This morning I spent a bit of time trying to get organized then headed to meet John 2 to get started welding a frame for a solar panel I’m planning to install on the security guard house closest to the water tower and pump house. Along with a battery and small control module, it will power a couple of DC lights to ward off potential “thieves in the night”. After sharing a sketch with John 2 and marking off various sizes of square steel pipe and angle iron, he was off and running with welding. Oops – not so fast. No diesel fuel for the welding machine and the Total gas station in Gbarnga has been out of diesel in their pumps due to lack of delivery. So John 2 headed to one of the many “independent gas stations” (a few mayonnaise jars full of fuel sitting on a bench by the side of the road) to get enough to keep the welder running.
While he was busy with that, I enlisted a few of my band of boys to help stake out the security fence to surround the pump house and solar panel array. With a cyclone fence, some razor wire on top, a security guard house just a few feet away, and some lighting I hope it is all secure enough. Work will start on Monday digging a trench to partially bury the fencing and making holes for the steel fence posts.
With the guesthouse locked and Lavela holding the keys but out and about town for the day, I couldn’t get access to make measurements for kitchen cabinetry (to be built on site) and assess how much electrical rework would be required since much of the wire was stolen. Instead, I continued my community survey efforts. I’m learning a great deal about the community and the interconnectedness of families. After interviewing 33 families and meeting 153 individuals just in Deanville alone, there are still a number of families to visit in Deanville proper and the sub-community called “Klee Village” across the highway (still considered part of Deanville). Then I can move to the adjacent community called “Green Farm”. As word is spreading about my family meetings, some are approaching me feeling I have left them out. I keep assuring them I haven’t reached that part of the village yet. They all want to be included and accounted for – there’s a sense they need to have the value of their existence acknowledged.
Here are some details and insights so far: Many parents find it hard to remember birth dates for any of their children. This is partly because many don’t receive birth certificates because the hospital charges a document fee for which they can’t pay and partly due to the fact that birthday celebrations are rare since they never have money to buy gifts or anything special to commemorate the occasion so it falls into the shadows of their lives. Much of their incomes are from intermittent, informal work like masonry, clearing land, and gardening (all stating the same crops: bitterball, greens, cassava, peppers). I would say the typical monthly family income is around $1,200 LD (about $12/month…just $144/year) with the high so far being $120/month and many with zero. The most frequent use of money (in order of cost) is 1) food, 2) school fees, and 3) sickness. School fees are generally $3,500LD/year ($35 US) and there are many children not attending due to the financial hardship this cost creates for their families… I’ve met a lot of 17 and 18 year olds only in the 4th and 5th grades.
Most go to the clinic frequently and get medications from the drug store, while others still use “country medicine” (i.e., roots or leaves boiled into a tea). One part of the community
is rarely sick from Malaria while in other parts members of the same family can become ill 3, 4, and even 5 times per year with the disease. Many have insufficient or inadequate (torn) bed nets that are often used by parents and the baby sleeping together while the older children go to bed unprotected. The majority of people do not have toilets or latrines and go to the bathroom in “nor-ZOO” (the bush). More than half the village relies on a hand pump well that, in many years, runs dry during the height of the dry season. People resort to drinking water from the swamp or digging shallow wells near the swamp – an unhealthy alternative that must have a direct impact on the number of visits they make to the clinic for “runny stomach”.
I’ve been asking a couple of questions that are difficult for most to answer. The first is an attempt to uncover some asset or untapped skill that exists in the community. The second is an effort to see what – and if – they have hope for a better future by asking parents about dreams for themselves and their families. Many got flummoxed and could not come up with any exceptional characteristic or skill they possessed other than that of their occupation, although one man revealed he is good at “conflict resolution and peace building.” The second question made the biggest impression on me:
“What would you study if someone was willing to pay for all your schooling through university and you could learn to be anything in the world?” Most women answered with basic competencies like “to learn how to make soap” or “to become a tailor”. Men had similar prosaic responses such as “to become a general carpenter”. Regarding dreams for their children, many said they “hoped they would get through school and work to help support them in their old age”. What impacted me most was the lack of “big dreams” – lives devoid of hope for much more than they already know combined with a fear of elucidating the inevitably unattainable.
Our school’s education needs to not only encompass reading, writing and arithmetic but aspiration, determination, and optimism. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).