If I only saw Lakka Beach in Sierra Leone, I would think this place is paradise. This idyllic fishing village just west of Freetown is magical.
Tony Blair came to visit a few weeks ago to praise Sierra Leone for its economic development in the tourism industry. He opted for one of the UN helicopters (that sometimes fall out of the sky) landing on the sandy more affluent beaches of the west side, rather than take the hour long ferry ride across to the poorer east side of Freetown. He visited Lumely beach, the more popular of the beaches because of its easy access off the highway. It is full of trash, beggars, and tourists. It is easy to get a slanted picture of this country is all you see if tubby Europeans lolling around in the sun drinking star beer.
We opted for the more adventurous trek up the bumpy muddy road past the enormous houses in Aberdeen to Lakka, where we were the only “tourists” there. I’m told the place is livelier on the weekends when all the NGOs take a break from inland, but we came on an overcast Wednesday to visit a one legged boy born in Makeni .
John is 16 years old and living on the beaches of Lakka selling small hand-woven baskets to the tourist for $6.00 a pop. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure if you were to buy one of his baskets at Pottery Barn they would be at least $30.00.
Today he sold one.
John wanted to talk to me because he heard that we are raising funds for junior secondary and senior secondary school scholarships. In Sierra Leone, the government will pay for primary school, but if you want an education past the 5th grade, you have to pay.
After hearing John’s plea for a better life, I asked him to write it down for me so that I can tell others. I think I’ll let him tell you the rest of the story:My age is 16 years old.
I was born in Makeni
My main purpose writing you this letter is just to tell you my problem. I was going to school in Makeni, but the war makes me leave school for some time now. But I’m looking for people who will help me. I came to Freetown to look for person that will help me. I stop going to school for three years now. My school level is JSS 3
[8th grade]. The war killed my family and cut my leg too, and I was staying with my uncle but I leave him because he was very bad to me and I come to Freetown to live in the street for over two years now with no help and no food. Sometime I get hungry and my freind feeds me, but no one else is caring. To go to school for three years is Le 1,800,000 and you have to buy uniform, books, pens, pencils, and a
1,800,000 Leones is around $567 US dollars. I used to make that in a week and complain I was poor.
I would like to say that John’s story is shocking. But it isn’t. Since word has gotten out that I’m raising money for children to go to school, every day people come up to me to tell me they want to qualify for a scholarship. Every mother, father, uncle, schoolteacher, grandparent, shop owner, everyone I run into knows me as the girl who can send a child to school.
I want to send them all.