Sierra Leone

June 1

Compacting the 95kg of donations for the 4 projects in Sierra Leone. Had a surprisingly good sleep! We came via London (and Amsterdam where there are wind power turbines all over the place, and offshore-so much smarter than Australia) specifically to be able to pick up these extra donations from Steve's brilliant folks Ken and Elaine. Off to Freetown! There are 4 projects in Sierra Leone, and the volunteer count is down to 3. It will be the roughest one... because of the recent Ebola tragedies and it is one of the very poorest nations in the world. Look forward to finding out what that means. As well as sorting out the complicated structural relationships between OrphFund and the local managers, greasing the wheels, we are sorting out schooling options, catching up with every child ("profiling"), building a huge fence to comply with UNICEF requirements, and tiling floors for the ongoing health of the kids. I look forward to telling yuz all bout it, especially after a good 6hour sleep on the bags behind the baggage wrapping machine in Heathrow foyer. (At what point are you too old for that?) x

June 3

I'ts a very different side of Africa, obviously! Each project has an angel, a manager who is honest and can be trusted enough to manage the complex relationships and politics, while keeping the needs of the kids paramount. Henry and Alfonze in Uganda, Tom and Rose in Kenya, and here Osman Tolo. He's 26... the place, and this project in Tombo, exhibits more need that the others so far. It's in a beautiful setting, high in the hills and remote. At least it was. It's an area of contrast, next door is the Bellamy Academy, a very flash boarding school set up by a big-hearted soccer star to find the next Sierra Leone superstar. The place is now sitting vacant, apparently closed due to corruption in the hierarchy. Steve has had a tough few years finding the right people... (there is yet another fake charity down the road, a sign painted on a wall saying bright light orphanage for post Ebola children. They collected money, heaps, but need proof of results. They wanted to borrow the OrphFund kids for a photo shoot outside the sign (this did not happen). I guess that's why I came. I was reading Peter Singer's 'The most good you can do' about effective altruism. Got me thinking about how my charity money is really spent. I support 7 charities. Getup and Sea Shepherd, the rest to do with children in need. I am transferring all contributions to OrphFund and MSF, who I have not supported to date. Lots of that going! Lots and lots to do here. Steve has upgraded the menu to suit the needs, and we need to build 300m of fence to keep our undesirables... otherwise, details... sanitary items, plates, shoes, bags, fans and ongoing needs!

June 4

I'm warming to this place and I don't mean the excruciating heat. It's the kids. This orphanage was set up 7-8 years ago so kids have grown the oldest is 18, youngest probably 5. Usually the older ones who are clever go to boarding school but it seems there aren't many such schools here. That's one of the challenges... how to pay or what to do if there isn't one. We are researching options for better school options here now, including starting a good school here, for the kids and also as a sustainable model. So here, there are 2/3 in primary and 1/3 in secondary. Great kids... about half of this lot were found on rubbish tips picking food scraps to stay alive. Now they wear the flash school uniforms and are getting first, second third out of classes of 60-70. Bet they never thought they were that kind of person! But they sure are. Need here is much greater than in the east, so please sign up... sponsorship@orphfund.org

Given all the donations away, sponsors letters, blankets. Kids are stoked! Now we head to the beach to forget the woes, catch up with all the kids individually and surf! Wahoo!

June 5

We're heading up to Kamakwie today, a couple of hours away. Today we have been negotiating with management, and visiting schools to make sure we are getting the best results and bang-for-buck for the kids. There are barely any science labs, so thousands of kids are behind there. There are barely any library facilities. All these things are taken in to account, as well as teaching rigour and expertise. And given the shabby and expensive transport options, proximity matters. Today we are going more remote, and we will also be thinking of the possibility of juggling kids between orphanages so the older kids in particular get the best opportunities. On one hand it seems the great benefit of orphfund accomodations is that all levels of kids are together, like a family. On the other hand these older kids need less interruptions and more support in the final school years. Of course, this would be immediately obvious to all you parents out there! It is not immediately apparent what school fees are. One school quotes one figure per year, but then charges extra (double the initial fees!) to attend classes. And then some of the teachers don't teach, and the class just sit there. Sometimes it feels like I'm Alice in Wonderland! But like the heat, one quickly acclimatises to the bizarre. The lesson for me, a partially informed volunteer, is this. Little steps... all these decisions take careful consideration, weighing up the impossible, improbable against the likely and possible. I would consider it a full time job for one project, but Steve co-ordinates 9, plus many smaller outreach projects. He does this as a volunteer on a tiny budget. In his words... the big charities have been getting millions of dollars a year and have been here for decades, but very little is changing. OrphFund is slowly expanding its RESULTS, taking little careful steps. Effective altruism people...

