STEM in Salone

The primary goal of our relationship with the Annie Walsh is to improve their science labs so that the faculty can deliver a richer STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) experience for the girls.  The government of Sierra Leone is committed to encouraging more females to enter these fields as well.  Resources are a problem.  But resourcefulness can go a long way to overcome those.  That is something to continue to work on in the future.

Last year with the help of contributions to a “Go fund me” site we were able to ship a neat electrophoresis kit designed for STEM education.  Thanks to the folks at Bio-Rad for developing the kit.  We could not use the kit last year since the labs were still being refurbished.  As expected the kits had not been opened when we arrived this year, so we were anxious to use the kits this time.  There were still hurdles to overcome – distilled water is a given in most science labs but there is no still or other water purifying system; no reliable electrical supply or Bunsen burners for heating solutions, and no balance for weighing reagents.  With a little “eye-balling,” the key reagent, agarose, was measured not really weighed, we decided that the local bottled water would probably work for our solutions (all part of experimentation) and there was a coffee pot and power across campus in the computer lab. Bringing the water to a boil in the coffee pot worked great but alas did not quite get the agarose into solution after walking back to the biology lab.  Returning to the computer lab in the hopes of reheating the solution, we found that the power had gone out.  After thirty minutes or so of waiting, we gave up for the day.

electro 1

The next day, going back to more basic means of heat, Mr. Kamara, the biology teacher, showed how they heat materials.   With a little skepticism we set our flaskelectro flask on burner on the “burner” and before long had a nice boil and successfully dissolved the agarose.  From there out it was pretty smooth sailing.  As you can see the electrophoresis worked perfectly.electro 3

Crusin’ along in the Yutong 宇通客车

Thursday we headed out of town to Makeni which is 135 km (~ 85 miles) and three hours ENE from Freetown.  Four Annie Walsh students and three teachers accompanied us on a visit to the University of Makeni.   We discovered upon arriving that word had not made it to the administration so they were not expecting us.  Nonetheless, the Estate Director, whom we would call a facilities manager gave us a nice tour of the campus.  The school is a private university and has only been in operation since 2008.  Prior to that it was St. Stephen’s Boys School.

We loaded back up in the Yutong, our Chinese made bus, and headed back down the road to ADDAX, a biofuel company that produces biofuel mostly ethanol from sugar cane.  Munching away on PB&J, we bounced along in the Yutong on a road so rutted it could serve as a test track for suspension systems.  After 20 or so minutes of spinal compression, we arrived at a huge plant out in the middle of nowhere.ABE-2014-16_Factory_Overview_640x680_for_gallery (Images from  One of the engineers gave us a history of the operation in Sierra Leone from its inception to the first production run within the last month. The plant occupies farm land belonging to the Sierra Leoneans, but according to our host they have worked through most of the social and cultural conflicts and implemented programs to help the local villages.

Next we boarded the coaster (a Toyota bus) for a tour of the fields to see how they grow the cane.  A ride through the plant gave us a sense of the scale of the operations and the processes of crushing, purifying, fermenting and distillation. ABE-2011-01-Center-pivots-low-rez Not much goes to waste since they burn the left over cane to produce electricity and use the some of the remnants of the fermentation for fertilizing the fields.  All in all it appears to be a sustainable project.

The ride to and from Makeni showed us a different view of the countryside.  We passed numerous villages in an area that is rich farming country.  There were newly plowed fields in several areas anticipating the planting season.  This region has substantial areas of bottomland that makes it good for growing rice.  There are also gently rolling hills that are farmed.

The Wet Is Here

From Tuesday evening until Thursday morning we had periods of torrential rain that let us know that we are at the start of the wet season.  The other season in Salone is the dry season.waterfall normal  The wet season will run until about November corresponding to our hurricane season.  (This region of the coast of West Africa is the starting point for many of the hurricanes that cross the Atlantic and make their way to the US mainland.)  As the rains fell the small cascade that we can see across the ravine behind Lacs quickly grew into a raging river colored with eroded red clay.  This type of rain waterfall rainbrings some misery to the many people who live close to and down in the low areas of the city.  The rising water carries with it all kinds of detritus that the locals simply toss aside.  In addition to it being deposited along the creek banks, it ends up cluttering the streets and flowing into the harbor and surrounding rivers.  It is a public sanitation problem that agencies are working to solve.waterfall debris

We de tri tok Krio

Even though English is considered the official language of Sierra. Leone, Krio is the language of the people. It looks a little like English and sounds a little like English, but English it is not….just ask us!

Read the following sentence aloud:    Wetin na yu nem? Sounds a little like English, right? You can probably make out something that sounds like what, you and name and if you had to guess you’d be spot on if you thought someone was asking your name. Your response would be: Mi nem _________.   Doesn’t seem THAT hard, does it?

We have been working on our basic greetings and simple sentences and luckily the Sierra Leonean people are not only friendly but get a real kick out of us trying to ‘tok Krio’( talk Krio) and help us on a daily basis. Krio 3

One morning at Annie Walsh we were invited to come to a Krio language class for the JSS (middle school) students. We jumped at the chance.

