Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sierra Leone: The First Step

So I wrote a note to the list coordinator for the Sierra Leone trip and told her that I was interested in accompanying the group in December. Now I'm waiting to see if I can get on the list. It's sort of a first step and by no means guarantees that I have a spot in the group. Got my fingers crossed. But I have mentally committed to making the trip. I got pushed over the edge during a coffee chat with a friend at work. Both of us were talking about life accomplishments we wanted to achieve--she, an advanced degree, and me, my desire to combine travel with a humanitarian project. (The newly coined word for this is voluntourism.) By the time we were done talking, I was so revved up that I couldn't figure out why I was hesitating. So I stopped.

Well--now that I've decided to go, I thought I'd find out where I was going. A stop at a nearby Borders book store revealed that there are no travel books on Sierra Leone, which, upon reflection, made sense. Remember, this is the land of Blood Diamonds. The civil war there ended in 2002 (started in 1991), and the established government has slowly been putting the infrastructure and economy back together. It's still in abysmal shape, and the CIA Fact Book on Sierra Leone does not indicate tourism as a source of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In fact, the book store didn't have any books on this tiny west African country. So with the help of the patient customer service employee, I discovered a title of a book that looked like it would provide the background I need to enlighten myself. I didn't write down the title, so I can't tell you now, but I will eventually.

Sierra Leone is a poor country that is slightly smaller than South Carolina and has a population of a little over six million people. You can see its location on the map above. The official language is English (thanks to its history as an English colony), but Sierra Leonians speak at least three other major languages, depending on where in the country they live.

Inoculations and other precautions are necessary for this trip. Malaria is still common in Sierra Leone, as is Yellow Fever. Nasty stuff. So I've got some updating to do. I noticed during a recent physical that I'm due for a tetanus booster. I'll be getting current with all of that throughout the year.

The little community that our group would visit is Manonkoh. Look for the town of Makeni on the map above, sort of in the center. Manonkoh is south of that some distance and not shown on this map. It is there that this outreach group provides medical treatment, nutrition information, and health education to the local population. And it is there that the planned clinic will be built.

So the journey of a thousand miles has begun with the first step. (Actually, it's the journey of 5315 miles, which is the Great Circle distance between Minneapolis and Freetown, SL.) There you have it.

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