June 6

We made it to Kamakwie! We turned a 4 hour trip in to an 8 hour one after a flat tyre (the spare had metal hanging out of it), a broken jack (years of dodgy cars equipped me with the ability to fix that one), and some greedy corrupt immigration officers taking 1,000,000 from Steve, enough to feed all the kids for a week or more. Everyone knows this corruption exists and has to accept it. Leaves a sour taste, given the good that OrphFund achieve. The "price" would have been half if Steve had been a missionary, instead of actually helping vulnerable kids. Rotten... the trip turned in to a rugged mountain climb in a spectacular lightening storm. When we arrived the kids were up, and sang and sang and sang. It was so beautiful! There are 28 kids here under the care of Aunty Alice and the manager Foday Dumbuya, both of whom have been here from the beginning. This is OrphFund's first project, the Heartland. Many of the initial 60+ kids have moved on and today we catch up with some of them too... here we build a fence, have some management meetings, do some solar repairs, lots of profiling and individual time with these kids, and finding the new batch of vulnerable kids to fill up this place! Hi ho

Kamakwie is amazing!! There is a primary and junior secondary school bought by OrphFund. If Steve was to say "come and look at the international airport and orphans hospital I built up this dirt track for $5" I would believe him. This is world building, starting at the bottom... project here are security and health. We need to build 440m of wire fence and 4 gates. Cost $3400. We need to tile and paint 4 dorms, cost about $2800. We need to put in 2 new toilets, about $420. We need to modify the kitchen, for about $380. There is facility to donate at orphfund.org. These are very small numbers!!! Anyone? Xxxxx

June 7

What fabulous kids! Met a heap of them today. Got my hair combed for the first time since I left school. Can someone tell mum! Lightning all round, activity everywhere... such a brilliant place. Spoke with the head primary teacher, a very educated man, proud of his kids, especially his 8 month old with pierced ears. I'm putting in 2 new toilets here, as well as assisting with tiling, fencing and other little stuff. Happy to get my hands dirty again! OrphFund has built this whole place in the last 10 years. Amazing, happy well fed educated kids. I notice the well (built by OrphFund and used by the whole town) and a toilet block (built by OrphFund), both have UNICEF painted on them. They painted both, and branded them!!! Thanks guys...

June 8

Still in Kamakwie. Such a more complicated place. Very hard to sift through the truth/cultural interpretations, the ravages of civil war and Ebola fallout, and desperate need. Add in tribal differences and local politics and there is real confusion! It's easy to jump to conclusions, all wrong. I guess the harder/rawer places highlight the hard edge. At the same time the simple things are gold. Today we profiled/interviewed all the kids individually, sifting through pasts and documenting dreams. It's a tough life here, the orphanage is perceived as well off, but it finds and runs 2 schools too. It is close to the edge. There is a St George and UNICEF policy to reintegrate kids from orphanages at 18 years, with a one-off USD$50 payout. Some of these kids were back today, and have been flung back in to deadens situations like working on the grandma's 'farm', a tiny plot perhaps, full time for not quite enough food. .. leading to unfinished school, poverty cycle and no opportunity. It is rawer here. More desperate, hard to imagine. After Ebola, a lot of the shops have closed, things shut down, people gone. We are in one of the poorest countries in the world, next to a Chinese gold mine, providing community primary and high schooling, and making the lives of stacks of the most vulnerable orphans some of the most fortunate lives around. Most amazing. A complicated land of contrast. Hard to get down to the truth of this place. It ain't that simple... the kids are amazing...

