When we arrived in Bombali Bana, they circled up wooden chairs and benches under the shade. A few grinning boys carried out a table to place in the center of the chairs, and we sat with the school headmaster, many of the teachers, the community leader, the head of the School Management Committee (SMC is similar to our PTA), and Mariatu, the child sponsorship coordinator for World Hope here in Sierra Leone.
Bombala Bana is the location of a pilot project for World Hope, their first school partnership. The vision is that the entire student body in the school will have a sponsor. The funds from the sponsorships will be used to first meet educational needs; school supplies such as books, backpacks, etc, training and a stipend for teachers, improved classrooms and such. It will also provide rice or basic food for families. The funding could then extend to meet broader needs as more sponsors join. Latrines, wells, and other community necessities can be aided by the collective funding.
In the partnership, the school must agree to give reports on the teachers’ training, provide an assessment of each child once a year detailing how they are doing in areas of academics, health, family, etc., and ensure that the children are photographed and write a letter to their sponsor twice a year. The vision for this is that there would be a more holistic approach to the needs of the students/school/community, but still provide the encouragement, support, and prayer a personal relationship between a child and his/her sponsor gives. World Hope only wishes to give the school a boost, and after a time the intent is that the school will be in an empowered facility, equipped to thrive independently.
I realize I’m in the minority here, but I love meetings. Especially when they’re outside under an African sky, and pertaining to things I’m passionate about. It was wonderful to listen to them discuss the partnership, the mutual agreements, the specific roles, and questions about how the program is to run. Angie is such a gracious coordinator. I’ve loved observing how she listens, and then thoughtfully responds. She is here to learn as well as share, and her spirit of camaraderie, of coming along side rather than from a place of superiority, is inspiring. Her passion to equip and empower and maintain long term relationships, all the while giving preference to the leaders here, is something that I love about her, and a general posture of World Hope I am happy to see.
When the meeting concluded, we told the staff we had some fun activities for the teachers. I suspect they may have qualms the next time Americans visit and want to have some “fun”, as what ensued was slightly less than ideal.
With the help of a few scrambling boys, we strung a piñata in a tree, borrowed a sash from one of the girls and a stick from the bushes, and taught the kids a silly North American game. It started off well. However, within a few minutes, I realized two problems. 1-our crowd had grown from beyond our attempted controlled size, to a number of roughly 100 sweaty bodies, who were all fully intent on being as close to the action as possible, leaving me in an increasingly shrinking diameter along with the piñata and the stick-wielding kid. 2-African kids can maneuver sticks with ferocity like I’ve never seen.
I would blindfold and dizzy a child up a bit, and then promptly take to cowering back against the crowd as the stick was whipped from side to side. The bodies behind me were unfazed by my physical contact and only pushed in harder. When the piñata was finally decapitated, there was no waiting for the candy to fall to the ground. In a flash, the colorful donkey was yanked from the tree and thrown beneath a writhing mob of candy-craving children.
It was not the last mob of the day. At one point Angie disappeared beneath a red dust cloud and a surge of bodies when they saw the silly string appear from her bag. I did my best to hold them at bay, standing in front of a long and deep line that by this time numbered in the hundreds with my hands up sternly and my best military/mom face on. But all at once they surged, and in what Angie describes as a scene from Braveheart, they thundered around and over me and onto her. The teachers stood on the sidelines shouting and waving their sticks, but the stampede had turned feral over hopes of more sugar from the ones who scored a piece, and anger from the ones who had missed out, and there was no authority strong enough to thwart their intentions. The day accumulated enough incidents to warrant a temporarily mission name change to #whibandaid, as the #whijoyspreader efforts took a sharp decline.
When we later recounted the experience from our different vantage points, and Wesley shared his perspective from behind the camera when the furry broke loose, we laughed until we cried. I washed more dirt off in the shower than I knew a body could hold, and fell asleep laughing. I hope the students felt our love and goodwill, and sensed our great hope for their education and future, even though our expressions were tinged with dysfunction.
I can’t wait to hear updates from Bombali Bana as the partnership takes root. I think there are great things in store for the school and the staff and students alike, and even the whole village. It was an honor to visit, to receive so many warm welcomes. I certainly learned some valuable lessons about crowd control and careful candy dispersion that will be applied at birthday parties in the future. But what I learned the most, what I am learning more fully every day here, is that though my mission on this trip has been to be a joy-spreader, to represent the love and care and relationship of sponsors to the children being sponsored, I have scattered a few joy seeds and already reaped a 500 percent return. We give these little bits of love and joy imperfectly here and there, and it’s given back to us in tremendous measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
I will say it again and again, I know, but the need is so great, the results are so convincing, and the timing is so good to choose to be a sponsor. Whether for the first time, or to widen your circle and add in another child, I hope you’ll consider choosing one, choosing love for a little person half way around the world this moth of love. World Hope International is the place start.
If you have questions about our experiences, the school partnership, WHI’s methods/beliefs/priorities, or simply have something about our time in Sierra Leone you’d like to hear more of, would you let me know in the comments? I can’t answer most of them, but I can point you to people who can, and I’m happy to discuss anything that’s on your mind!
Sending you love and plenty of sunshine and sweat (that I’m not a bit sad about),