Post by Tim Johnson
After a busy and fulfilling week in Sierra Leone, my first trip to Africa and first experience exploring and immersing in a developing nation, I feel privileged for the unique perspective our time there provided. Prior to departing for the trip, I was aware of the important work SHGO has done in Sierra Leone—and across several other developing countries—supporting the installation of clean water wells, sanitary facilities, a school, a medical clinic, and solar lighting, among other initiatives. Visiting the sites of those resources so essential to the betterment of so many people living in impoverished conditions, I was able to see, hear, and truly feel the life-changing impacts SHGO’s many initiatives have made.
During a visit to Zion Ministries at the Bandawa Campus, I watched as several members of that community filled containers with clean, safe drinking water from one of the many wells SHGO provided. While walking through the bush in Bandawa later that day, some of those same people pointed out where water supply would otherwise come from were it not for the well: in muddy pools where a visible film coated the water, in part from animal feces. I spoke with parents who can now provide their children with safe drinking water (something we may commonly take for granted here in the United States) and their deep appreciation for such a life-changing—and life-saving—resource was abundantly evident.
On a nearly 10-mile hike through the bush, visiting several remote villages, we were greeted with a welcoming warmth I had not entirely expected. When I tired during our long trek through the bush—in high heat and heavy humidity—our hosts made sure I had a comfortable place to rest in the shade and provided me with a fresh-picked mango for a burst of vitamin energy that pushed me through the final stretch of our long walk. It seemed to me there is an intrinsic desire in the villagers we met to show kindness and help others, even strangers. The positivity and vitality of the people we met, especially the children, made clear to me through disparities our commonality and connectedness as human beings. The feeling from those encounters is difficult to describe, but one that made it impossible not to smile.
Touring the Zion Ministries School during one of our final days in Sierra Leone, Pastor Andrew, who oversees the school’s operations, asked me, “Do you now see the disparity between our countries?” I did indeed see more clearly that disparity, witnessing firsthand the struggles and strengths of many wonderful people dedicated and determine to make available for their children better lives with opportunities for upward improvement. Pastor Andrew, along with Pastor Kanu and the folks at Zion Ministries, shared their firm beliefs that the future of Sierra Leone, its advancement and development as a nation, will be shaped by its children. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to meet so many of those children, who are now able to dream big because of the many efforts from SHGO and Zion Ministries.
When Dr. David Jordan asked the students at Zion Ministries Schools what they wanted to do when someday out of school, many answered that they aimed to be bankers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, and leaders. The addition of the library in BO, an extension of the school available to students as well as the broader community, now provides those young people with a wealth of resources to see their aspirations as sincerely attainable through dedication and hard work. Health and education are essential for those children to rise out of poverty. Walking through both congested city streets and remote bush villages made that clear to me. Clean water, sanitation, health clinic resources, and now a library with more than 26,000 books, I also saw, make that upward movement possible for many, many children.
I want to thank Dr. David Jordan and Peter Demko for their guidance and companionship during our trip, what was for me an entirely unfamiliar and eye-opening experience. Though I am glad to be back home, already a part of me is missing Sierra Leone and its incredible people. Someday I hope to return and see again some of the children we met on this trip, who perhaps then will be the new leaders shaping a promising future for their communities and country.