A Father’s Perspective -Jon Cobb

13th April 2017 | Posted in Nigel's Blog

I recently spent two weeks in Sierra Leone visiting my daughter Rachel who works for the excellent Home Leone organisation. It was my first visit to the country and I was a little nervous at the prospect. It’s not often you hear ‘Sierra Leone’ as an answer to the question ‘where are you going on your holidays this year?’

From the moment we landed the trip was an experience, but one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss! Think of any major airport in the world and it’s usually serviced by a decent trunk road, but the trip to the ferry port in a mini bus  is made on bumpy unmade roads. Welcome to Sierra Leone!

Freetown is a bustling city but is noticeable by its absence of a ‘downtown’ high rise financial center focal point. This is An impoverished city which somehow seems to exist without the need for traffic lights, McDonalds, a constant electricity supply, a refuse system and a Starbucks! It’s a city divided by the minority ‘haves’ and the majority ‘have nots’ It is littered with slum dwellings.

Everything has to last here. In the developed west, if our washing machine breaks down, there’s a temptation to just buy a new one. Same with the car (or at least trade in) but here, anything mechanic is maintained, reconditioned until it simply is run into the ground and beyond repair. It might be a bit like Triggers broom (same broom, just replaced the head four times and the handle twice!) but this has spawned many cottage industries working in the area of spare parts. The roadside markets are full of pipes, wires, chains, starter motors, batteries. However, I was instructed to bring certain industrial parts which weren’t readily available, but I’m sure in the meantime, an industrious ‘Sleonian’ would get whatever is inoperative back on the move again.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking sight is driving away from Freetown through this commodity rich country and seeing whole families engaged in the practice of smashing rocks down to pebble size to be sold for ballast for the construction industry.  It evokes an image of a far less enlightened era in both the UK and Sierra Leones history.

This is why it is so heartening that people like Nigel Hyde have a vision to see lives changed in this country and are embarking on an ambitious project that addresses the six areas of: low cost housing, education, health, power, water and sanitation to provide a sustainable solution in slum relocation. I had the privilege of  visiting Destiny Village, Home Leones pilot project, and which will house around 2200 people when complete. But if this is successful this can be rolled out and ultimately there is a goal to positively affect the lives of 300,000 people! That’s an admirable target!

The team working at the coalface are made up of both expats and locals and there’s a shared belief that this will succeed. Jo and Sarah are living on site and co ordinate the construction whilst Rachel is back in Freetown managing the administration and training. Its a team effort.

This is a fantastic project which I am convinced will have a positive impact on this wonderful but chaotic country. Do go have a look for yourselves!


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