Sierra Leone is a country from west Africa with a population of over 6 million people. After more than 20 years it’s still recovering from the civil war that ended in 2002 and Ebola that hit the country between 2014 and 2015. Over 50% of his people leave under the poverty line.
The last time I visited Sierra Leone with my friend David was in 2012 to meet our friends from Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone.
One image that persisted in my mind was a young boy that approached me on the street imploring me to help him to go out of his country. I couldn’t help him but the idea that I can do something for him and others youth from his country didn’t give me peace.
Another image was Ansu and his story. He is one of the staff from Word Made Flesh. He lost his right arm in the civil war while was a child and was saved by Red Cross. The government told to the people that the power is in their hands, to go to vote, and in response, the rebels amputated the right hands of many people from villages and bring them in front of the government building in Freetown.
During my visit, I knew Francis and his family. He invited us one night for dinner at his home. He is working with Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone leading a 3 years discipleship program for youth from Kroo Bay, a slam from the margin of Freetown.
After a few years, he visited Romania, and I invited him to my home in Brasov. He told me about his idea to start a business to be able to provide jobs for the youth that finish their mentoring program. Most of them after they finish this program drop school and become drag addicted because of the lack of a job to be able to sustain themselves. I told Francis that this is a calling from God, to start a business that does not exploit people for money but serves people and glorify God. So, we started the poultry farm project two years ago and this is the main reason for my visit now, to help Francis to make progress with his poultry farm.
It is 6.00 a.m. and I wait to embark for Freetown via Paris.
I planned a few meetings for this week and I am looking forward to hearing what God calls us to do here in Sierra Leone.
First, I want to help Francis to review his Business Model Canvas for the poultry farm and to visit together an existing poultry farm to understand more about how this business is done in this country. Also, I plan to visit the construction project site.
Second, I want to continue the discussion with Jenifer about a new project that they have in mind and see if this will be the project that we will be involved in after we finish the poultry farm. Jenifer and his husband Steven are working with Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone and they started some training programs with prostitutes from Kroo Bay. They train them in tailoring, nailing, and baking. Jenifer called me a few weeks ago to discuss this project and how can they develop it as a business. Their dream is to develop a business and in time to give ownership to the woman involved, to empower them. I see this as a calling from God for them. He wants to liberate some prostitutes from Kroo Bay, restore their dignity, and made them His daughters.
Thirds, I want to be one day with Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone, being part of their activities. It is a community that I love, and some people are giving their lives sacrificially and love and serve God among the poorest of the poor, in Kroo Bay slam. I already planned for Thursday to participate in Kroo Bay out-rich, visiting families from Kroo Bay, and after that their leadership team invited me for launch.
Fourth, I planned a visit on Saturday at the American Computer College from Freetown, to discuss with the professors, students, and alumni the possibility to open a Code academy in Sierra Leone, a one-year internship program where students learn to code while working on paid projects mentored by a senior developer. I already discussed with Dani, Viorel si Darius the opportunity to become the first senior developers’ missionary in Sierra Leone.
Finally, I would love to spend some time praying, running and reading, listening to God about his vision for people from this country.
It is almost 4 PM and I am on the plane, listening to music and writing my thoughts. The next stop will be Conakry, the capital of Guinea. Muramandi, the man that sits near me will stop there. Muramandi works in Holland and goes back home to Guinea to see his boy. He is worried about his boy because recently there were fights for power in his country and now it is a military dictatorship installed. He hopes to be able to take his 10 years soon with him in Holland. I asked him if he plans to come back to Guinea to do something for his country but he told me simply that there is nothing that can be done, he is only one man. I asked him what the future of his country and he answered that there is no future because people are discriminating based on the tribe they belong to. Their mentality should change, to start to accept and collaborate regardless of their tribe.
I arrived at Lungi International Airport and after pass through a lot of filters and made two more Covid tests, they allowed me to go out. Francis waited for me at the airport and we took a ferry for Freetown. Finally, I arrived at the hotel to rest after a 24 hour trip from Brașov to Freetown.
It is 6.00 a.m., the first day of my stay here, and I stay on the balcony of the New Brookfield Hotel, reading my Bible and meditate on how can I learn from and be a blessing for the people which I will meet these days. This morning I have read Psalm 9 “The Lords is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” and I prayed for the people that I will meet this week, planned or unplanned. On my list are Francis and his family, Jenifer and Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone, Peter the rector from the University.
There is no Uber in Freetown. Taxi, a private car, Poda-Poda, which are public minibusses, Keke, a motor tricycle with cabin, and Okada, a motorbike, are the main transportation options here. I choose Okada because when they go fats I feel like I am in my car with the air conditioner on low.
So, I rode Okada with the main rider in front of me and arrived at the Greater Heights Global Mission Church where Francis and his family are part. Like I was expected when I entered they were in the middle of worship time, singing and dancing with high energy and volume. I was familiar with one song and I tried to move a little but can’t do it like them, they move naturally.