60 (yes,we counted) girls were crammed into a hot room as we made our way to the back.

The initial translation was put on here board and all the girls immediately went to work putting this into English.  Give it a try:

Krio 2

We were then given the opportunity to give the girls sentences in English that they had to translate into Krio and then they gave us (gulp!) sentences to translate from Krio to English. It was a blast and we did pretty well!

We only have a few more days to work on the language so a de go naw, wi go tok bak!


Happy Birthday Jack!

The staff at Lacs Villa are exceptionally friendly and accommodating.  The students have made friends of them all.  Those that we see the most at Bailor, Ibrahim, Patricia and Jack.  The students found out that today, Tuesday the 19th, is Jack’s birthday.  So when he arrived on the scene to help with breakfast Jack was presented a bottle of liquid refreshment (he’s 26) and was given a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.Jack's b'day

Bunce Island – an island of misery and sorrows

Today was our trip to Bunce Island (, ) a major site of slave trading along the African coast from the 1600s.  We enjoyed a two hour ride in a traditional style fishing boat in beautiful weather.  The forecast for rain produced only a few light sprinkles. The lightheartedness of the boat ride turned serious when we arrived at Bunce.  Our guide, Abdullah Sankoh, had us accompany him in a prayer for all those who died and suffered as a result of the slave trading and accompany him in the chorus of a traditional song.  He then provided an expert tour of the ruined fort and the people involved in both establishing and finally abolishing trade on Bunce.  We learned that a different island was originally used to house the captured slaves but it was too large and too close to the mainland so many escaped.  Bunce is smaller and more isolated and became to home to tens of thousands of slaves over the decades.  Estimates run as high as 40-50,000 per year were captured and sold at Bunce.  As the slave trade grew so did the fort.  Traders would live above the ground floor where slaves were kept in miserable, crowded conditions.  Slaves were branded to indicate who had bought them and their destination in the Americas.  Once sold to a trader slaves received better treatment since an  unhealthy slave would not bring as much money when sold in the Americas.  Bunce is an island that leaves you reflecting on man’s inhumanity to man and asking why it still goes on.

Many of the slaves of Sierra Leone were sold to plantation owners in South Carolina and Georgia to grow rice.  Rice was a major crop then as it is today for Sierra Leoneans so their skills at growing rice was valued.  Today the Gullah who live on the sea islands of SC and GA are direct descendants of Sierra Leoneans.  The seagrass baskets that are sold in the markets of Charleston, SC look exactly like the ones sold here in the Big Market in Freetown.

After the tour of the island we returned to a sumptuous lunch at the Aqua Club where we had begun our trip.


So we have just completed day four of our ten day journey through Sierra Leone. And as I sit here writing our daily blog we are having a “battle of the bands” between the wedding across the street and the people in downtown Freetown. There always seems to be a party in this country!

Today we had a little extra time for some (much needed) sleeping in. I woke up to huge thunder and lightning storms that raged on for most of the night. The rain subsided and we set off for the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.chimp sign

Tacaguma is a rainforest-like reserve working towards rehabbing previously owned “pet” chimps to be reintroduced into the wild. The immense facility is located up a very steep hill side with immense vegetation as far as the eye can see. We took a tour of the facility with our tour guide, Moses.

Moses guided us through the four levels of chimp reintroduction. We started at the first level, or the medical level of the chimps. In level one the chimps are quarantined for ninety days to observe their health and ensure they will not endanger the other chimps already in the reserve. We then went to level two where the chimps are introduced to other new chimps. This part of the process is to encourage the chimps to become friends with one another. If the process is successful, the new packs of chimps are moved to level three. Level three is also known as the “acrobatic” level, as the chimps are very active and curious of their surroundings. In level three the chimps begin to learn new skills like tree climbing and engaging with other chimps. Once a chimp passes level three, level four is the final step before being reintroduced into the wild. Level four chimps are given more land to roam to encourage more tree climbing and to simulate more natural behavior. In level four the chimps are reduced from seven feedings a day to four, to encourage them to search for their own food sources like in the wild.chimp 2

We were discussing various topics with Mr. Moses, but the most interesting “fun fact” of the day surprised me: chimps are not allowed to mate within the facility. Although the facility is trying to repopulate the chimps, the workers actually administer birth control to the female chimps. Small rods are implanted in the female’s arm, much like human birth control, to prevent over population of the facility. This is to encourage the chimps to reproduce in the wild and conserve the resources of the facility to accommodate other rescued chimps.

After our tour was completed, we sat down to enjoy a nice lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with some Pringles. Hey, everyone needs a taste of home from time to time! While we were eating, a large truck unloaded pounds and pounds of fresh bananas. I asked one of the workers who told me they receive a truck load of fresh bananas every Saturday and the entire truckload only lasts one week among the chimps. That’s a lot of food to go through!

