Coincidences and Data

By Luke Auman (since these are all apparently posting under Lacy’s name):

Since this past summer, I’ve been working as a student intern at the United States Geological Survey. Most recently, I’ve been assisting Omayra Bermudez-Lugo, a researcher with the National Mineral Information Center at USGS, with some basic research on the mining industries in about a dozen west African countries. As a coincidence (or a result of my lack of attention while packing- depending on how you look at it), I left a USB drive with all the data I’ve collected in the backpack that I both bring to work and brought to Bo. Since I included some of the observations I made about some construction sites in Cote D’Ivoire in my last blog, I thought I’d use the data I accidentally brought with me to supplement my observations and provide a very small amount of context to the circumstances that many of these countries (including Cote D’Ivoire and Sierra Leone) are currently facing. I don’t claim to be presenting any sweeping explanations or solutions for the harsh economic environment in west Africa, but I think God brought me through Cote D’Ivoire- where we were never supposed to be and for 36 hours- with this data because there’s a connection to be made between the neglect that mining corporations show their host countries and the economic depravity that was evident to our team after less than a day.

In 2015, Cote D’Ivoire produced 194,414,700 kilograms of gold. About 20% of that came from Bonikro Mine in the southern region of the country. According to Newcrest Mining Limited’s quarterly financial report for December 2015, foreign corporations own 100% of Bonikro’s interest. The same report explains that a subset of the local community blocked the only access road to the mine, which is why the mine showed lower production figures than were projected. I can’t imagine that the community was motivated to block the road because they were happy with their compensation from the mining companies. Tongon, Yaoure, ITY, and Agbaou gold mines in Cote D’Ivoire all share similar ownership figures. So do the mines for every other commodity in every other country that I have current data for (Angola, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Namibia, and Sierra Leone). I’ve found that a standard royalty fee for owning and operating a mine in west Africa is around 5%. This means that these countries are receiving only the crumbs of what would otherwise be their main industry.

As I wrote about in my first blog, severe poverty has been clear and in our face since the second we touched down in Africa. It’s no surprise that a construction organization in Cote D’Ivoire’s capital can only afford one worker to work on one building at a time. Part of the reason these countries aren’t able to break the cyclical nature of their economic stagnation is that they’re all being deprived of what should be a colossal collection of economic stimuli. I don’t yet know what God was trying to tell me when he put this information in my hands right around the time that I’d be travelling to Africa- whether it was just for me to reflect on or for me to share on some kind of official capacity. But I think a blog post is a pretty good middle ground for now.

Bo Realizations

Hello again from Bo! Our experiences and relationship development has continued to wow us all. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the similarities and differences between myself and the people that I’ve met and begun to truly care about. These similarities and differences I have experienced halfway across the world have made me think about similarities and differences I encountered back home.

During the period of time leading up to our departure to Bo, I, along with many other members of our group, felt a divisive force in our respective communities. In the post-election world, I saw differences in class, religion, race, and political opinions dividing society and my personal community. These divisions created a tension that constantly threatened to explode into violence and destruction. In the midst of the holiday season, I was reflecting on a challenging semester at UVA, during which acts of discrimination and hatred exemplified the cruelty that exists in our communities. With these events weighing on our hearts, we prepared to fly halfway across the world to experience a culture completely different from our own.

Since arriving in Sierra Leone, I have experienced life full of fun and joyful moments. Regardless of challenges, I have had some of the best moments of my life here. Upon reflection, I noticed that my most favorite moments occurred when our group of missioners came together with the children of the CRC or surrounding community and naturally connected. This happened numerous times, as our obvious differences had no impact on our ability to love, celebrate, and praise God together.

As mentioned, one of my favorite activities is playing soccer with the CRC kids. Although soccer is my favorite sport and I have loved it for as long as I can remember, that’s not why it’s my favorite. The soccer field is the perfect setting for these natural connections. Kids of different cultures, ages, genders, races, and skill levels bond together over a love of soccer, competitiveness, and eventually, exhaustion. Relationships are built through trash talk and fighting over hand balls.