After the church meeting, we went for lunch with Francis, Patricia, and their four kids. Lovely family that sacrifices a lot to serve od among the poorest of the poor. Love to talk with them about their work, school, local food, their dreams, and games that their kids play. Jesse comes to embrace me and touches my hand softly to feel the color of my skin.
Walking and running through the city is my favorite activity, to feel the vibe of this crowded city. I feel at home, love to talk to the people, they are very friendly and happy to talk with me.
Running on the beach is awesome. When I hear the waves, I hear the voice of God, and when I feel the waves I feel His embrace.
It is 8.30 in the morning, the second day of my visit, and I am resting on the beach after 6 miles running from the hotel to Lumley Beach.
Sierra Leone Peace Museum was open in 2013, over ten years after the end of the Civil War, by the Special Court of Sierra Leone to preserving the truth, honoring the conflict’s many victims, and promoting lasting peace. The Peace Museum includes a memorial to victims, an exhibit that documents and narrates the war’s history and the peace process, and the public records of the SCSL and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In the Afternoon I visited this museum and as I was the only visitor Abubacaia was my free and personal guide eager to explain to me all the pictures and artifacts exposed. He was very kind and knowledgeable and answered all my questions. The most impressive part was a wall with stories and pictures of people whose right arms were amputated by the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) and pictures with those whom’s chests were tattoo with RUF initials.
In the afternoon I went to Steve and Jennifer for dinner. Steve came to pick me up from the hotel and we used a Keke to go to their home. A Keke is more comfortable than an okada. I knew Jenifer when I visited Sierra Leone in 2012. She is from Canada and was in an internship at that time at Word Made Flesh. Meanwhile, she married Steve and they adopted two lovely kids. Her dream is to open a beauty salon where to train and employ woman from Kroo Bay that where trafficked in prostitution. Was so good to see how God called them to start a redemptive business that will serve God among the oppressed. I feel blessed to be invited to be part of this.
It is 9.00 a.m., the thirds day of my visit and I am waiting for Francis to go to visit the poultry farm project site.
The poultry farm is placed outside of Freetown in a place called Mambo. The carpenters were at the site building the roof. The building is huge and will host about 1500 chickens.
I met Mohamed and Remon, two young guys that Francis supported for a long period of time. They are helping Francis now supervising the construction work and buying materials for the workers. They told me their stories and also about how Francis helped them, being like a father for them, so far. They want to continue their studies, Mohamed wants to study law and Remon, Computer Science. Francis hopes to offer them a job at the farm that will support and allow them to continue their studies.
In the afternoon I visited Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a place that hosts about 150 chimpanzees rescued from the people’s houses or forests that were deforested. As I was the only visitor, Alfred, a young guy passionate about wildlife, was my personal guide walking with me around the reservation. He is hoping to be able to go to the university to continue his studies and study wildlife, to save enough money, and to obtain a scholarship after 3 years working here.
All Chimpanzees from the reservations have a name and Alfred knows all of them and their stories. He explain to me how they are living in groups and the group is dominated by an Alfa male leader recognized by all members of the group. When he calls them by their name they respond with a specific sound. They are very intelligent animals, sometimes they are using sticks to pick up fruits from the tree and rocks to crack the coconuts.
It is 7 a.m., the fourth day of my visit and I planned to go with Francis to visit an established poultry farm from Freetown.
The farm is located after the Regent region of Freetown, on a hill. I met Francis ed we took a Keke to go to Region and then an okada to climb the hill to the farm. We met Ibrahim, the owner of the far, a young guy very passionate about farming and willing to respond to all our questions. Francis visited him before but I wanted to see with my eyes how chickens are grown on a farm in Sierra Leone. He was very knowledgeable a happy to share with us about his business, his providers for food, his veterinary, and the costs and revenue. It was the information that we needed to complete our business model.
After the visit, we sit at the hotel restaurant and worked to complete the Business Model Canvas for the poultry farm.
William is an intelligent and educated person, a friend of a friend, that I invited to meet to discuss Business as Mission. He resigned from his job and now wants to open with his brother a transportation company, to offer high-quality transport service by bus in the province and back. This service is in high demand here. We discussed how he wants to do this business to serve with love and sacrifice his customers and employees. He was familiar and passionate about the redemptive entrepreneurship model and learned about it from the Praxis Lab website. I liked him and I invited him to come on Saturday morning with me to the University. It is possible that God sent him to me to take care of this project, Code Academy here in Sierra Leone. He is studied business, computer science and has a mindset to serve people through business.
It is 8.00 a.m., the fifth day of my visit and I am preparing to go to Word Made Flesh Center for Kroo Bay Outreach program and then for launch with the WMF leadership team.
Word Made Flesh is the most authentic and community that I have known. They are serving Jesus among the poorest of the poor, in Kroo Bay and I was happy to see them after 9 years and see that most of them are here for a long time. Bala Bangura is my friend and he greeted me and introduced me to the WMF team. it was time to talk before everyone gathered and he gave me to listen to a song that he wrote recently and recorded about Peace. He is really talented and dreams to be a musician in the future.