After we left Tacugama, we went to explore the Big Market. I have never been so overwhelmed by shopping in my entire life. The natives are carting you around like you are royalty trying to get you to shop at their section. They are very pushy and will not take no for an answer. I walked around like a lost puppy dog and tried my best to barter with these seasoned veterans. I guess I wasn’t too bad and ended up with some tapestries, a traditional mahogany mask, shoulder bag, and some bracelets with a lot of extra Leones to spare.

Written by Leigh

Rocks, painters, questions and games.

We started our day going to the super market. It was interesting to see how many things we found in common along with the differences that set us apart in the everyday super market. After a bumpy ride to the Annie Walsh school we were prepared for a day of service, but we weren’t exactly sure what tasks we would be performing. We started out helping some of the girls pick rocks out of an area that is being prepared to become a garden. Then we enjoyed some cassava leaves for lunch. We painted one of the school buildings and we conducted several interviews with the girls. Some of us got a group of girls together to play games. We played a mix of games from the states and learned new games.

The girls are so happy that we are here! After playing some games we asked them some interview questions. Each girl values their education so much. It makes you think twice about complaining about going to class and studying everything. This is something they look forward to. We all learned from today and looking forward to our chimpanzee habitat tour tomorrow and surviving the packed streets of the market. Stay tuned for more to come!

Written by Heather.

First full day in Salone

Today was filled with formalities. After a quick jaunt up to the US Embassy to make sure they would be open this afternoon, we headed down to the Bishop’s Court for a meeting with the Rt. Reverend Thomas Wilson, the bishop of the Freetown diocese. The AWOGANS (Annie Walsh Old Girls Association) were out in force to welcome Queens back to Freetown. Friendships were renewed by Drs. Collins and Rhodes and new ones made by Dr. Smith-Pariola and the students.

The Annie Walsh School ( )has its roots in the Anglican church having been founded by Anglican missionaries in 1849. Thus, the Anglican church has had a strong influence on the school and as in our previous two times we met with the bishop to initiate our visit. After a couple of reports from the AWOGANS and words of gratitude for the help that Queens is trying to provide, we adjourned for photos and conversation.Bishop's court

From Bishop’s Court we went to the school. As soon as we entered the gates the Annie Walsh students were waving at the bus, shouting and cheering. Clearly we were expected. We gathered in the foyer of the entrance to the main building for another short program of welcomes, thanks for Queens relationship with The Annie Walsh and a handing over of the keys to the refurbished labs from the AWOGANS to the school principal, Ophelia Williams. The AWOGANS have financed refurbishing the labs for biology, chemistry and physics which had been in a state of disrepair since the civil war ended in 2001. Our “rock star” status continued outside as we proceeded from the main hall down to the biology lab for a formal dedication. The Annie Walsh girls formed columns along the drive and as we walked between them they clapped and clapped and clapped. And, when they stopped clapping the teachers got them to clap some more. Once in the lab the bishop offered a prayer, sprinkled holy water and formally dedicated the lab. This was done for each of the three labs. All of this was a moving demonstration of the connection between the church. the school and the value seen in educating the young women of Sierra Leone particularly in the sciences.

Lunch time! We had a great meal of black-eyed pea stew (yummy but spicy), acara (kind of like a hush-puppy) and sweet potatoes. The bishop joined us for lunch and surprised a number of our students by his outgoing demeanor and sense of humor. Next was a trip back up the hill overlooking Freetown to the US embassy to register. No problems there except the bathroom was out of toilet paper. Hey, John Kerry, can we get some TP over here?

Student reflections from town:
That lady was carrying a couple of dozen eggs on her head and not one was broken.
A lot of people walking.
Shops everywhere selling everything.
The children are sooo cute!

Posted by Kent Rhodes

Koosheo from Salone!

The group has arrived in Sierra Leone after a relatively uneventful series of flights. There were a couple of ”hurry up and wait” flights in the US as we made our trip from CLT to IDA (Dulles) to JFK. The layover in Brussels gave some of us a chance to get a little sleep before our five hour flight to Freetown. Once again we were greeted by the most helpful Cornelius Thompson (Ms. Yvonne’s nephew) and Mr. Hickson our trusted friend and ever present companion from the Annie Walsh Memorial School. Cornelius whisked us by the customs inspection and outside to meet Mr. Hickson. The transfer from the airport to Lacs Villa, our home for the next several days, was not entirely uneventful. It seems that President Koroma was going to the airport so the ferry across the river from Freetown to the airport was delayed by an hour awaiting his arrival. That threw the ferry schedule off. Another ferry was out of commission due to mechanical problems. So, our ferry was delayed long enough that we would have made the ferry transit after dark. Mr. Hickson was not comfortable with that so we went the long-way-round again this year. However, we had a roomy, air-conditioned, reliable coach and made our journey with ease. If you are wondering why I am making a big deal about the transfer to Lacs, read last year’s blog for a very different adventure.

The staff at Lacs greeted us warmly and despite the late hour fed those of us who wanted dinner. As an indication of the wonderful hospitality that we receive here, the staff all asked about last year’s students, many by name.

This is going to be fun! Oh! and educational.

Posted by Kent Rhodes 15 May 2014