Similarly, the college students of our team experienced another moment of instant connection during a training of our student volunteers. We met with members of the surrounding community who volunteered to help us teach VBS. We began to teach them one of our favorite children’s songs, “Father Abraham,” and they immediately began to sing along with us, signaling that they already knew it. Instead of stopping and moving on to another song, all of us screamed and danced until the very end, when we fell into our seats in laughter. If you know this song, you know that finishing it is quite a feat that requires a lot of effort and determination. It was a moment of pure joy and a connection that I’m confident we all felt.

It’s incredible to realize through that despite our cultural differences, we are similar in the ways that matter. We are all children of God and all are trying to grow in our faith together. While prejudice will remain, so will love and acceptance. As cliché as it sounds, this was a very reassuring realization for me. It has been refreshing and rejuvenating to practice celebrating differences, instead of condemning and judging others because of their uniqueness.

I read a quote that stated, “We know that these souls are with us, lifting their lives and ours continuously to God and opening themselves with us, in steady and humble obedience with Him. It is as if the boundaries of ourselves were enlarged, as if we were within them and they within us.” This is how we’ve felt during our time in Sierra Leone. I’ve felt completely welcomed and accepted by everyone that I’ve interacted with. I think that we’ve found an extended family in Christ in Bo, Sierra Leone.

Choosing Joy in Bo

Choosing Joy in Bo

As Luke wrote, our trip to Bo wasn’t as easy or quick as we had anticipated. I expected that the seemingly infinite bus lines, hours upon hours in the airport, and numerous lingual, cultural, and organizational confusions would have dramatically soured everyone’s moods. But to my surprise, and great relief, I saw and experienced almost nothing but patience, love, and optimism from my 15 team members.

Somehow, our team could make the seemingly bad situation pretty relaxing and even fun. Waiting for flights became game times, full of War, Capitalism, and Uno. The extra night in the hotel in Cote D’Ivoire was transformed into a great bonding experience and an exciting opportunity to catch a glimpse of another culture (with amazing showers). We constantly assessed “team morale” and low morale moments were combated by morale boosts from our official Moral Booster, Rachel. Throughout those two days, I talked to people that I hadn’t known, had deeper conversations with friends, and briefly experienced a bonus African country. As someone who hopes to see as much of the world as possible, the unplanned pit stop was exciting and a chance to check one more country off my list. So, although the travel delays were discouraging, uncomfortable, and trying, they truly were a blessing in disguise.

This blessing became even more apparent upon arrival at the CRC. Let me tell you, I would bet that there has never been a mission group more thankful to drive through the gates of the MTC (Mission Training Centre).  Essentially kissing the ground beneath our feet, we all hopped out of busses to eagerly explore our new temporary home. Everything seemed so great, especially compared to airport floors and cramped planes. Not even my extreme lack of skill at flushing toilets could get me down. While getting here would have been enough, we got even more. We were told that we were to postpone our tour of Mercy Hospital because the CRC kids had a surprise for us and just couldn’t wait. If these kids ever tell you that they have a surprise for YOU, I would recommend that you put aside whatever you’re doing because let me tell you, it was pretty great. I can’t remember a time when I saw God more clearly in my life than in the moment when those kids grabbed our arms, pulled us into the great hall, and welcomed us with a song. After the song full of smiles and laughter, I was even more confident that it was all worth it and much more. All the transportation problems were quickly forgotten as we settled in with our new friends.

