Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What You Might Experience Running An Internship In Sierra Leone

Think Build Change Salone Internship Program
Review 2007

The Think Build Change Salone (TBCS) Internship Program began in May 2007 with advertisements on local radio stations informing the public about the program. Students were asked to pick up their applications on Sanders St and to return them by the deadline.
The citizen media aspect of the program did not begin until October.

The demand for the participation in the internship program was incredible. With only 12 internship positions available over 500 students stormed the offices to pick applications. I thought that the application was self explanatory but I found myself having information sessions about the applications with students. Many students who came for the application did not understand the meaning of the word internship but they came nonetheless to apply. Though the demand for applications was high, less than 50% of the applications picked up were returned completed. When we sat down to read the applications there were only 114 applications. Of those who returned their applications completed the women candidates were less than a dozen.

The Selection Process
To select the interns I along with a Think Build Change Salone volunteer from Slovenia Dr. Natasa Hrastnik, my mother, and my aunt a local teacher read the applications. We rated the applications 1-5, five being excellent. The majority of the applicants earned between 1 and 2 stars. Though the structure of the application was such that you had to attach an essay many of the applicants did not complete that section of the application. Additionally, while the majority of the applicants were at University, very few of them could construct comprehensive sensible sentences. Reading some of the applications was tedious to say the least. Whereas my previous experience in the States was the students at my university were likely to already have an idea of they wanted to do as community service or social work the applicants for the internship seemed to lack ideas on the types of activities they wanted to be involved in. When asked to explain the type of social contribution they would like to make most students could not say more than “I want to sensitize the youth”. “Sensitization” was the most popular activity cited as community service. When asked during interviews to give synonyms of the word sensitize many could not. There are a lot of development catch phrases and ideas that get circulated around by either Non Governmental Organizations or the government and the young people whose applications I read seemed to pick them up quite easily and use them though they did not understand the full spectrum of the issues. Take for example one of the interns that I chose for the Internship; Daniella Wilson, in her essay she had written about child labour from those being put in the streets by adults to sell water or to help them in their petty trade, to young girls in prostitution. During her interview, I asked her what she would say to those families who say that they were so poor that every member of the family had to be economically active or they risked starvation. She seemed boggled by the idea that poverty and not always cruelty was attached to some people’s decision to make their children work. Though her thoughts were in the right place I wasn’t sure that she had critically thought about child labour, instead I felt that she was telling me what she may have been told.

The Interview
A part of the selection process was an interview conducted for the 25 or so students who were above the rest in grades and strength of their essay. We conducted the interviews over the period of one week with each students allotted 30mins to talk about themselves and their applications. Across the board, the students were very poor at expressing themselves orally and they even had difficulty elaborating on ideas they might have presented in their papers. Very few of them were comfortable being interviewed. While we were reading the applications, we noticed two versions of the same application with two different names but very similar answers. We invited both students in for interviews as the application was strong. We asked them in at the same time and explained to them that they had similar applications which included the same quotation at the start of their essay. They denied any knowledge of each other and so we interviewed them again separately. During the interview it was obvious that one of the students Edward Chaka owned every bit of his application, he was a student at the Medical School (COMAHS) and we ended up choosing him as an intern. The other student could not construct sentences in English and we figured he may have gotten the information on Edward’s application from a public café. Some students with strong applications were even better in person. For example Kadie Kandeh a 28year old student studying Nutrition (who was a year older than our 27 year cut off) talked about her experience giving nutrition advice in her community and in conversation with her we discussed the possibility of creating a nutrition guide for families using cheap local ingredients. She explained that with cases of malnutrition, many times mothers were as much victims as their children because of certain beliefs that the husband should get the best parts of the meal.
During the interview process we were supposed to narrow the interns down to 10-12 but after deliberation we could not reduce past 14. Two students that may not have been included otherwise were chosen because they seemed like they really needed an opportunity not just to work but also to earn money. I chose 14 students for the internship being well aware that our funds only budgeted for 12 students.

Finding Host Organisations

The initial effort to find host organizations for the interns started in New York while I was planning the Internship program. I went to the DACO-Sierra Leone Encyclopaedia online and searched their NGO directory to get a better idea of NGOs and their activities. On the Encyclopaedia the NGOs were listed by name, focus areas, district, etc. I discovered that the information on most of the NGOs was very much outdated and most did not have any information past 2005. I created my own database of all the NGOs and categorized them by their activities with the understanding that if someone wanted to do community service with a focus on the Enviroment or women’s rights that I could just print out a sheet with the list of those NGOs and contact them. While I was in NY I drafted an email to about 40 local NGOs with email addresses culled from the encyclopaedia and all but maybe 5 came back to me as incorrect. Of those 5 unreturned I got one response.

