Journey through rural Africa a practical lesson in patience for young American photographer

I was in Sierra Leone at the end of May 2007 until early July. After returning home, I discovered a desire to be involved with international development and soon moved to Washington, DC to find new ways to get involved. I have since traveled extensively to developing countries in Latin America to study global political and economic systems and I am now about to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies. I am hoping to find ways that renewable energy can play a role in the development of countries in the Global South and to capitalize on the motivation to help others that began with my experience in the Jong Chiefdom of southern Sierra Leone. – Clint J. Fandrich

 

Having never been out of the United States, I had only the testimony of others who had been to a developing country to prepare for my trip to Sierra Leone.  After a very short time there, I learned that no amount of advice is enough to prepare you for many different situations you can be faced with in a place like Sierra Leone.  Therefore, the time spent in the country has been a valuable learning experience.

Askia, AYM Founder and CEO

Askia, AYM Founder and CEO

I was given this great opportunity to see a different part of the world by an organization called the Twenty-First Century African Youth Movement (AYM).  Abu-Hassan “Askia” Koroma, the founder and president of AYM is a native of Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone.  Dennis Glover, an American from Wisconsin, is the vice president of AYM.  He has spent the last six months here in Sierra Leone launching multiple new programs, and is currently back in the United States on a one-month vacation.  Askia and Dennis assigned me a fantastic guide named Sahid Tarawallie, who took really great care in making my trip safe and successful.

Upon arriving in Mattru Jong I found out very quickly how welcome and at the same time how very odd and out of place I was.  The people were so intrigued by my white skin, my blue eyes, my facial piercings; they had never seen anything quite like it.  I told myself it is just something to get used to.  As I walked around the village I would hear three different names called out to me.  The first was “pumoi”, Mende for white-man.  The others were “Dennis” and “Joe Moselleh” (which was Dennis’s African name given to him by the locals).  In Mattru Jong, Dennis is a household name.  From what I can tell he has done an incredible job of familiarizing himself with the locals, and they all love him.  So to combat this problem of mistaken identity the locals were quick to give me an African name as well, and by the end of my time in Mattru, I would hear “C.J. Jongi!” called out to me.

My main objective while in the Jong Chiefdom was to meet with and interview all the Section Chiefs of the chiefdom as well as the Paramount Chief.  The purpose of my visit was to discuss with the chiefs the current state of development around them, and to gather information on what would be the best way for AYM to bring development to these areas.  I had prepared five questions to ask all the chiefs so that I could compare their answers at the end.  Another objective of my trip was documenting the progress of the three AYM Garden Sites at Moselleh in Mattru Jong, Mobimbi outside of Rutile, and finally Georma in the remote region of the chiefdom.

In Mattru Jong, the Paramount Chief of the Jong Chiefdom, Alie Badara Sheriff III, was very welcoming and even appeared with me on the radio to tell the people and the other chiefs what my objectives were while in the community.  Having his endorsement was instrumental in getting cooperation from the section chiefs throughout the chiefdom.  In the past he has also been very active with AYM, and in 2004 he was given the opportunity to travel to the United States by AYM to gather information on how to more effectively implement development in rural areas.

My first opportunity to visit with one of the section chiefs of the Jong Chiefdom came on June 7.  Her name

Chief Haja Satta Sesay

Chief Haja Satta Sesay with Daughter

was Haja Isata Sesay and she was the Section Chief of the Buyesharka section of the chiefdom.  She was accompanied by her daughter, Fatmata, who is also the Chief’s replacement when the time comes.  It was explained to me that section chieftaincy is a lifetime role and the job is usually passed down to a respective offspring.

When I asked her how she works with neighboring chiefs to promote development in the area, she explained that working with the other chiefs is difficult because they are jealous of her wealth and the fact that all her children with the exception of her present daughter are currently enjoying opportunities in the west, namely the United States and Europe.

Chief Sesay also explained how little the government of Sierra Leone is interested in development projects in the Jong Chiefdom, citing the fact that it is too remote and not a vital part of the country.  She explained that before she came into the position she knew very little about the workings of the job and important figures to know in the community.  Chief Sesay was very forthcoming with her answers to my questions and seemed genuinely interested in my project to promote her chiefdom.

Chief Foday Tahireo Katta

Chief Foday Tahireo Katta

The next interview I held was in the village of Ba’iama, with Section Chief Foday Tahireo Katta, who has fathered thirty children from four wives.  He was once a youth leader of the whole section, he headed the court as Court Chairman, and he spearheaded development projects throughout the Jong Chiefdom including building a road between his community and Mattru Jong.  Later, he became town chief of Ba’iama.

