Let There Be Lights!

09/15/09

“What God has done to involve us in Banta is truly amazing,” said Dave Schertzer, Resource Director for COTN–USA. “God has chosen Children of the Nations to partner with Sierra Leoneans to build a school, orphan homes, feeding center and malnutrition clinic. This is amazing when you consider that Sierra Leone is one of the least infrastructure-built areas in the world… I mean, it’s really out in the bush.”

“Most people live in mud huts with thatched roofs; they cook over an open fire and get water from the stream,” added Jim Jackson, a long-time friend and volunteer at Children of the Nations.

The place is Banta Mokelleh, Sierra Leone. Children of the Nations just finished building a Ministry Complex and Children’s Village here two years ago. While the residents of COTN’s facilities experience higher standards of living than those in the rural areas Jim described, there remains one similarity—a lack of electricity and running water.

For the past eighteen months, Dave and Jim have been coordinating efforts with our staff in Sierra Leone to solve this problem.

“When they built all these buildings, they anticipated installing electricity and water,” said Jim. “All the kitchens and bathrooms have fixtures—there are sinks and toilets—but no running water. The buildings are wired for lights and power, but there’s no electricity.”

“There is a well three-quarters of a mile from the complex,” said Dave. Currently, water is hand-pumped from the well and carried back to the complex, where it is stored in large barrels, to be used as needed for cooking, toilet flushing, and bucket baths. “Our goal,” he continued, “is to lay a pipe that will bring that water to the kitchens and bathrooms.”

The other half of the plan involves installing a new twenty-four kilowatt diesel-fueled generator to power lights and electrical outlets. “[The generator] will allow the staff to run computers. Lights will allow students to study at night. At seven or eight o’clock over there, it gets pretty dark. It’s going to facilitate them to do a lot more,” said Jim.

“Now,” remarked Dave, “you’re looking at a Banta facility that will support our staff as they raise children, teach students, provide health care, and host banquets, visiting teams, and area conferences. We take for granted having electricity for lights and running water for kitchens and bathrooms. What a blessing it will be for our staff to have these basic amenities.”

But how are the nationals feeling about the project? “They are really excited!” said Jim. “The whole concept of turning on lights, turning on water… Most of the kids come from rural areas; they’ve never lived in this kind of place before.”

The Reverend James Conteh, Children of the Nations’ Communications Director in Sierra Leone, agrees. “This joy is being felt all around the complex,” he said.

But it took a Herculean effort to get this ball rolling. Jim, who coordinated fundraising efforts for the project, said the generator alone cost upwards of $8,000. Children of the Nations has already sent about $15,000 in plumbing and electrical supplies, and more is still needed for hiring labor and other in-country expenses.

Last July, Jim and his wife, Elaine, led a team to Banta to get the actual construction started. Jim laid the foundation for a building to house the generator and finalized the plans for the rest of the construction work. At the same time, Elaine coached the administrative staff on principles and methods of office organization. As a result, Rev. Conteh said, “there is now a feeling of confidence… What a blessing from the Jacksons! They are such a beautiful combination.”

“By now,” Jim said, “the generator house should be almost done.” More work remains, though. “It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs,” Rev. Conteh said. “Talk does not cook rice,” he continued, quoting a Chinese proverb.

Jim plans to take another team of five to ten skilled volunteers this fall or early next year to work alongside the in-country staff as they finish the installation process, but he is having some difficulty getting the team together. “I need to find skilled people who can afford to take that amount of time to go,” he said.

The team seeks a grant to cover airline costs. They would also like to raise funds to cover the in-country team costs and the remaining supplies. If the grant is realized, the cost per person would be about $2,000.

If you would like to contribute to this project or are interested in joining this Venture Team, please contact Dave Schertzer at (360) 698-7227, ext. 1011.