So long before I came to Sierra Leone, I had hypothised that finding host organizations would be the most difficult part of the project. After I chose the interns we had a group meeting at the conference room at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where I gave them forms to choose the types of community services wanted to engage in. A handful of the interns put down banks and I had to explain that this was a social development internship and so we were not going to place anyone with banks.

In addition to my web search for host organizations I thought it would be useful and maybe easier to go to the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA) to see if they could provide me with a list of NGOs implementing some of their development projects. The commissioner directed me to a department within NACSA called PADCO-Peace & Development Corps. In PADCO I spoke with David Lahai and Kate Press (a VSO volunteer from Canada). PADCO is a national volunteering program that placed college graduates with local councils all over the country in a volunteering capacity with stipends and trained them on the job for a period of two years. I explained to them about what I was looking for and I discovered that NACSA implementing partners were no longer NGOs, but mostly construction companies and contractors either building schools, clinics, WATSAN, or markets (a couple years earlier this was not the case).

In the end, my visit to NACSA was not helping with finding host organization but I was able to place an intern (Sahr Joseph) with PADCO to work in the office and also help them organize training workshops for their local council volunteers and do a documentary using a camcorder from our Global Voices Citizen Media Project.

Slowly and surely I started to become frustrated at my futile attempts at finding NGOs willing to take interns. My third and final strategy was to keep an eye out for NGOs that I had heard off and or seen their signs in town. I picked out a handful of NGOs including Finance Salone, Handicap International’s National Rehabilitation Center, The Center for Victim’s of Torture, The Talking Drum Studio, Campaign for Good Governance, Children’s Learning Services, Save Heritage & Rehabilitate (SHARE), United Rural Women’s Association, Women In Crisis Movement, Organisation for the Homeless & Disabled Mano River Women’s Peace Network, The Cotton Tree Foundation, NACSA’s Peace & Development Corps, and three others that I can not remember. I drafted a letter to the different NGOs on my list in which I explained the internship program, Sierra Visions, and Global Voices Online. I thought that it would be an incentive to host interns if I highlighted that organizations did not need to pay the interns because Sierra Visions was going to bear the responsibility of intern stipends. I personally went to deliver the letters to the different organizations with the hope that I would get an opportunity to speak with a representative at the organisation giving them a chance to ask me additional questions that may arise before they received the letter. I could not find the offices of some of the NGOs…they seemed to no longer be in existence. My attempt at getting host organizations was a bit disappointing. I was able to get a commitment from five (5) organizations (Talking Drum Studio, Mano River Women’s Peace Network, NACSA, The Cotton Tree Foundation, AccessPoint Africa (a telecom company willing to take an intern) though I had fourteen (14) interns. I tried to follow up with several organizations but either got full and final “no” to my request or I got the run around “ come back tomorrow” and gave up.

The Elections
Between the months of June and October business and institutional operations in Sierra Leone were almost at a standstill. Several NGOs were reluctant to make commitments because they were to close prior and after the elections until they were aware of the security status in the country. For those who had actually been given positions with host organizations they could not actually begin their internships until after the first and second round of the elections once we were aware that there would be a run off. Although the internships could not begin until after the elections the interns met biweekly for discussion sessions on the state of affairs and small workshops on internship expectations. Interns were as emerged in the election process as the rest of the country so we organized a debate between the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress (APC) supporters. I explained the format of the debate to the interns and assigned different parts of the debate to them. It was a really interesting and educational experience as the debate enabled me to assess the various levels of the interns. Though the students on the SLPP team won the debate, the APC party won the first and second round of the elections. The elections were an obstacle to the projects timely implementation.

The Failed Partnership with Celtel
Before I came to Sierra Leone I was under the impression that Sierra Visions would take over the operations and implementation of Celtel’s “Come. Back Home” and “Build Our Nation” campaigns. When I arrived in Freetown I began working with one of the program coordinators at the Celtel Academy. It was a long tedious process with constant changes and meetings. I was willing to put in all the work necessary to come to an agreement with the Celtel Academy because I knew that once we reached the agreement the interns would then be able to receive computer training at the Celtel Academy. As part of the Global Voices Online Citizen Media Outreach Project that I had proposed the interns were supposed to (1) become computer literate (2) receive their Media Outreach Training (3) Blog about their experience (4) teach others how to blog by conducting workshops.