June 9

Time with the kids here is drawing to a close. Great little critters who under the amazing guidance of the wonderful Auntie Alice, and more remotely the equally wonderful Tolo and David, hopefully they continue their journey to becoming happy, honest and successful people, in this very difficult place. Happily, the great influence if these 3 amazing OrphFund staff is strong. Tomorrow we go to Samaya to visit the third of 4 OrphFund projects in Sierra Leone. Can't wait to see more of OrphFund's practical and passionate work, one of the few glimmers of hope I see here. In the photo below UNICEF claim to have funded the water pump which OrphFund funded!!! I'm speechless.... OrphFund is one man and a team of volunteers, doing hundreds of times more actual work for the children here than anyone. The only other actual orphanage here is SOS Children's Village, not even sure if it is still going. It is a testament to Steve's ability to do so much with so little, and work under conditions that are beyond my comprehension. Get behind OrphFund, the one organisation actually doing stuff here...

June 10

We went out to another of OrphFund's projects, a primary and secondary school in Tambaka chiefdom, Sierra Leone largest province and one which time, and the government, forgot. It's the country's largest province, divided from here by a hand powered ferry and a large river 'little scarce'... Tambaka has not one doctor!!!! So of course Steve has set up and runs the best school (one of the very few at all) in the district. We met with all the teachers, students and town chief and authorities, and it was humbling how grateful they are to OrphFund. Truly effusive... I lowered the tone in one primary class while their teacher was in a meeting with Steve, and taught them about elephants and fractions... wouldn't it be great to set up a science lab (extremely rare in SL schools) to teach Science and for it to become the school where doctors go to learn, and therefore fund the orphanage and provide excellence in schooling for them! Then after a sensational motorbike ride back I did heaps of plumbing , brokered the deal to fence the whole property (450m of fence some of which was brought over in the first container- thanks donors!). And sorted the mechanic to fix the car, while Steve made 2 schools full of teachers here happy! A great day full of major events, all of which directly improve the plight of the worlds neediest children. (I don't want to make this a thing, but UNICEF had tagged OrphFund's well at Samaya as well). Found some donated drums in storage yesterday so the place is ringing with singing n rhythm....xx

June 11

Back in Kamakwie. Last day here, disasters aside. We have tiled dorms, fenced, put in 2 toilets, sorted through some major management changes, fixed the car, moved the container so it can become a street side shop, individually interviewed all the kids, checked out the great school setup at Samaya, and sorted through the whole contents of the donations container. I think at he start of last night I dreamed of a shoe, and spent the rest of the night trying to find its pair in a huge pile. Also saw 2 squirrels, and probably eaten 1500 eggs... and made some great connections among the kids. These kids have the same desperate needs as in Kenya and Uganda, but they live in a harsher post Ebola and post conflict society. It was hard to imagine while in other parts of Africa, but the need is much greater here. Please dig deep, sponsorship@orphfund.org, a tiny sacrifice at your end saves lives here. It's a simple equation. In these posts I have tried to paint an accurate picture of things. In summary, there is horrifying inequality in the world and everyone in Castlemaine are well off, we all can eat. I will miss the joyful spirit of the kids I have met, and will miss the daily inspiration of OrphFund's work...

June 12

As if to highlight the complicated relationships at play in this chiefdom. As I was just completing the sorting of donated medical and first aid gear into piles for the 4 OrphFund orphanages in Sierra Leone, and more specialist equipment more suited to a hospital, I heard a scream. A little cutie had face planted and was being carried, screaming and bloody down the road. I grabbed some gear, launched in to nurse mode, did what was required and took him and his mum to hospital. He is 3, lost 6 front teeth and needed 6 stitches in his dear little head. As I was assisting in theatre (yes!) I was speaking to the doctor about our excess gear and hoping we could exchange this pile of much needed dressings and minor surgical equipment for ongoing care for the children, a great deal.. turns out he is the speaker for the chiefdom, perhaps 2nd in charge in this district, and whom Steve and I met with a few days before. We met about OrphFund management matters and communication channels between OrphFund and the chiefdom authorities. We give something, so do they. For OrphFund, and for the district, we all want the best possible outcome for these children. It is perhaps heartening that the authorities care so much. This poor little kid helped strengthen OrphFund's standing in the community, and broker a great mutually beneficial relationship at the hospital. The hospital is very basic, very 1950's, and the only hope. If this kid was over the river in Samaya (remember? SL's biggest province with NO doctor) the outcome could have been very different. He's only 3, he won't remember a thing...

