Diamonds in the Backyard

A few days ago I returned from a site assessment trip to the southeastern part of Sierra Leone. As part of FTF’s mission to live among and serve those without access to resources, I have been searching for towns and communities where our model of service matches up with people’s needs. This particular site visit took me to some of Sierra Leone’s most war-torn, desperate towns and villages. A priest named Fr. Combey, who works with a group that serves children affected by the Sierra Leone civil war, invited me to see the projects he has initiated aimed at uniting communities to stand together in hope against hardship.

 The author on his recent site assessment.

The author on his recent site assessment.

Over the course of 4 days I met with 9 “groups”, totaling roughly 350 members and their families. The majority of these individuals were former war refugees and widows who had lost their husbands to the war or Ebola. Father Combey and a handful of local volunteers have assisted these groups in creating credit unions where the community pools together money to support one another with things like children’s school fees, medical emergencies, and capital for small business ventures.

Each group gave me a grand welcoming. Entire villages with their chiefs and elders turned up, overjoyed at the news of a white man who had come to finally save them from their suffering. One man actually called me a messiah. After the ceremonial dance competitions and presentation of gifts (I’m now 1 goat, 2 chickens and 7 gallons of palm oil richer), I would briefly introduce myself and ask the group some open-ended questions. When all my questions were exhausted, I would sit back and (nervously) offer to answer questions from the crowd. Some of the groups were satisfied with my responses and explanations of FTF’s work. For others, my responses didn’t cut it.

One group of especially expectant widows in Pendembu really pressed me. With quivering lips and open hands, the spokeswoman pleaded for me to help them.  She explained that the widows have no men to work the land, leaving the widows to fend for themselves and their hungry children. The small amounts of vegetables they manage to grow are nearly impossible to sell because of the distance to market.  On top of that, nobody, including the corrupt government, seems to know or care about their privation. She went silent, awaiting my response. I could feel 25 sets of desperate eyes burning through my soul.

What could I say? I couldn’t express understanding of their suffering, I had no idea what it was like to be in their shoes. I wasn’t about to offer advice to people whose situation I had so little understanding of. I had to restrain myself from emptying my pockets of every Leone, laying it all at their feet.

Eternal awkward silence.

Father Combey came to my rescue with a story:

A young ambitious boy from Pendembu really wanted to help his poor family, so he traveled to faraway Kono at the age of 14 to mine for diamonds. For 88 years he mined and never found a single one, and then he died. His family heard of his death and gathered together all the money they had, begging their neighbors and communities to help pay for the funeral. They scrapped together the amount they needed and rejoiced. Then they asked where they should bury the man—in Kono where he had spent most of his life or in Pendembu where he was born? It was decided that the man ought to be buried in his father’s backyard in Pendembu. When they began to dig his grave they unearthed an abundance of beautiful diamonds.

Father Combey then handed each of the widows a packet of vegetable seeds, saying to each of them go look in your own backyard.

Father Combey’s story paints a clear picture of FTF’s core belief: diamonds can be found in the backyard of any community. For us, diamonds are people, special people we call impresarios; people with unique ideas and the motivation to transform their situation and that of their community. Corrupt politicians, disconnected NGOs and big corporations rarely hold the solutions to hopelessness and deep poverty. No, there is someone out there among those widows with creative potential; someone who given the right consul, connections and care, can create something beautiful. With time and patience hard work, our Field Workers identify these visionaries and assist in cultivating their ideas. We build bridges to brilliance. Support us in our search for these impresarios, and support the brilliant impresarios we have already built authentic, loving relationships with.

Dan Padrnos1 Comment