After three months of back and forth with the Program Coordinator from Celtel’s Academy we had come no closer to reaching an agreement though we had fulfilled our end of the bargain which were to write the proposal with budget, develop training content, and draft a Memorandum of Understanding. Every week I called Mr. Maada-Squire he would say next week, and next week never came. However, during the process he wrote me an email where he asked me to borrow him $400 for the funeral arrangements of his uncle who he said had just past away. I must admit that I did feel sorry for him and I would have loaned him the money. I didn’t loan him the money though and explained to him that I thought it was unethical for him to ask me for money because we were in the process of signing a contract. I told him that I did not want it to appear that I had paid him to close the contract. I also advised him to not get into the habit of writing emails to loan money as people could use it to blackmail him hence destroying his career. I told him that I would not discuss it with anyone. He wrote back apologising for having made the request and requested that I let the conversation end with us. He had told me that the hold up on the agreement was that his supervisor the director of Celtel’s Academy was on maternity leave and one day he gave me the date of her return. When she did return however, there was still no progress.

The interns were really disappointed as week after week I could not give them a concrete response as to when their computer training would start at Celtel. I finally gave up on our partnership with Celtel after the Presidential Election run off. When I realised that there would be no progress on the Celtel-Sierra Visions partnership I confessed to a colleague that Maada had written me an email asking me for a loan. And she in turn admitted that he had also sent her an email requesting a loan from her. We never continued the conversation with celtel and last I heard Celtel was prosecuting Maada Joe Squire for the theft of some 40 computers from the Academy. The lack of access to computers was probably the biggest obstacle to the projects implementation because it actually prevented the interns from becoming computer literate and participating in the Global Voices Rising Voices Citizen Media Project. We tried doing some work at internet cafes but it was not ideal for learning and most internet cafes did not like the idea of more than one person to a computer and we did not have access to a projector.

(Check Back soon for the complete Review & Plans for TBCS 2008)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kadie Kandeh on the Conference on the Status of the Implementation of TRC- Truth & Reconciliation Commission Recommendations

My Role as Member of Technical Committee in Planning for Truth Reconciliation Commission Recommendations.

I represented MARWOPNET at meeting to plan for a Stakeholders Conference on the Status of Implementation of Truth and Conciliation Commission (TRC) Recommendation on the 5th October 2007, at Human Rights Commission Sierra Leone (HRSL).

The Human Rights Commission in collaboration with United Nations Integrated Office Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) planned for a Stakeholder Conference in implementing TRC recommendations which was held on the 19th and 20th November 2007 at the Bank Complex Kingtom, Freetown.

I represented MARWOPNET together with Civil Society Organizations in planning for the Conference. In planning for this day, various sub-committees were formed like; Secretarial committee, Media and Publicity Committee, Printing and Distribution committee, Catering Committee, and Budget committee. Since my organization was in the secretarial committee, below is our duties we performed for the planning of the conference.
Secretariat Committee – Members- Amnesty International, UNIOSIL, FAWE and MARWOPNET – responsibilities – Participants in putting together a budget proposal for the conference; Source funding that is required to facilitate the program; Monitors to ensure proper accountability and transparency with regards to funds deposited in the conference basked fund are used for the intended purpose; and provide the conference working documents like invitation letters, minutes taking and preparing report after the conference.

We held series of meetings in planning for conference, the original date for the conference was the 14th and 15th November 2007, but for the Inauguration of the President, it was shifted to 19th and 20th 2007, at the Bank Complex Kingtom. We were working relentlessly to meet this day, all arrangements were successful. MARWOPNET and FAWE (Forum for African Women Educationalists) were overseeing the food served by the Caterer.

On the Opening Ceremony on the Tuesday 19th 2007,

On the Monday 19th 2007, Opening of the Conference, we ushered participants to their respective seats. The program began with Christian and Muslim prayers. The Chairman of the Human Rights Commission welcomed participants and highlighted the purpose of the conference.

ERSG of UNIOSIL said that for nearly 10 years Sierra Leone was at war with itself which virtually destroyed not only the institutions of Government, but also the very socio-economic and cultural fabric that held this country together.

