On the Ground in Sierra Leone

March 10, 2016

Our leadership team is currently in Sierra Leone working with a network of pastors, headmasters and community leaders to teach agricultural techniques, which the leaders can then share in their communities. Ben wrote this note from the field so we can get a glimpse of how things are going. 

It has been wonderful to watch Phillip (Director of Projects) and David (Agricultural Technical Advisor) in action here in Sierra Leone. Even more, it has been a treat to see the motivation of the pastors, headmasters and community leaders. There is excitement in the air…better said, hope.

David Reeves working in a farm plot with Africans is a great demonstration of using the gifts and experiences God has given us. He has a gift for teaching agriculture and God has blessed him with experiences that give him a special ability to relate to the people here. As Phillip said, you can teach someone the information to share with others, but learning how David speaks to them takes time.

There were several points of the first workshop that stick in my memory. There was regular debate about traditional beliefs versus what David was presenting. For example, it is a strongly held belief here that the smoke from burning a field produces rain. And, it is believed that planting seeds, covering them with mulch and then setting the raised bed on fire will heat the seeds enough to germinate. Some in the group know that this is false. Others naturally defend their ways and struggle to be open to the idea that they are wrong. I can relate. Those that held the beliefs appear to be open to change.

Another memorable moment came at the conclusion of the first day. One of the pastors spoke up to say, “This is an important opportunity to change our perspective. Our culture has taught us many things and some of them are not true.” A change in perspective. Getting out of your box, you might say. Can anyone relate to the difficulty in that? They went on to say, “What is said about opportunity? Sometimes it only comes once, so lay hold of it.”

I have heard from the group members, whether in direct comment or overheard in discussion, that the techniques and information David has presented are simple and make sense. For Joe and Jenneh and Sullay, they have had time and opportunity to work with the techniques, so this workshop has served to reinforce what they already knew. It has provided several “ah-ha” moments for them in areas where they struggled to apply what they only had in written material previously.

After the two days, Joe, an experienced and respected farmer, commented in a side conversation that he had calculated that this method could provide up to 4 times the profit that traditional ways will produce — evidence that he has accepted the techniques and is moving forward in his mindset on what the potential results might be for him and others.

With wisdom, David began the workshop by laying a Biblical foundation for farming, using Genesis as his point of reference. So, as the workshop went on and ideas were labeled “new,” there was a reminder that these are actually very old ways — to be specific, as old as the Bible.

David has been sharing the the four principles (foundations) associated with the farming techniques:

  1. On time
  2. No waste
  3. High standard
  4. With joy

It has been interesting to hear this repeated as a greeting to one another — “Good morning…on time, no waste, high standard, with joy.” Understand that the first three principles are admittedly a significant change in thinking here.

As we concluded the first two-day workshop yesterday, the group gathered to discuss final thoughts. Among the thoughts shared there was a common thread. One elder pastor commented that although he and others had attended many workshops in their lifetime, this was a workshop with a difference. He went on to say that the difference is that “you people” (a genuinely endearing term here) have not just told us the information, but you have taken us to the field to demonstrate what you have been saying and give us an opportunity to apply what we have learned and ask questions.

Another leader rose to speak and challenged the group that just as the group had learned through application, the leaders must remember not just to go back to their communities and speak the information, but be leaders in demonstrating the techniques and going the extra step of walking alongside community members to transfer the knowledge and opportunity. It is a process.

An observation they shared that is special to me is that they see that we are sincere when we told them that we are here for them. They do not work for us in our project, we work for them in their project.

On a separate note, two nights ago, Phillip, David and I sat with Joe and Sullay and just listened…and learned. They have taken the basics of VSLA to a new level. They will be spending time with Shanty while they are all here together to bring him along in their improved ways of doing things. They are gaining significant traction in Bauya and surrounding areas of the Kongbora Chiefdom. We are excited to see what God will do through them.

There has been effort, there has been learning, there has been joy, and above all, there has been love. What a privilege we have of making an impact that lasts by empowering remarkable people facing some of the world’s most difficult living conditions.

The past two days we had 32 in attendance in a village named Kerefay. This morning as I type this in Lungi Lol, there are 58 who have gathered to hear. We are all packed into a small school building and there are people standing at the windows looking in.

God is good. May He bless the people here and bless our efforts as we serve them with excellence.

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