His recent projects as section chief include bringing some schooling into the community, because it is nearly impossible for children to travel all the way to Mattru Jong every day for school.  He was able to have a schoolhouse built as well as small living quarters for teachers.  He was also able to facilitate an opportunity for an international NGO named World Vision to come down and construct a well in the center of town, and later a toilet.  In his time as chief he has made providing for the youth in the community a top priority as well by constructing a community center and a football field.  After the interview, the chief’s brother approached Sahid and I and expressed his desire to start an AYM project in Ba’iama.

We left Ba’iama and headed to the neighboring village of Komendi to

Chief Munda Tucker

Chief Munda Tucker

meet the chief of the Tucker-N’Yamba section of the Jong Chiefdom.  The interview with Chief Munda Tucker echoed much of what I had heard from the other two chiefs.  He had expressed concern when asked about what the government is doing to promote development across the whole country.  He explained that the government didn’t seem to have much interest in developing his area of the country.  He has heard about many other projects throughout the country, but almost nothing in this chiefdom.

Across the river in Senehun, which is in the Kumabeh-Quee section of the chiefdom, is where I met with Section Chief Musa Kumabeh.  He was considerably younger than the other chiefs I had interviewed to that point, and he had only been chief since 1996.  Chief Kumabeh expressed his support for AYM, and explained that he was also the Paramount Chief’s liaison to AYM while he was in the US in 2004.

Chief Musa Kumabeh

Chief Musa Kumabeh

When asked about government-sponsored development projects in the area he was quick to point out new public toilets in his home village as well as a sheltered community center in the middle of the village which we enjoyed whenever waiting for a vehicle to Rutile.  He had said he is expecting more development projects in the not-too-distant future.

Upon arrival at Chief Vandy Sheriff’s village I began to see that every section has a unique surrounding environment.  This village was the setting of a beautiful oil palm plantation right on a nearby river.  The chief seemed very enthusiastic about our visit to the Lendy N’Gee Ley section of the chiefdom and even gave us a live chicken to show his appreciation for our visit.  In Chief Vandy’s area, it is the lack of tools for agriculture from tractor and plow machinery to hand tools needed for farming rice and raising oil palms.  He explained that it would be his number one priority to bring the tools to the area, but he simply doesn’t have the resources to make it a reality.

The chief was kind enough to feed us lunch while we sat and talked

Chief Vandy Sheriff

Chief Vandy Sheriff

about the problems with development across the country.  Through Sahid’s translation, we discussed the successes of development and modernization in America and how those same ideas could work in Sierra Leone.  The chief also expressed interest in forming a healthy tax system in the country, one that is much more consistent than the current system.  He noted that many of the monetary problems with government funding of development in the country could nearly be solved with a little bit of accountability in the tax system.

The next interview was with the Chief Tommy Jabbaty of the Super Cleveland section, in a village called Kebalo.  The chief told us of his trips to other parts of the country to promote development projects in the Jong Chiefdom and told us he plans to have a sustainable development plan in place before his tenure as chief of Super Cleveland is over.

Chief Tommy Jabbaty

Chief Tommy Jabbaty

We arrived at our last interview of the section chiefs with Chief Abu Beng.  The chief of the Benyaga section explained that he has been ill lately and age is taking its toll on his ability to act as a strong executive within the chiefdom.  His son had said that his family was very involved in rice farming and other businesses, but since the war tools for farming have been hard to come by and most other opportunities to get involved in business had also dried up.

Chief Abu Beng

Chief Abu Beng

Upon arrival in Mattru I was able to secure an in-depth interview with Paramount Chief Alie Badara Sheriff III.  We met at the home I was staying to discuss the experiences I have had in the chiefdom, the people I have met, the places I had been, and the projects that AYM and the government of Sierra Leone were hoping to bring to the chiefdom.  Chief Sheriff stressed the importance of sensitizing the people in the community about development projects that are coming to the area and also being able to mobilize them to be a part of the development process.  He told me of quarterly meetings he arranges and leads with other paramount chiefs throughout the Bonthe District to discuss development throughout the area.

PC Alie Badara Sheriff III

PC Alie Badara Sheriff III

The chief expressed his desire to bring livestock and other advanced farming operations to the Jong chiefdom in the near future.  He mentioned the large amounts of open land that would be more than suitable to raise livestock such as sheep and cattle.  He told of government plans to start farm training fields where locals in the community can learn how to create successful business in agriculture.  The chief stressed the importance of education in solving the problems of poverty.  He was excited about government programs in the north and east of the country that pay for girls to go to school.  The government pays for their uniforms, shoes, books and other supplies in the hopes to bring education to everyone in those communities.  He has also heard plans of this program coming to the Bonthe District as early as September of 2007, as well as projects to bring a road network to remote areas in the district.

