa who command large bud­gets and require little if any real commitment or input from Afri­cans ourselves.
 
We are not at all dismayed by these contradictions, howev­er, as we know that in life there are always contradictions.
 
Certainly as we make this struggle to once again become a self-determining people, there will be challenges. We are deter­mined to meet each challenge, though, with the commitment, fortitude and confidence that ul­timately, we will overcome. His­tory is on our side!
 
Build the All African People’s Development and Empowerment Project!
 
Our Future in Our Own Hands!
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