All he can do
For the past three years Pastor Dave Workman of Chico’s Grace Community Church has led a small group of church volunteers on several journeys to improve the lives of people in one of the world’s poorest countries, Sierra Leone in West Africa. Workman got interested in the effort after learning about the conditions in Sierra Leone and visiting the community of Tissana with other church leaders in 2007. He’s been leading his own group of about six church members there twice a year ever since.
Why did you pick a town in Sierra Leone to help?
Because they are in such extreme need. They are the second poorest country in the world, behind Haiti. Sierra Leone’s unemployment rate is at 85 percent and they have virtually no electricity or cars. They had practically a whole generation wiped out or maimed by their 10-year civil war that ended in 2002. The movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio tells a story about the desperation of the country. Most people there are under 30, and life expectancy, due to widespread malaria and other problems, is only 42. The townspeople of Tissana have very little education and virtually no tools, machines or knowledge of farming. It’s a community of nine villages with 3,000 people.
What type of help do you give them?
We dig wells and help give them medical treatment and medicine. We subsidize the one government school and we’re building a 10-acre Christian church farm. We give them things like rice and corn seed, plus simple tools and machines. But we really believe in the motto, “You must build values before you build buildings.” You can’t just throw money at the situation, because that is only a temporary solution.
How do you handle being around such poverty?
You have to have a lot of patience and put your cultural expectations on hold. You can’t really imagine the primitive lifestyles they lead until you are there.
Are they open to Christianity?
Somewhat, even though their main religion is Muslim, and their women are treated like property. We really want to instill Christian principles of love, charity and gratitude. It’s an opportunity to give them light and love. We trust in God that they will improve in their hearts.
What are your future plans for Tissana?
We will visit them three times in 2011. We’ll help build badly needed latrines because without them children get cholera every year due to urinating near the main well. Our 10-year plan is to create a 100-acre church farm for them.