Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Though we had visited the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary back in November we decided to come back for another visit, this time to spend a night at one of the eco lodges in the forest sanctuary. This way we could go on the tour to see the chimpanzees and walk some of the surrounding nature trails.

“The purpose of the sanctuary is to provide a home for confiscated, orphaned chimpanzees. It plays a vital role as part of a larger countrywide program in stopping the pet trade and hunting of wild chimps through education and legal enforcement.”

The sanctuary is located in the Western Area Forest Reserve only a few miles from Freetown. They are trying to halt the deforestation of this area, which is good habitat for rare animals, including wild chimpanzees. It also serves as an important catchment area for fresh water for Freetown. Since the sanctuary is so close to the city developers are already starting to build out their direction. Unfortunately I believe this trend was encouraged by the building of the American Embassy in the hills near the reserve. Soon the European Commission will be there as well. And with this comes a lot of residential building.

The sanctuary consists of seven forested enclosures on 30 acres where over 90 chimpanzees are fed and cared for. More than 4km of electric fence protects them. When the chimpanzees first arrive at the sanctuary they are put in quarantine where they are brought back to good health and then socialized to live with a group. When they are ready they are slowly moved to another enclosure where they live with other chimps, always being observed to make sure that they can get along with the others. Most of the chimps in the sanctuary were former pets or were in the process of being sold. This practice is becoming more rare because it is now illegal to keep chimps as pets and this is being enforced more and more fortunately.

From the balcony of the library you can watch one enclosure, nicely designed with trees, ropes, wooden platforms, old tires… all there to give the chimps something to do. This is also the best place for visitors to watch the chimps who like to climb up the trees, swing on the ropes and old tires. They also seem to like to watch the visitors as much as we enjoy watching them though sometimes they will throw stones at them because as one staff member said “they want to show you who is boss.” But it also may have something to do with the fact that even though the rehabilitated chimps have a good life in their enclosures, they know they are not free to move around in the wild.

It is hoped that some day some of them can be returned to the wild but this is a long process, as safe areas need to be identified in the country. At this time a countrywide survey is going on to identify how many chimps are living in the wild and in what areas.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

new photos by betty

See February entries for new photos by Betty of Sierra Leone school children.

running in sierra leone

Its known as the “Hash.” Every Monday a group of Sierra Leoneans and international folks jog or walk along narrow rocky footpaths that meander among mostly low-income neighborhoods. So many of the city’s modest homes, of cement blocks or tin panels, are located in an un-zoned pattern that paths snake by front porches, along side homes, through compounds.

The amazing thing is that no one seems to mind about runners suddenly dashing by; in fact, there is a genuine good spirited reaction and lot of greetings exchanged. And if you get separated from the group, people point out the way, even guide you on the path. I once got behind and was led past some barking dogs by a child no more than five years of age.

The hash works this way: ‘hares” set a trail dropping bitts of shredded paper to mark it. False trails are marked too, with an X at some short distance down the wrong way. Fast runners get to intersections first and often go down the wrong way, only to turn back. By then, slow joggers have caught up. So you go from being in front to being last. Walkers take a shorter route. Afterwards, the group sings some silly songs and ‘names’ a few runners with a hash name. [I’ve escaped that so far as a relative newcomer.]

But I run several times a week by myself, mostly on both sides of a steep valley that leads to the American Embassy at the high point. Because Obama is so popular here, and perhaps because I wore an Obama t-shirt before the election on some runs, I’ve gotten tagged with the nickname “Obama.” People who see me in my red running shirt call out ‘Obama’ from both sides of the valley. It energizes me on days when I’m tired. I think people just like to exchange greetings; and using the name ‘Obama’ is a nice way to do it.

The other day I ran up a mountain peak behind the Embassy, only about a 12-minute jog, but enough to be a workout. On top the clouds came in and the valley below disappeared from view. It was a quiet moment. I stood there for a while, just enjoying the scene, then jogged back home.

