By Joanna Wisniecka, GenR: LA President
At the end of January 2018, four GenR members from Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, accompanied by IRC staff, traveled to Sierra Leone to visit the IRC’s programs and see their impact firsthand.
There were many instances throughout each day that could be their own story. Each one is full of inspiring and resilient people, heartbreaking moments, the power of community, tears, infectious laughter, singing, dancing, and so much more. For now, I’ll share only a few of my lasting impressions.
In Freetown, we visited one of three Rainbo Centres—the only clinics in the country that provide free counseling, medical, and legal support for victims of sexual assault. It is an initiative started by the IRC, which now runs on its own through local leaders.
In Bo and Kenema, we drove many bumpy and adventurous miles to remote villages and saw education programs supported by the IRC. We met groups of dedicated mothers, teachers, and others local leaders who have been empowered to invest in their children’s future and community at large. We heard stories of violence endured by women and girls when visiting with the IRC’s Women Action Groups and Adolescent Girls Programs in these communities, and were left humbled and inspired by their resilience and drive to unite for action.
With each visit we were greeted with warm and celebratory welcomes—often with beautiful singing and dancing. The trust in and gratitude for the IRC was clearly evident. The local IRC staff, who live among the people they are helping, are intensely dedicated to this work and provide the tools and resources needed to empower villagers to invest in their own communities.
In one village, we saw men, women, and children all come together on a blistering hot day to build a school house with materials provided by the IRC. In another, we spoke with a mothers group, which started small enterprises with guidance and initial funding from the IRC so they could generate enough income to help the most vulnerable children in their village attend school. When they spoke about these achievements, they beamed with pride.
We also had fun and made lasting friendships! We laughed, recorded new dance moves in an impromptu music video, and sampled local food. We ate delicious seafood (think giant freshly grilled lobster on the beach), foofoo (fermented cassava dough), and hearty stews (potato leaf and groundnut soup).
Undoubtedly, as a result of the trip, we will be even more passionate IRC supporters, committed humanitarians, and compassionate neighbors in our own communities and beyond.