June 13

Last day here in Kamakwie. Busy, busy day. The hospital asked for a definitive list of medical equipment to be donated. I spent 6.5 hours counting and sorting the huge amount of hospital grade dressings, syringes, machines, gloves etc etc. I took them the list, as arranged, and they said they wanted the stuff but could not offer anything for the kids! Unacceptable, the items were donated directly for the kids. So, I went to the pharmacy who directly treats the kids for all their minor issues, and pharmaceuticals, offered the same negotiation, and the lovely man agreed! He is a nurse and a pharmacist, high qualifications here. He is also gentle and popular with the kids. So we have 6 million leone (about $1000 usd) worth of free health care in kind, which will equate to about 2 years worth for the 28 kids on average. This makes me feel AWESOME! A win-win-win-win-situation where everyone is happy, and the kids catered for very well... the fence is almost done, all the container donations sorted, teachers and chiefdom leaders happy, toilets working, car almost fixed, and HAPPY HEALTHY CHILDREN. Bottom line... See you tomorrow on Tombo beach, last day in Africa.

June 14

Great to make it back to Tombo after a long day travel from Kamakwie. We were treated to a warm welcome, songs, a dance contest, 'Miss Africa' contest and a long wonderful night of stories. The kids here are a strong open happy family. I was feeling upset yesterday about the prospects for the dear kids in Kamakwie. Steve explained that all projects go up and down. We haven't been to Sierra Leone for 4 years because of Ebola, and that's s long time, during which the nation underwent huge trauma and isolation on top of already being one of the poorest most desperate nations on Earth. So some problems are to be expected, and OrphFund is in the business of solutions. I have only been here this once, and haven't seen this process. But I feel I have seen all stages of it. Tombo is solid now, the kids are joyous, open, smart and ready for the world. Kamakwie will get there! $100 will put a kid through school for one year. That schooling will keep kids off the street and give them a go at a bright future. Some of the older kids in EVERY of OrphFund's projects are going to be great leaders in their community/country. Like James who wrote about his life below... These were the scared little kids that Steve took in a few years earlier. Please please help, sponsor a child, bela.orphfund@gmail.com

June 16

So here I am back at the Argent ancestral seat (Steve's wonderful folks) enjoying the cumulative benefits of a rubbish collection system, warm water, water from a tap not a well, toilets that whisk away and treated human waste, functional roads and infrastructure, and an all pervasive sense of peace and order. We take a lot for granted, don't we all know that though? This is the world I know. But there is more to compare. People seem the same... we all feel varying proportions of love, hate, despair, desperation, desire, fear, and all the common things that animals like us get to experience, but one thing that perhaps the kids in Africa have a bit more than us might be direction. While 'profiling'/ interviewing the kids it was almost impossible to get one of them (out of hundreds) to prioritise anything else above education. (This is also the result shown in multi million dollar UNICEF reports etc) They know a path to a better future, one in which they can scramble above their desperate poverty so they can help other people. Seriously, all of them want to fund OrphFund. Seems our aims are a bit less directional, less need. Not having a go, but the comparison is breathtaking, the gap is huge. When I'm king of the world the fortunate will know it, and the poor will all know where to put their rubbish, their food will work, and their refuse will not be life threatening. I'm probably about facebooked out. Those of you who know me must have seen that coming! One more plea... please sponsor OrphFund. Most of you are close to the bone , but it barely costs anything. Re-read some of my posts and realise how far that goes, and how much we take for granted. Pick the odd photo out (apart from Steve and I). It will change your life too... thanks for reading! Xxxxx