Are you ready for the second instalment of my Sierra Leone diaries? I am!
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the first one yet, you can find it HERE or by scrolling back through my blog. And look out for my next one to hear all about the marathon!
After the previous day’s adventures, meeting so many beautiful locals, I was super excited to be travelling out of the city today to visit rural schools set up by Street Child.
Having slept like a log I woke up bright and breezy and headed downstairs for my first ever breakfast in Makeni – omelettes, plantain (like a giant grilled banana) and bread. Yep more bread!
After breakfast, Hannah and I hit the road, hopping into our mini bus for the day. I was delighted to see some familiar faces on board, including my friend Josh from the airport. Wedged into the back of the bus, I made friends with Thomas, Kirsten, Owen and James. We had a long journey ahead and boy did we fly out of our seats when we hit the bumpy track. My head hit the ceiling on several occasions. Oh well, all in the name of adventure! After being battered about for two and a half hours in the bus, we finally reached our destination. The rural village of Lokomassama! Street Child started school projects here, in this agricultural village, during 2013 and have since been able to support over 1200 children. Thanks to donations from people like us, they’ve built 8 schools and trained 20 locals to become teachers. How awesome right?!
Our first stop in Lokomassama was the home of the village chief. A humble, elderly man, dressed in stunning silk robes greeted us like family. An entourage of women and children surrounded him and serenaded us with smiles as wide as canyons. I was yet again blown away by their contagious happiness! We were given his blessing and led by our guide to two different local schools, one of which was funded entirely by the fundraising efforts of my friend Josh! The children came flooding out from the school to greet us with high fives and hugs, the women burst into song and the men formed an orchestra of drums and bells.
There was such a spiritual quality to their welcoming, a real human connection. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by how similar we were, despite living in completely different worlds.
Watching Josh’s face light up as he gave a speech to the children brought tears to my eyes and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. His willpower alone has inspired so many others to donate and without him these children would not be in school. It was in this moment I knew that I wanted to switch from the half marathon to the FULL MARATHON. I had been toying with the idea since day one and knew it was the right thing to do. As Josh wisely said “I’d be a fool not to”. If there was some way to raise even more money for projects like this one, then I was going to do it! I hadn’t felt that inspired for a very long time!
We raced around in the beaming sun playing games like duck duck goose, bulldog and football with the children. I cannot tell you how beautiful it was to be so accepted into their play time routine. And I have never been outrun by a seven year old Usain Bolt before, so that was a new one for me!
But it’s not just the children who have received a second chance as a result of these schools. The teachers have too! We were lucky enough to chat with one of the 20 teachers in the village of Lokomassama and his enthusiasm for Street Child was clear as day. They saved his life, just as much as they saved the children. Because of Street Child he has received a Diploma, a secure income, and a steady job which he loves with all his heart. Such a powerful project!
After football, Kirsten, Hannah, and I got ourselves into a dance off with the local women who embraced us and twirled us round in circles. When all of a sudden the music stopped and everyone bolted in different directions. It was a black mamba snake! One bite and you’d be dead! Rocks went flying as the children and teachers attacked the snake. Their primal instincts took over and within a matter of the seconds the snake was dead, its head smashed into the ground. I was fascinated by the speed of their reaction. Like lightening! Incredible!
A very eventful afternoon! Back at our hotel, Hannah and I had so many stories to share with the others runners. At dinner we sat with the lovely James, Kerry, an inspirational ultra-runner and mother to Maya, her adorable daughter. The street Child team organised a pub quiz for us all to test our general knowledge. Safe to say I was useless except when it came to the literature round. A great end to a life changing day!
The day before the big race, today was a lot more relaxed, but equally eye opening and inspiring. After breakfast we went to visit the main Street Child centre in the heart of Makeni. Here we were greeted by local Street Child social workers, trained up by the charity to help struggling families. Through several different workshops we learnt about the life of a social worker and were given the opportunity to learn the local language – Krio! Krio is similar to English in many ways and was created by the people of Sierra Leone after the abolishment of slavery as a way of communicating under the radar.
FGM (female genital mutilation) was a major issue hinted at throughout several of the workshops, which was both fascinating and devastating. Young girls are taken into secret societies in order to “become women”.
Often they return abused, or even pregnant and are thus rejected by their own families. The topic of FGM is usually kept very hushed up so it was incredibly powerful to hear women sharing their experiences. Street Child social workers, collaborate with families in attempts to educate them of a life without FGM. Of course they cannot change the culture, and thus can only help to suggest that FGM is not the only way, but even this advice is enough to change the lives of so many young girls.
I returned to my hotel that afternoon even more certain that I could take on the marathon. It had to be done! Inspired by so many other incredible runners to push my limits and raise more money for Street Child projects, I’d never felt more ready for anything in my entire life. Scared beyond belief, but ready!
We ended the day with an almighty pasta party – my absolute favourite thing about racing – and hit the hay for an early night ready for our 4am start the next day.
I hope my experiences have inspired you to get involved with Street Child, and if they have then there’s still time to donate over on my fundraising page! https://sierraleonemarathon2016.everydayhero.com/uk/sophiesierraleone
Look out for my next blog post to hear all about the marathon!!
Lots of love,