During the past two days at the CRC, my happiness and love for this place has only grown. We spend our days preparing for Vacation Bible School, which starts on Monday, and playing with the CRC kids in our free time. One of their favorite activities is playing football, which I was incredibly excited about. I previously traveled to Costa Rica on a mission trip, so I was under the impression that I was experienced in the art of dirt field football games. I soon learned that these guys were on a very similar level, if not a higher one. While I’m continually getting beaten, scored on, and laughed at (even though I’m 98% sure they’re going easy on me), those hours are the most fun that I can remember. It’s dirty and there’s an extremely high probability of sliding and scraping up your leg, but the trash talking and occasionally good move make up for it. They’re (mostly) generous winners and full of high fives, hugs, and smiles, buth on and off the field.

Each night as we’ve shared our “highs and lows” of the day, which in other situations can be a tedious and discouraging experience, my group members have truly struggle to come up with a low point of their day. An activity that is often full of complaints and despairs has been full of ties for the best things that have happened that day and passionate descriptions of favorite moments. Our group has chosen joy. Instead of focusing on the negative events of the day, I can truthfully say that our group is overflowing with positives

While journaling this morning, I read a passage that described my thoughts about the loving attitudes of my group and my interactions with my new friends.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians: 16-18

Throughout this journey, we have chosen to be joyful and give thanks in tough circumstances. While not all of our trip went as planned, I have found over and over that the way to be truly happy is to release your expectations and accept God’s timing and plan for you. God’s plan for our trip was different than ours and we were able to find joy through acceptance of that plan. So far it’s been hot. And, yes, it’s been (incredibly) humid. And yes, we’re often tired. But, we’re in Sierra Leone with a fantastic group and a fantastic opportunity to serve God’s people. For us, joy will win every time.

 

 

We finally made it!

We knew the duration of our trip included two days of travel on both ends and fortified our minds accordingly. What we couldn’t prepare for was a weather diversion that extended our travel time by a whole day spent almost entirely waiting for things that were out of our control. Since four separate blogs about a day of travelling each would probably come off as redundant to say the least, I’m gonna try to capture the three days it took us to get from HCW headquarters in Virginia to Bo in one by going over some highlights that I think have and will contribute to our overall experience on this trip. So far, these range from small moments to cultural observations to tested attitudes to sketchy sandwiches.

When we met on Monday to finalize logistics and inventories, several group members and myself were joking that it really hadn’t hit us that we were going to Africa the next day. Some said it’d probably hit them when all the bags and trunks were loaded, or when we got to the airport, or when we boarded the plane. Knowing myself and my travelling habits, I knew it probably wouldn’t hit me until well after we arrived in Ghana. As it turns out, it hit me during those few nerve-racking seconds just before the plane touched down in Cote D’Ivoire (Yup, Cote D’Ivoire. Due to poor weather conditions there, we never actually made it to Ghana where we were supposed to land and fly to Sierra Leone from.) What made me finally realize that I was about to be on a continent I’d only ever heard stories about was my view of the urban housing areas just outside the airport walls. Although I had seen poverty in many places and even expected to see it in its most devastating form leading up to this moment, seeing it with my own eyes before the wheels of our plane touched the ground was enough to stun me out of the present. I barely even noticed our rather harsh landing as my gaze and utmost attention was fixed on the shanty town of a neighborhood just two-hundred yards from the country’s only airport and, therefore, its only connection to the rest of the world.

Evidence of the underdevelopment that I’ve always heard so much about was apparent throughout our unexpected day-and-a-half stay in Cote D’Ivoire, and Abidjan Airport was no conclusion. While it was undoubtedly an especially busy day for the airport, its personnel and infrastructure appeared almost entirely unprepared to accommodate our arrival and it ultimately took us eleven hours to exit the airport to our hotel. Utterly exhausted, we were finally loaded onto a bus that would take us to our hotel for the night. Moments after leaving, I spotted a building that was clearly in the early stages of construction. Its entirety was made up of basic cement floors and hundreds of tree-branch-looking wooden beams. There was just a single room in the entire building that was lit and being worked on and only one man was inside with a cement-spreader. At that rate, I thought, this building would take a decade to complete. On the half-hour bus ride to our hotel, I easily spotted two-dozen buildings exactly like this one. It quickly became apparent that this country had no means- economic or otherwise- to support urban development. After a long-awaited shower and a short night’s sleep at the hotel we were put up in (which was actually super nice), we were up by 5 AM to catch a bus to the airport where we’d finally catch a flight to Sierra Leone.