We started our activity reading and discussing a passage from the gospel of Matthew about the ten virgin and their lights and then split into groups of two and headed down in KrooBay.
Kroo Bay is a slam where over 6000 people are leaving in extreme poverty. I teamed with Balla and started our visit. I was especially interested to meet people that have a small business within the community.
First was Alex that build an entertainment center down the bay and people come there to watch TV, for night club and to buy marijuana. He was so friendly with us, explaining everything about his business, he showed me how they are processing marijuana and prepare it for selling. It is not legal to do this in this country, but here down in the Bay are different laws that are in place. I was thinking of Jesus, he was a friend of the tax collectors and prostitutes. If he would visit Kroo Bay, for sure he would visit Alexa’s Household.
The second workshop that we visited was Santos’ workshop. He is producing pots from recycled aluminum caps. He learned this skill and hire the workshop from his father who is an old man now. He has four kids all of them are going to school and WMF provided a scholarship for his older doubter. He looks like a happy man even he is spending all his time from morning till evening working in this workshop. He was so friendly with us, giving us all the details about his business and telling us about his dream to build a new and bigger workshop.
The thirds place that we visited was the Kroobay Fisher Organisation. They build boats and go fishing. They have an organization with tools and a fee if you want to be a member. They built a place where fishers bring their fish and people from Krooby that are selling rises come to wait and buy.
There are no rods in KrooBay, so the only way to go from one place to another is through the small pathway that separates the “houses” that people build. So while you are walking, people are everywhere doing laundry, cooking, working, sitting, smoking, and very happy to talk to you. We drive in an area where their houses just were destroyed by a fire, a desolate place, and an image with a lot of kids and parents sitting or walking in the ash. That was too strong for my eyes. I almost started to cry.
In the afternoon, I was invited for lunch by the leader from Word Made Flash Sierra Leone, Jenifer, Ansu, and Alafia. My question was what kind of projects can be done for Kroo Bay, that will bring transformation within the community. Word Made Flesh invest a lot in education and this transforms life’s of people as individuals, they have a lot of stories with people whose life was restored. Nevertheless, the poverty in the KrooBay community seems to be growing not decreasing. Nine years ago when I visited Kroobay they as a community was doing better than now. My first thought was that they should create programs to help those that have small workshops or businesses in KrooBay to grow and be able to employ others from their community. This can bring transformation over the years.
Finally, I arrived at the hotel after the most difficult day here, and I started to cry. It was my way to unload all emotions that I accumulated during the day.
It is 9.00 a.m., the sixth day of my visit here and I am sitting on Lumley Beach, resting after 6 miles of running, watching at the sea, and writing my journal. A boy named Mantsu came to me on the beach and we started to talk. He was sent by his aunt to sell some cookies to make money for his launch before school. When there is no selling there is no launch for him, and he begs for some food from his colleagues at the school. His mother died during Ebola and his father lived with them and is in the province farming. He told me that he want to be a pilot and asked me to take him with me to my home in Romania.
It is my day with no scheduled meetings. I will go to the market to buy some presents and prepare my presentation for the American College of Science and Technology tomorrow. Balla called me and told me that is around, we met and drinker a coffee he came with me to the market helping me to negotiate the price, because usually, they try to charge me for my color.
On my last day here before departure, I was to visit the American College of Science and Technology. I teamed up with Francis and William and they received us warmly. A few students presented us their projects, I presented them our proposal for the one-year internship program, and then the professors invited us to eat together. I was impressed to see that they are teaching at this college most of the technologies that we are using and encourage them to create some small projects using these technologies. We discussed the partnership and what this one-year internship program means.
Sierra Leone has no software industry. Even the software they are using here they are doing it in India or China. This project will be a pioneering project for this country and a great opportunity for the students to learn more while working on paid projects.
After the meeting, I was seated for a coffee and debrief with Francis and William and they passed to me their impressions about the project. They are open to help me with all the logistic that is needed to run the project in this country.
It is 2.00 p.m. and I am waiting in the hotel to depart for the Ferry toward Lungi Airport. My Flight will be at 9.40 PM and I expect to arrive in Romania on Sunday, after 1.00 p.m.
Sierra Leoneans are friendly people. They welcome foreigners, are happy that we visit their country, and hope that more will come to help them develop their economy.
As an emergent economy, it is a good place to invest. For example, if we will succeed with the Code Academy project, we will be pioneering the software development industry in this country. This can be a model for Otter Companies and help to increase their GDP in the future.
It is 11.00 a.m. and I am on the airplane heading to Bucharest.
I love Sierra Leoneans and want to do more for these people but at the same time, I feel like being small and helpless when I am looking to the needs that these people have. Their cry for help is overwhelming me. I will not be able to do something, but will God let me be part of his mission in this country? He is “a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” he hears the cry of the kids that have nothing for launch, of those who sleep in the ash after their houses burned, of the jobless and oppressed and he will respond.