Tales from the Karma Trail: Sierra Leone, 2019
In November, a Karma Drinks and Karma Foundation team of seven people from New Zealand and the UK (Albert, Cosmo, Luke, Kat, Mark, Nadia, Rachel) went to Sierra Leone to support the development of the community-led Tiwai Heritage Trail and eco-campsites. It was an opportunity to experience the impact of the wider work and partnership of the Karma Foundation with the communities and get a feel for the country firsthand.
The team had a very tight schedule to firstly experience Freetown and then to visit 7 of the 8 communities in 5 days, mainly on foot.
Day 1: Freetown
Having arrived on a delayed flight late at night, the following day was spent exploring the vibrant and dramatic capital city of Freetown, with people using the beach for football and group meet ups, enjoying delicious seafood, jollof rice and the national favourite, Star beer. It’s an ideal spot for Western tourists and local people and a great launchpad from which to explore Sierra Leone.
Day 2: Travelling from Freetown to Boma via Bo
Our team travelled for 4 hours to AFFA Karma Cola’s office in Bo. There they met up with Michael Sallu, and his team (Michael is the Karma Foundation’s project manager in Sierra Leone). From there, they set off from the bustling town of Bo to the rural Tiwai communities, starting in the village of Boma. Upon arrival in Boma, the team was officially welcomed by the community, led by Chief Khadi and Chief Hindowa, and Mohamed Mediwa, chair of the Tiwai Communities Committee (TCC) and committee members. Chief Hindowa then led the Karma crew on a walk, over the original Karma project, the famous Makenneh Bridge to the Kwanma Campsite. The camp was delightful and the food fantastic, prepared by Chief Khadi and her team (steamed pumpkin and fish stew), showcasing the expanding nutritional foods available as a result of participating in the LANN Karma-funded nutrition project.
Day 3: Boma to Segbema
The day started with a community meeting with the TCC, attended by the Barri chiefdom paramount chief’s representatives and elected committee members from all 8 communities that we work with. The meeting provided the opportunity to review our work together, introduce the team and to discuss future potential projects. Afterwards the team, together with community guides, headed off on foot. A short canoe trip to the southern end of Tiwai Island was then followed by an hour’s jungle walk across the island (in 37 degrees) to the banks of the mighty Moa river. The water was unexpectedly high and fast flowing as a result of extended rainy seasons due to climate change. With people at the front and rear of dugout canoes, the team navigated the fast flowing river to reach the far bank and Segbema. After a hike uphill, they were greeted by an incredible welcome of music and dance. A formal introduction followed, then the team headed to the eco-camp where they spent the night.
Day 4: Segbema to Mapuma
Segbema can only be reached by foot. Until last year, there was no school in the village, with children walking over an hour to the nearest school, living with relatives in towns, or receiving no formal education. Inspired by other local communities, Mohamed Kallon (vice chair of the TCC) set up a community school. Support from The Karma Foundation then helped to fund girls scholarships, teachers’ salaries, and this year will support teachers to become formally qualified together with the process to formally register the school. It was extremely impressive to see this committed community making big improvements to their lives with a little support.
From Segbema, the team then walked for hours through the jungle, crossing the Moa river on bamboo bridges, wading through streams, dodging stinging ants and poisonous millipedes before arriving in the community of Mapuma. After formal introductions in the newly built community meeting space, built with Karma funding, the team then stayed in another beautifully prepared eco-camp.
Day 5: Mapuma to Giema to Jene to Kambama
The team started the day by going by motorbike to meet representatives of the Koya chiefdom paramount chief. On their way they passed over the newly constructed bridge, funded by the Karma Foundation, built to ensure Mapuma is not cut off by road during the rainy season. They met with local entrepreneur, Hawa, who received seed funding for her small shop through a Karma Foundation revolving loan project. She told the team how the business training she had received thanks to the Foundation, meant she was managing her business successfully. Hawa is one of 50 entrepreneurs across the 8 communities who have received and/or repaid loans. Interest is paid into a community fund to set up small businesses or to use for repairs and maintenance. The small businesses bring basic foods and household items into the communities in bulk, meaning locals don’t go short of food or have to buy at hiked prices from external traders.
An hour hike out of Mapuma the team arrived at Giema. From there, they travelled by boat back to the other side of the Moa river, to Jene where they were reunited with the vehicles and departed along a narrow, bumpy track to Kambama. The Kambama community spoke movingly of the impact the community social health fund, started with seed funding from the Foundation this year, is having with accounts from people who had used it. Across the villages, they heard of emergency hernias treated and non-emergencies treated before they became more serious, thanks to the health fund.
Day 6 Kambama to Bureh Beach
After camping overnight in Kambama, the team took another short boat ride to Tiwai Island. Here they were given a tour by Mediwa. He is a key member of the Foundation team as the chair of the Tiwai Community Committee, and is also a trained community guide. With a wealth of knowledge on the local environment and wildlife, Mediwa explained the issues around the poaching of monkeys from the island, a prolific and long-standing problem which the Foundation is supporting the communities to address through developing sustainable livelihoods to provide alternative forms of income and an incentive to protect the island and its inhabitants. From here the team began the journey home.