On my second full day in Freetown, the GMin team was introduced to what the city councilor called the poorest slum in the world. We met with two of David’s friends, Maada and T-Max, who intended to start an aid project for the slum. Together we walked down the hill towards an area of rising smoke. At the beginning of an alleyway, we met the councilor, who led us to an imposing wall of trash. Skirting the wall, we passed hogs and stepped over a lean goat before reaching the entrance to a city’s largest garbage dump, home to about 2000 men, women, and children.
A road had been cleared for dump trucks. Children scavenged through the piles looking for spare rubber, usable wood, toys. The smoke emanated from a number of trash fires—our guide told us that they were spontaneous, coming from large deposits of natural gas underneath the site, but my intuition told me that, as in many such locations around the world, the garbage was being burned for the simpler reason of disposal. This was all the more essential because on top of the piles—amazingly, insanely—women were planting potato leaves and harvesting cassava.
Our guide told us the road we were walking on, along with a few brick lots that had been cleared, were part of a £150-million project run by a large aid organization—another testament to the inefficiencies of high-overhead NGOs. [Author pats GMin on its metaphorical back.] In the meantime, the government had given up on the area. The pipes that were supposed to move stagnant liquid waste to the ocean had been clogged, and they pooled in deep, mud-colored puddles, only weeks before the heavy rains and their resultant floods.
As we walked, we were introduced to many of the men in the area. I was struck by both their desperation and their clarity of purpose. Of the dozen or so people I spoke with, I heard the same needs repeated, and they weren’t what I expected. “Public toilets and a community center,” one man in a Burger King t-shirt with bloodshot malarial eyes told me. “We need help.” Many asked us exactly what we could do, when we could come back, tactfully but forcefully willing us to take on the tragic poignancy of their lives. It was a difficult and moving experience.
After two hours, and after meeting with garbage farmers, fishermen, the harbormaster, and being touched and high-fived inquisitively by a huge number of children, we walked up a hill towards the road. We met later with Maada and T-Max, along with the district councilor, to discuss project ideas. The Sierra Leonean students had settled on the ambitious, much-needed community health center, and we developed a work plan for how to go about researching the costs, preparing a proposal, and raising money for the project, pledging to help in what ways we could.
Bomai was an eye opener. We’re leaving Monday to help a region plagued by malaria, but we’re leaving a city dogged with so many problems that malaria hardly rates. It’s a frightening thought.
The nearby Kroo Bay where living conditions are equally horrendous.