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Sharpening my volleyball skills in Sierra Leone

I arrived in Sierra Leone two weeks ago. After spending my first week getting to know the Save the Children staff in Freetown I am now living in one of our field bases in Zimmi, a small rural village (although some might call it a town) based in the Pujehun District,  in the depths of the Gola Jungle very near the Liberian border.

It’s about an 8 hour drive from Freetown. Fortunately, thanks to the Chinese, the road from Freetown to Kenema has a tarmac surface. But it took a gruelling 3 hours to get to Zimmi from Kenema as the road turns into a dirt track and, during the rainy season, it’s a mud bath!

A typical day in Zimmi starts with a morning run along the dirt track and through the jungle. Often the locals stop and stare (out of curiosity) or shout “Pumoi” (white man) hoping for a response or wave me on with delight. I am the only white person in this town and appear to be causing quite a sensation, especially amongst the children. My morning escapade is followed by a very enjoyable bucket shower.

While we are lucky enough to have running water,  electricity it is in short supply. Electricity is only available during working hours and in the evenings so this makes for long hot nights! After my shower I take a stroll to the local shop (shack) down the street to buy my breakfast, a freshly boiled egg and a bread roll. Goods are in short supply so it’s all about who you know in this town – to guarantee my supply of eggs and bread the lady in the shop puts them aside for me each morning.

Save the Children has been in Zimmi since 2008 and successfully operates an integrated programme in child protection, education and health. Both the staff and locals are extremely welcoming and friendly which has helped me to settle into life here. Although the locals have virtually nothing, they always have a smile on their faces.

When the day’s work is over it can be tough to find something to do to pass the time but thanks to Save the Children this town has a vibrant volleyball team. A couple of months ago Save the Children got together with the local community and set up a volleyball court. Every evening at 5:00pm the court fills up with the locals; all ages and sizes come to play. While football is also played in the evening, this is reserved for the select skilled few. Volleyball on the other hand, is an inclusive game, where everyone and anyone – including me – can join it. While I am truly awful, they are very encouraging and keen to teach me a thing or two! Last Saturday I was invited to the court by a group of kids / teenagers for a lesson on how to serve and receive the ball. I can now receive the ball, however my serving has a long way to go. But with time and a lot of encouragement I hope to become a competent player!

In a couple of weeks, Save the Children will be re-locating their office to the district capital, Pujehun. While our work will continue in Zimmi, our office will no longer be based here. However, I can be sure that, come 5:00 pm, every evening a game or two of volleyball will be played by the young adults and children of Zimmi. Who knows, maybe one we’ll even set up a tournament between the two villages.

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