Formal Chairman or TRC, Bishop Humper, giving the Keynote Address recommend that, it is his fervent hope and prayer that at the end of the Conference Sessions, tangible actions would be recommended for the faithful implementation of recommendation of the Commission (TRC). The object of the Commission in accordance with its mandate (Section 6:1) of the TRC “to create an impartial historical record of violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law related to armed conflict in Sierra Leone”.

The support ultimate implementation of this program will go a long way to satisfying the needs of our victims. The Civil Society Organizations are positioned in the country to undertake the lobby with government and internal communities for the realization this goal.

The President of the Amputee and War Wounded Association on behalf of victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone said “It is always importance to present a clear picture of what the victims are going through at the moment. A good number of amputee, war widow and children have been forced into begging in our main street victims of sexual violence continue to suffer in silence due to the difficulties in accessing health care and in some cases due to the lack of health care facilities.

His Excellency the President Ernest Bai Koroma was suppose to do the formal opening of conference, but due to some circumstances he sent the Minister of Works, Mr. John Saad to do the formal opening of the conference. A member of the Technical Committee gave the vote of thanks at the of the opening.

In the Plenary Sessions the objectives of the conference was discussed, presentation of the matrix on the status of implementation and creation of working groups and discussion on working guidelines. Since I was placed in group 3, this group includes Children, Women and Youths. We were placed in this group because, MARWOPNET engaged in mainstreaming women’s voices and active participation in conflict prevention, management, engendered post conflict reconstruction and peace building. As a civil society organization our role was to discuss the recommendation under women, youth and children. To see how far government has gone in implementing the recommendations, make vital suggestions on those that have not been implemented and make recommendations.

At the end of the conference a Communiqué was read and corrected which is to be given to government, UN, International Organizations.

It was an educative program, it gave me the opportunity to know about various civil society organizations and interact with so many. What interested me was the discussions between the civil society groups on various topics.

At the closing of conference, we were recognized the Technical Committee for making the conference a success.

Food was good and delicious, served three times a day. This conference broadened my horizon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My internship documentary experience of sierra leone

Sierra Vision Think Build Change Salone Internship 2007
My Experience of Sierra Leone
At my placement one of my terms of reference was to put together a documentary on the Peace and Development Corp volunteers work at placement for which I have to travel to all the district of Sierra Leone. This is my experience.
My first trip was to the Eastern province of Sierra Leone
Eastern province is made up of three districts Kenema, Kailahun and Kono

Kenema is the provincial head quarter town of the eastern province and my trip with PADCO was challenging and learning. The people are mostly mende and their productive activity is mining and agriculture. The town is overseen by the Kamboi hills.
The PADCO volunteer working in kenema work with the district council and the city council their activity are mostly to help council in project writing and administration interviewing them develop my understanding of council activities and how council is raising funds to carry out project. They council work on community driven project like constructing bridges, schools, latrines and community centers the process of carrying out these activities where fully explain in the interviewing and such actually raised my understanding of how these councils are complementing the decentralization process of the central authority
From the trip I was able to understand that Kenema provides a lot of revenue to government in the area of mining as the town is full with Diamond buying shops. But the most shocking scene is that though the town can boast of providing government with huge sum of revenue but such is not reflective on the lives of the people as poverty is clearly seen in terms of basic necessities of live(poor housing facilities, people complain of food items being expensive and cannot afford such and shattered clothing on the people). There are not good road network around and not much improve infrastructure and not much job facilities seen for youth and the educational level of the youth is not much high and the few jobs available are occupied by guys from other areas specifically from the Capital.
After Kenema I then travel to Kailahun
The name is derive from a mende word Kai-la-hun meaning put hoe into the ground the people are mostly mende and their major productive activities is agriculture From the land mark there is still the fabric of the war as most of the houses burnt down during the war are still seen around and the youth are seen roaming the township idle interviewing the PADCO volunteers I came to realize that the council activities are mostly the same as to Kenema and the major project being accomplished by the council is the construction of bridges being destroy during the war and the PADCO volunteer work is to monitor the council activities and also help in project writing I realized during this visit that Agriculture is the major activity of the people and they are hardly seen around during the day as young and old are off to their farm and are only seen at night.
We did not visit Kono though it is my hometown

My second trip was to the Southern province
Southern province is made up of Bo (the district head quarter town), Moyamba, Bonth and Pujehun.