Justice in Sierra Leone

In February 2009, a Special Court with United Nations funding found three former rebel leaders of Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war guilty on multiple counts of crimes against humanity. I sat in the courtroom as the convictions were announced by a three-judge panel.

It was the first time any court had ever convinced someone of forced marriage, a widespread practice during Sierra Leone’s civil war. And this is the first court to ever convict anyone of recruiting child soldiers. The rebels also engaged in mass amputations, seen briefly in the movie “Blood Diamonds.”

The courtroom spectators, separated from the defendants and their lawyers by a thick glass wall, were silent as the convictions were read out. Among the audience were a few victims of rebel amputations, a few members of the military, some international press, and others. The courtroom is in a compound which includes a prison where defendants have been held for – six years, as the trial dragged on. Justice comes, but it comes slowly and at great cost. UN and other workers are highly-paid compared to most people in the world’s poorest country.

But what has happened here, combined with similar results from Rwanda, Bosnia, and now the indictment of Sudan’s President for genocide are sending a message to would-be tyrants: you can run but you cannot hide. We will eventually bring you to justice.

classroom notes: research

Assigning the 155 first-year students to do their first-ever research paper was easy; grading that many papers was not. I asked for 7 pages “double-spaced,” but somewhere that detail got lost: most of the papers were 7-10 pages single-spaced. Topics included child labor, child trafficking, early pregnancies, genocide, the right to be educated, women’s rights, etc.

For the most part they did pretty well. My co-teacher and I spent a lot of time going over research methods, including basics such as abstracts, bibliographies, sourcing, etc. When I required 12 sources (only a few from the internet), there was a wave of protest; but I pointed out they could interview people, including some of the many non-government organizations here dealing with human rights issues. Many did interviews. The best did good sourcing and were analytical; the worst amassed information and stapled it together.

Overall, 90 percent completed the assignment.

classroom notes: community service

When I assigned my 155 first-year students in human rights to do ten hours of community service teaching human rights in local secondary schools, I broke the rules.

In an ideal situation, teachers give a small number of students an ‘option’ to do what is known as service learning. Advance contact with the learning site supervisors, periodic contact during the service, and plenty of time for ‘reflective’ writing by the students: that’s the norm.

But in a country which has been through hell – ten years of civil war that saw massive rape, amputations, civilian massacres, child soldiers, forced marriages, you are not working in a ‘norm'. Also, the students in their required personal statements to me about their life in war and peace (and educational and employment goals) said they wanted to be “human rights activists.” They wanted to make a difference in their own country.

So I gave them a chance.

Despite a flurry of doubts and questions from students, I sent them out to teach human rights. They had to find a school, get permission, prepare their presentations without guidance, and teach basic points about human rights. “When do we go,” some asked? “Whenever you’ve learned enough in our class to go teach it.”

The results: amazing. With just a letter of introduction in hand from our department (which served as a signed verification later from principals that they had done the teaching), they located schools, overcame nervousness, and taught in front of classes as large as 100. Even my blind student completed the assignment. And many, many students said they really loved the opportunity to help their country.

Here are some of the comments from their reports:

(from Mohamed Kabba, who is blind): “…all the children gave one way or the other meaningful contributions…I learned that children of developing African countries should be given utmost attention as they are the future leaders for tomorrow.”

(from Margaret Murray, who also had students complete a questionnaire on human rights knowledge): “…The welcoming was not very good because the children thought I was too young to teach them. The classroom was full of tension but when I started relaxing, they relaxed too. My lesson started with the definition of Child Trafficking…The class was turning into fun, because I have the attention of each and every one of my students…what I found out is this: that most people do not know about child trafficking, which is one serious crime in the whole world.”

(from Sallieu Sesay) “…It was quite challenging, as that was my first time to stand in front of a large class that is over hundred pupils to educate about the doctrine of human rights…”

(from Fatmata A. Alghali), who focused on the right of education for children): “I started and asked them if they have ever heard about “Human Rights” some of them said yes and others say no.” [She went on to engage students in discussions in which emphasis was put on the importance of educating girls and not just boys.]