Oputu! Oputu!”

On the morning of our second day Ibrahim picked us up from the hotel in the 4×4 and about 45 minutes later we arrived at the gates of MercyHome. The main road to Waterloo is of a pretty good standard, compared with the minor roads that are little more than rutted dirt tracks scarred by gigantic craters. On our first visit back in December 2017, we experienced the track to the kids’ old home, which was incredibly rocky, and as we were being thrown about in the back of the car, our driver Ibrahim took great pleasure in telling us it was an “African massage, free of charge!” The drive from Tokeh to Waterloo also takes you through the bustling fishing village of Tombo, and later in the trip we would stop to buy fish for the kids.

Guided tour of MercyHome

On arrival at MercyHome (the exterior wall had even been painted with our logo!) we were greeted by the neighbouring children, totally excited and shouting, “Oputu! Oputu!”, which we learned means “white man”. Hassan and Ibrahim (young Ibrahim!)—both beaming from ear to ear—opened the metal gates for us and we drove inside the compound. It was another emotional reunion with the kids, and we met the MercyHome dogs for the first time, Nero and Lucky! (Little did the dogs know what we had planned for them later: a trip to the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society to get them castrated!) After several hugs and embraces, we were given a guided tour of the new home—the boys’ and girls’ quarters, kitchen, bathrooms, office and storage room—and we made a long list of what was still needed: from new charcoal stoves and floor mats to buckets and mattresses.

That evening, as the heavens opened and gave us our first taste of the rainy season, we met a young man named Timothy, who himself had grown up in an orphanage and who is now studying to be a pastor. Every week, rain or shine, Timothy visits the MercyHome kids to teach them music and dance. And once he had managed to dry out his keyboard, he wasted no time in roping myself and Valerie into a new dance routine, much to the amusement of the kids! It’s obvious just how much they all love Timothy’s visits, and what a great boost they are for the kids. We’re grateful for people like Timothy, who give so much of their time and ask nothing in return.

Conferences and mattresses

The following day would be a busy one, with an impromptu visit, together with home manager Pastor Obi, to a conference in Freetown—organised by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs—for the launch of two new care and child welfare policies, and which also addressed some of the issues regarding the future of education in Sierra Leone. The key note address was given by the vice president of Sierra Leone and it proved to be an interesting morning. Afterwards we chatted to a couple of people who had already heard about MercyHome Freetown, and they were interested to know what we were doing and the progress we were making even at this early stage.

We left the conference about lunch time, and the heavens opened for us again. Ibrahim picked us up and we headed straight for the mattress factory. We must have been quite a sight, as Pastor Obi, Valerie and myself tried out the various densities of mattress in the factory, before placing an order for 16 new mattresses and pillows. We did not tell the kids about our factory visit, deciding to keep the new mattresses as a surprise for later.

Delivering some good news

Back at MercyHome, we gathered all of the children together in the girls’ parlour for our first meeting to discuss the progress we had made over the preceding weeks. Our sponsorship model is based on full and half sponsorships, and by the time of our July visit we had been able to find sponsors—albeit shared sponsorships for some—for ten of the children, and we were excited to deliver the good news in person. As I write (August), we have made even further progress and we are thrilled to have filled all of our sponsorship slots: each of the 15 children is now benefitting from a full sponsorship that covers food and education.

We went round in a circle and announced who had a new sponsor, and who as yet didn’t. It was lovely to see that there was absolutely no jealousy among them, and so despite a couple of disappointed faces, they were all happy for each other and incredibly excited to learn where their new sponsors came from. To make things educational, we had taken a world map, one where you can scratch off the countries you have been to. In this case, we asked each of the children to scratch off the country of their sponsor; they range far and wide, from the USA to France, Germany, Austria, Spain and the UK. Some of the children also received letters, photos and gifts from their sponsors, so it was an exciting time.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and also teaching the kids how to play Cluedo; the rainy season was already in its early stages, so we had taken a few board games to keep them entertained during the wet, dreary months. The kids then got together to rehearse for the inauguration later in the week, and as the day came to an end and the light began to fade, Valerie and I headed back to Tokeh with Ibrahim.

Part 3, coming soon…