Six months after our first trip to Freetown, we were incredibly excited to return to Sierra Leone. This time round, though, things would be very different. Back in December 2017, we visited the kids merely as sponsors. But after the UK charity that was previously responsible for the children’s welfare inexplicably closed its doors overnight, and with no succession plan in place, Valerie and I had stepped in out of necessity and a real sense of urgency, creating our own charity to take on the responsibility of looking after the 15 children in Freetown.
The launch of MercyHome Freetown
MercyHome Freetown was created and registered in both Austria and Sierra Leone at the end of February 2018, so we effectively took over from the beginning of March. It has been incredibly hard work, and starting from scratch—only one sponsor from the original line-up was happy to stay on board—has meant that without outside funding, everything had to be financed privately to begin with. The original staff, fortunately, all agreed to stay on and work on a voluntary basis until sufficient funding is in place to pay them a salary.
In the weeks and months leading up to our July visit, we had to come up with a name for our non-profit association, and the kids all had a say in the final choice. Then we went through the process of creating a logo, and with several designers all bidding, the experience was fun and at times frustrating, and led to a lot of head-scratching. Once again, we got the kids involved, and we all agreed on what we think is a great final design. Next came the website, for which we have a couple of friends to thank for their technical input. And only once we had opened a bank account and PayPal account were we finally ready to begin fundraising!
Reunions in Salone
After an early morning departure from Vienna and a connecting flight in Amsterdam, we arrived at Lungi International Airport in Freetown at about 7.30pm local time (SL is 2 hours behind Vienna at this time of year). After passing through immigration, we hustled our way to the Sea Bird water taxi heading for Murray Town. This time we were fortunate in that we knew what to expect; back in December, the experience had been overwhelming to say the least! Now, we were excited, as we knew our trusty driver Ibrahim would be waiting for us. Sure enough, he was waiting on the dock in his high-vis company polo shirt with a big smile on his face. It was fantastic to see Ibrahim again. On our last trip he had been indispensable and looked after us so well that we had requested his services again. We loaded our luggage—comprising three huge suitcases packed mostly with clothes, shoes, books and games for the kids—onto the 4×4 and set off for Tokeh, where our hotel was located.
We arrived at Tokeh at about 11pm and headed straight for bed. The next morning at breakfast we were surprised that some of the staff recognised us from our previous trip; they even said they’d been waiting for us! The staff at “The Place” are amazingly friendly, they take the time to learn your names, ask a lot of questions and are genuinely interested to know why you are visiting their country and what you are doing. When we told them about MercyHome and the kids, they expressed their gratitude, happy to know that people cared about the children in their country.
After our reunion with Ibrahim and then the staff at the hotel, we were excited about seeing the kids again on our first morning. We were also extremely curious, because it would be the first time we’d get to visit the kids’ new home (by closing their doors, the former UK charity had also defaulted on rent on the children’s home, which meant we had to move them to a new compound that complied with the requirements of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs).
Part 2, coming soon…