During the additional seven hours that we spent at the Abidjan Airport, two noteworthy moments come to mind. The first was when the airport was distributing the passports that they had collected the day before (which I still haven’t learned the logic behind). One individual was calling out the names on the passports while another was writing down the names of those who were there to collect their passports. Needless to say, this was an unofficial and chaotic and totally awesome. The moment was made even more hilarious by when we realized that the individuals distributing probably two hundred passports weren’t even airport employees. They were volunteers that the airport allocated everyone’s passports to for distribution. Wild. The second memorable moment was not nearly as amusing. After twenty minutes of waiting to get to the front of the line for emigration and security procedures, about twenty people at the end of the line decided not to wait and went straight up behind the emigration booths- in front of our entire group. We might have been more patient with the stunt if we hadn’t been in the airport for seven hours and if our flight hadn’t started boarding ten minutes prior.

The airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone was actually smaller than the already small one in Cote D’Ivoire, but we made it out and to our second hotel of the trip in about an hour. After getting our rooms sorted and a short devotion/reflection on the trip so far, we had a meal (check out the Lungi Airport Hotel on Facebook for our picture!) then settled in for several rounds of Mafia and another long-awaited night’s sleep.

The next morning we boarded a bus for our four-hour road trip to Bo which was easily the highlight of the week for me. If you enjoy looking out the window on road trips in America, imagine doing so in a country you’ve never been in where every single person is excited to see you. Not a single house we drove by was anything more than a basic shelter, and not a single person that we saw appeared to own or have access to anything more than the bare necessities for surviving. And yet, every single person we drove past seemed delighted to see us driving by. Children ran up to the bus waving and smiling. Super humbling and uplifting moments. The beautiful people we saw were supplemented only by the beautiful scenery. The views we passed ranged from compact neighborhoods, luscious jungles, vast plains, and solitary mountains. None of these views, however, compared to the sight of the of the Child Rescue Center when we arrived.

 

 

Still working hard…

The October 2016 team is still hard at work! Dr. Carol will celebrate the first successful cervical cancer screening/prevention program in Sierra Leone with a ceremony tomorrow morning with certificates for the graduates! It is such an exciting time to be here!
We had a successful medical outreach to a remote village last Friday where we assisted the Mercy Hospital staff with the nutrition program, malaria testing and treatment, and Dr. Carol performed ultrasounds on the pregnant women there. It was a very busy but rewarding day, as there was a very large crowd of mothers and babies to be seen!
On Saturday we went into Bo and bought some African fabric, and then the tailor came and is making us some custom fit African clothing. We also watched the boys play a competitive football (soccer) game until the thunderstorm rolled in ending the game early.
On Sunday morning we split up for worship with about half of us worshiping at Leader UMC with the CRC children and the other half worshiping at Centenary UMC (I’m sure I spelled that incorrectly!) for their 56th anniversary celebration. Both services were wonderful worship experiences! On Sunday afternoon, those of us who sponsor children here got the best treat of all: we got to go and meet the children we sponsor in their homes! It was an amazing experience–one I will certainly never forget. And if you get a chance at some point, ask Minister Jackie about her meeting with the child she now sponsors–I’m sure she will be just a little bit excited to tell you all about it!!
Members of the team are continuing to work on developing protocols for home visits for the children in the foster care program, and the feasibility of eventually having home visits by nurses for post postpartum women and newborn infants will be explored. There have also been many school visits made to the foster care children.
The team is still enjoying vespers every evening with the children; it is such a blessing to see and hear them singing. We will also get to read them bedtime stories tonight.
It is hard to believe there are only a few days left until we return home. I hope and pray we are able to accomplish all that God has intended!