Friday, July 11, 2008

Where we are: Our new home

The compound or COTN property in Banta Mokelleh is growing at a fast past since the home children arrived here a little more than a year ago. Here’s a look at what’s here and what we get to be a part of every day (and the interns aren’t even here yet!):

Off the main road:

Office – the COTN national office staff is made up of about six people

Guest House – attached to the office, this is where Reverend Angie Myles (fondly known as Momma Angie by everyone) lives; there are also two spare rooms for visitors, staff from the states and associates who are serving here for a year.

Counseling Center – a new building that serves as the home base for the counseling program.

School Kitchen – this is not like a school kitchen you would see in America. Its in a corner surrounded by tall branches as a fence which shelter the fire pits and charcoal stoves from the wind. Here, about six women from the surrounding villages cook lunch for about 500 students every day. Next to the stoves are three large wooden mortar and pistols, used to make the sauces they serve over rice.

Medical Clinic – a friendly room lit by windows boasts two beds for sick children along with medical supplies for the nurses who are on duty 24-hours a day. The head nurse – Aunty Agnes – also happens to be the wife of the chief in charge of the entire chiefdom of Banta Mokelleh. Somehow that makes me feel better when I visit with a question about a bug bite or headache.

Malnourishment Clinic – this little home is right next to the nurse and has an outside kitchen in the back. Built to model a typical home in the villages, this place is meant for mothers to bring their babies who are suffering from malnourishment. Not only are the babies fed and given medical provision, but the mothers are taught how to care and cook for their child so they can get enough nourishment to grow and be healthy.

Primary and Secondary School – the two buildings are separated by a soccer field (made of rocks, stones and dirt) and a basketball court. The primary school building, with six classrooms, was built in an L-shape with a courtyard area in the center. The secondary school building has three classrooms. Its large, covered outdoor area serves for school assemblies, ceremonies and church on Sundays.

Down the hill:

Nestled into the literal bush of Sierra Leone, about a ten minute walk down the hill from the office and school area, lies the children’s homes. Before you reach them, you pass the staff housing on your right – a collection of about five small homes that teachers and staff share while school is in session. Past that, though, you come upon a picture that doesn’t quite look real. Ten little homes sit in a U-shape, surrounded by the Sierra Leone jungle on one side and the COTN farm on the other. Tall palm trees frame the scene and you can see aunties leaned over, cooking in the outside kitchens behind each home. Children carry water buckets on their heads from the well near House 5 and chickens run rampant. The front porches of each home look into the middle – friends play games and ball and others help with dinner. It’s a scene from a movie or a book. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem real. To our delight, Scott and I (and eventually the interns) are taking over two of the children’s homes for the summer. One was not yet filled with children and the children from the other home were dispersed to the other houses during our time here. Eventually, COTN will build a special housing area for interns, but we are thrilled to be right in the middle of their lives this year.

The Details:

· * *Each house has a head Aunty and a “vice” Aunty. The head Aunty lives with the children in the home and acts as their mother, the vice is usually from one of the surrounding villages. She comes each day in the morning and helps with chores, cooking and caring for the kids. She leaves each evening and covers for the head aunty when she’s on holiday.

· * *Each home has about 10 to 13 children in it – all one gender, but ranging in age. This way, the older children are able to serve in the older sibling role and help the Aunties.

· * *Each house has a name that is painted in bold letters on the front: Strength, Truth, Hope, Integrity, Faith, Love, Courage, Joy, Peace and Grace

· * *In each home are two bedrooms – one small one for the head Aunty and one large one for the children, which is filled with five or six bunkbeds. Each home also has a living room, two toilet stalls and two shower stalls. And behind each house is the kitchen – a small room where the food is kept and where a fire can be made. Usually, however, the food is cooked and prepared on the cement slab that serves as a go-between from the house to the kitchen.

· * *Though none of the houses have electricity or running water yet, they were wired for both when they were built just a little over a year ago.

The Farm – this 50 acres begins past the children’s homes and provides pineapple, rice, palm oil, cassava (the common food source in Sierra Leone), potatoes, bananas, and okra to the homes. The pig house on the farm, which is home to about 10-12 grown pigs right now, provides a source of protein to the growing children every month or so.

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