He seemed very optimistic about programs that the Sierra Rutile Company has been planning in recent months.  They have funded a 6 room school house in Kabati along with a store and an office.  He told me of an Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) that the company is setting up to help the local community build a strong agriculture sector.  The ADF also includes land grants to locals in the community that have interest in starting small farms.  Sierra Rutile is investing in its long term future and that of the local community by way of a 250,000 acre area planned for raising crops to make biodiesel from palm oil.  At the latest quarterly meeting, the Chiefs in the Bonthe District have agreed to purchase a machine that makes biodiesel from organic material from England to facilitate the plans of Sierra Rutile.  Sierra Rutile has plans to eventually replace the rutile mining with biodiesel production by way of the ADF.

The chief told me his plan for the rest of the year.  He wants a boost in road construction and maintenance.  He also wants to bring development projects in the way of schools and medical facilities to the Jong Chiefdom.  He explained the importance of building wells especially in remote villages because, for now, these villages rely on the river water which they also use as a toilet.  Sanitation in remote villages is very poor and he is hoping to improve those situations with such projects as a well or a toilet.

I also visited each of the three agriculture sites that had been set up and spoke to the volunteers as well.  At all of the sites, they were successfully growing vegetables, but there were a number of challenges.  Moselleh mostly suffered from a lack of water, and at times, a lack of local leadership.  Mobimbi’s biggest complaint was the amount of insects and other pests that were eating up the garden.  The same challenge was existent in the Georma Gardens.  Entire plants were being destroyed by the insects and some plants couldn’t even make it out of the ground before the bugs would do them in.  At all three sites everyone was very grateful for my visit and pleased that I had come to take pictures of them and their work.

Water Falls at Moselleh Beach

Water Falls at Moselleh Beach

Before I left the Jong Chiefdom I had completed eight interviews, seven section chiefs and one paramount chief.  I was also able to take a series of photos of each AYM Garden Site along with the workers who are making everything possible in each site.  The beach at Mosele outside of Mattru, the raising of the nation’s flag at Mobimbi, and the beautiful remote landscape around Georma are just the beginning of the collection I am building.

The one thing I gathered most from my time in rural Africa is patience.  In America, it seems we have been spoiled to have so many different things available to us at all times that when such things aren’t within reach we feel a little helpless.  I am so happy to have had this experience to be able to understand how truly lucky I am to have my most basic needs easily provided via infrastructure and development.  At the same time it is very exciting to see all of the opportunities and potential that this small country in West Africa has to enjoy the same ease of living.  With time and very hard work I believe the people of this nation can achieve a heightened level of development shared by many other countries around the globe.

Raising the Sierra Leone Flag at AYM Mobimbi Gardens

Raising the Sierra Leone Flag at AYM Mobimbi Gardens

AYM is still very active in its projects in different parts of the country.  We plan to soon bring a restaurant, and later guesthouses to bring tourism to the Mattru Jong community.  AYM has also made plans to annex a building in downtown Mattru to become AYM Operational Headquarters, to use as dorms for AYM members traveling from abroad, a small warehouse for storage, and office space to coordinate AYM activities in the country.  It would be an excellent tool for the organization to show progress and development to possible investors and even volunteers who might be looking for just the right organization to give their time to.  I hope to be a part of facilitating that process.

Clint Fandrich

Clint Fandrich

I want to thank you for taking the time to read about my experiences in this truly unique part of the world and for your generosity.  I would remind you to keep in mind the potential of [Sierra Leone] this country and the West African sub-region becoming very influential in international affairs.  With time, these countries will be self-sustaining and able to contribute to the global theatre as valued participants in economy and political capital instead of dependent on their neighbors or other countries around the world for aid.  With hard work and a vision of development and prosperity like that of the Twenty-First Century African Youth Movement, anything is possible!

All my thanks,

Clinton J. Fandrich

Head of Photography, Twenty-First Century African Youth Movement

Participation Ensures Advancement and Concerns Everyone!

Click here to see more pictures from Clint Fandrich’s journey through Jong Chiefdom

Disclaimer: This event chronicles Clint’s visit in Sierra Leone at the end of May 2007 until early July.  The opinion expressed in this piece are entirely those of the author.  AYM does not in anyway add or reduce from it.  Click here for more on Clinton Fandrich.

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