I have been “off the grid” blog-wise since Mozambique, nearly three weeks ago. In the meantime I have been to Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania, my point of departure.
In Ethiopia, my colleague, Foundation Officer Erin Sorce blogged about all the amazing education programs we were able to visit and document in Wollo and Amhara. Ethiopia is a truly remarkable and beautiful place, a cradle of civilizations and of humanity itself.
The day before we departed, a very serious national food emergency was declared, affecting the most vulnerable families. Erin has already spoken profoundly about the people we met in Ethiopia—both their amazing resilience and the overwhelming poverty and obstacles they face, but I must also add my own plea to anyone reading this blog to please take action, to c lick over to our appeal for Ethiopia and help prevent the preventable.
In Sierra Leone, I was below the radar again, although not for lack of material. I was joined there by Concern Worldwide US Communications Manager Elizabeth Wright, consultant Madeleine Shachter and volunteer videographer Jimmy Garland along with Concern National Health Coordinator Rajeev and Health Program Manager Alieu.
We spent four whirlwind days documenting Concern’s progress providing sources of clean water as well as improved sanitation and latrines for thousands of the poorest families in extremely remote villages across rural Tonkolili District and the dense, overcrowded urban slums of Freetown.
Sierra Leone holds special importance for me because it is a large part of the reason I do the work I do now. In graduate school, where I studied documentary video production and worked on productions profiling international NGOs, I wondered how I could make a career out of such work.
Then I saw “Cry Freetown” (LINK), a shocking, unforgettable historical documentary about Sierra Leone’s brutal decade-long civil war that culminated in the siege of the nation’s capital, Freetown, by rebel forces in early 1999. Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samura was trapped there, but instead of hiding in his basement, he took to the streets with a video camera. That courageous act showed the world a truly stunning picture of the conflict’s violence and inhumanity on a scale both massive and intimate.
The violence and destruction that swallowed Sierra Leone a decade ago was unnecessary, preventable, and it must be said, shameful. Some of the lessons learned from that chapter are documented in part thanks to Sorious Samura. Sierra Leone had been abandoned by international news organizations. His decision to stand and bear witness influenced much of the Western media coverage of the conflict that followed.
Even now, after having visited the nation twice, when I try to communicate what is happening in Sierra Leone, I feel some debt to Sorious Samora. Seeing the film “Cry Freetown” convinced me that I should do my part to help tell people’s stories in places that might otherwise be forgotten. Concern is an organization that does just that and more: it seeks out the poorest, most vulnerable, most remote and unreachable—it listens to their needs and empowers them to improve their quality of life.
What I do for Concern is of course not journalism, but it is somewhere along a similar continuum of hearing unheard voices, showing the world all-too-unseen faces. It’s a responsibility I will always feel most intensely in Sierra Leone.