We first travel to moyamba. The town name is derived from from a mende word meaning send us something. The town is mende dominated and their productive activity is agriculture but surprisingly for me the town is full with literate people as most farmers can also read and write the town has one of the best girls school in the country (Harford school for girls)
Interviewing the PADCO volunteers in terms of their work I came to develop my capacities of knowing Moyamba as a town of distinct different as the have highly educated personnel who are origins of the town are willing to work in their town and frankly looks at work concerning their towns development as unique to be carry out by them only and others coming to the scene are seen as spy and such create my understanding of the various kind of work condition that awaits a student upon graduation and bosses are different and work condition not always smooth.

After Moyamba I travel to Bo
As the name imply from a mende word Bu-wo-lo meaning it is yours. The town is highly exposed as the capital the town can boast of a University (Njala university) and full electricity and road networks the town is pre-dominantly mende people. Their major productive activity is mining and Agriculture.
Interviewing the PADCO volunteers I came to realized that their council work is more challenging as they are trying to compete with the capital in terms of providing basic facilities for the populace and that their major task at the council is helping in project writing and monitoring and evaluating council project and major among the work was the construction of a town council and a community recreational center.
Agricultural activity are mostly seen around the chiefdom towns and villages and within the township there are many Diamond buying shops and the council is benefiting from revenue raised from these business men who carry out these work and the funds are used to carry out council planned activity. From the volunteers I came to realized that government dose provides subsidies but are actually not enough as the task of keeping to the demand of the people means increase spending and money to expend are got from the revenue raised from the business sector operating within the township which complement government subsidies.
From Bo I travel to Mattu-Jong the district headquarter town of Bonth
The people are mostly shrebro and their productive activity is fishing, as the town is an island. The town has a nursing school attracting trainee nurses from other areas of the country the district produce the finest coconut oil in the country.
Interviewing the PADCO volunteers I came to have an insight of the council activity in the district. Their major activities are mostly in sensitization thus raising the understanding of the people about the various diseases around (HIV/AIDS) and also the construction of a commu8nity school.
The Volunteer work was mostly project wring and monitoring and evaluating the work of council.

My third trip was to the North province
Northern province is made up of Bombali (the provincial head quarter district) Tonkolili, Port-loko, Kambia and Koinadugu.

I first travel to Port-loko as the town is pre dominantly Temne town and their productive activity is trade in fishing product and agricultural produce the town has a polytechnic college the volunteer work is the assist council with administrative work thus helping bin project writing evaluating council work their major on going project was constructing a new council office the town lacks electricity and good road and the town is dull and there are not much relaxing centers at people get to bed earlier education is realized as important for development as most aimed at getting to the polytechnic college top further studies.
After Port-loko I travel to Kambia
Kambia is a border town for Sierra Leone and Guinea and much trade activity is going on between the two countries at that town, It is a mixed flavored town with Temnes, Fullas and others sharing the land on trade but the town is actually not develop as the road getting there is bad
Interviewing the volunteer I came to realized that the council work is on construction of schools and rehabilitating the roads and the PADCO volunteer work is to help in project writing and monitoring the work and evaluating it.
After Kambia I travel to Makeni (Bombali district town)
Makeni is the finest and most expose northern province town pre dominantly Temne whose major productive activity is trade
The volunteer task at this placement is challenging and I came to learned from the volunteer of bills of quantities and they volunteers work on these and some of the project which have just being approve and was wrote by the volunteer and the process of gaining a project approved the council have worked on an estate of recreational facility including guest house restaurant and a lawn for tennis, basket ball and volley ball.
From the visit I learned about council partnership system to raised fund, as they don’t have endow natural resources and the politicking at work place and how to cope and with these challenges.
I then travel to Kabala (the district town of Koinadugu)
The town is occupying by kurankos and fullas and their major productive activity is cattle rearing and palm wine trade. The district provide 80% of the country meat
Interviewing the volunteer I came to realize that council almost used the volunteer for the same purpose but that the methods of raising revenue is different as they get their revenue from cattle owners an d the volunteer work is helping council collecting these revenue
High mountains surround the town and the district is the coolest
My documentary visit to the provinces have actually increase my understand of the provinces and how decentralizing work is being complemented by council and how working condition is like and the challenges of the different kind of bosses that one may encounter during work. Amazing among my discovery of Sierra Leone is that my country is a beautiful country and such build my interest of working in Sierra Leone to aid in developing my country.

Sahr Emmanuel Joseph (Njala University)
Intern Think Build Change Salone Internship 2007