It’s been a few days and, yes, I’m still here! The cell network is terrible by the school so I can only get phone not internet connection. I started this blog at the Passion Hotel as I’m treating myself to the first meal out in Gbarnga all month.
One of the joys of living “on campus” is being steps away from a stream of children walking to class each morning. Occasionally a group of 5 or 6 will stop at the guesthouse to greet me (I’ve learned to keep the door locked since there are few privacy boundaries). Late Friday morning I was attacked on the school porch by a crowd of cute ABC kids yelling, “Uncle Jon, Uncle Jon!”…this is the kind of crowd control I like!
The big news is our distribution of nearly 300 mosquito bed nets, thanks to our donor, F&M Tool & Plastics in Fitchburg, MA. The supervisor for the Malaria Project from the Lutheran Church in Liberia main office in Monrovia, Sue Larmouth, came for a training session with the school parents and children. As the children began their day with devotion time, parents gathered in our still-to-be-furnished library. The program covered ways of getting malaria and means of prevention. As in most developing countries with low literacy rates, inaccuracies and myths are pervasive. In Liberia, many believe you can contract malaria by eating too many mangos, touching dirty water or working in the sun all day. Symptom confusion brings about some of this…I think dehydration from digging all day in the sun results in headaches, body aches, sore joints, dizziness, etc. which correlate with common malaria symptoms. Another issue is how nets are cared for. The first thing most will do is wash it using “iron soap” (an aggressive homemade soap ball) and a washboard, effectively nullifying the repellent coating on the netting. Nets have alternate, albeit unhealthy, uses including as fishing nets. When the stomach is empty and there are fish to be caught, it’s an understandable motivation. However, the chemical on the nets could not only make the catch of the day sickening but the little ones that got away are now contaminated and will likely die in the river. Farmers also love them as protection over their seedling nurseries to keep insects and birds away….and as a way to wrap large bundles of greens going to market. Palm farmers like to store palm nuts in them as they await processing into palm oil.
After Sue demonstrated the proper method for hanging and tucking in the nets, all the school children filed into the library to learn also. The best part is that Sumo made them the “security system” for ensuring all family members sleep under nets by asking them to rat out their parents if they don’t use them. For families in Deanville that don’t have enrolled students, I accompanied Sando and Amuchain as they made the rounds at the other households. I was impressed with how they took time to teach what they had learned and not just hand them out. We’re one small step closer to a healthier Deanville and keeping our kids in school consistently.
Good progress is being on our new school kitchen. Here’s a photo of the existing “kitchen”‘as our five cooks prepare a lunch for 54 people each day. Their day starts around 6am by shaving “greens” and getting fires started under the enormous cast pots. Imagine this in the rain! Here is our kitchen under construction which includes running water, a 2′ x 4′ wash sink, large prep and storage areas, and will use more efficient “coal pots” (charcoal stoves) instead of smokey wood campfires. I’ve cut 1mm thick 4’x8′ steel plates to create a welded and riveted 8-foot square “stove hood” with a 6’ high chimney to help alleviate the typical smoke-filled, respiration-inhibiting environment women are used to working in. Adjacent to the cooking room is a large porch for storing bags of charcoal so the women don’t have to also be responsible for gathering firewood.
As research for an upcoming grant, I’ve had some very successful meetings with BRAC (http://brac.net/brac-liberia/item/793-poultry-and-livestock) regarding the establishment of a poultry farm on our campus. BRAC has a substantial well-funded initiative to revitalize poultry and livestock production in Liberia so partnering with them will have some great benefits. They can provide day old chicks that are proven to be well suited for Liberia, vaccinations and ongoing flock healthcare, chicken feed as well as farmer training. We’re fortunate to have a field office about 20 minutes from us. Tumamee joined me and I continue to be impressed with him and hope the relationship will lead to a successful poultry business that will give people employment while subsidizing our school operation costs.
I had the opportunity to witness a harvesting of fish from the fish farm where my friend, Eric Hanson, is working in Suakoko. Some very large catfish along with “plank fish” and talapia. Although we purchased a few pounds, I think the cost might be prohibitive for the rice and “soup” on our school lunch menu. I shuddered inside as I saw old mosquito nets being used to corral the unsuspecting fish…Sue would not approve!
For those of you following the ups and downs of Sando’s life, she eventually found another room to live in with her two children the day before demolition of her former house where she rented a room. Construction of a larger mud block house has begun and now the race is against the weathe. Rain is the enemy that converts mud blacks back into a pile of soggy earth if you don’t work quickly enough. Children are responsible each evening for covering the day’s construction progress with banana or plantain leaves-this is jungle for “tarp”. Many times as the rainy season approaches, families will construct the roof first, using wooden poles to suspend it as they stack block walls below it as insurance against a muddy demise should a heavy rain occur.
As was investigating the new construction in Deanville yesterday, I stopped to visit Moses, the brother of a young man, Joshua, who does our pump house maintenance. I noticed him soaking his swollen finger in a leaf-filled bowl of water….some sort of country medicine. When I returned this morning, I saw him in the same position. I asked to see his wounded finger again…it was more swollen and totally black (including part of his adjacent fingers and hand). I gave him $20USD and told him to take a motorbike immediately to the clinic in Gbarnga as country medicine wasn’t to going to heal it. As of my last check with Joshua this evening, Moses is taking two oral antibiotics plus daily injections and after four days an evaluation will determine if surgery is needed. Lack of financial means could result in a lost digit. Life is difficult in Liberia.
Sunday afternoon is our first PTA meeting…it should prove interesting and most likely enlightening.