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Planting the seeds of the future (Part 2)

Hindolo Pokawa spoke to Red Wing Kiwanis members last month in preparation of their next trip to Mendoma. Work on the land and the school is underway and Pokawa said he hopes to state classes in September. (photos submitted by Bruce Blair)1 / 2
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On Dec. 5, 2014, the National Ebola Response Centre Media and Communications Office based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, issued a report stating the total cumulative confirmed deaths stood at 1,648.

By Dec. 24, 2015 – the last update available from Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health and Sanitation – the Ebola virus had all but run its course, leaving an estimated nearly 3,600 dead in Sierra Leone alone.

Children in Sierra Leone sat at home, education falling to the wayside while focus centered on efforts to quell the disease's devastating and deadly spread.

Back in Minnesota, Hindolo Pokawa monitored the reports with anticipation – his foundation was ready for its inaugural trip, the early stages of his dream were within reach.

On the ground

“I like semi-adventurous travel,” said Bruce Blair of Welch, recounting his recent visit to the village of Mondema, in the Kenema District of Sierra Leone. Real travel and adventure, he explained, involved guns, or something of the sort.

Blair spent his time surveying the 20-acre plot, walking to and from the site to lay out plans, focusing on solutions to fertility decline, climate change, water stress as well as economic stresses and challenges.

With all these issues facing Sierra Leone's rural residents, feeding a family shouldn't be one, Blair said, which gets to the heart of Pokawa's urgency to start his foundation.

“We want to change that narrative and say children first,” Pokawa said. “It's to begin to tackle the question of nutrition and health.”

Working the land

Throughout the dusty streets, no running water, rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, hoping sickness doesn't take hold, feet functioning as the main mode of transportation, Blair said he was mobbed by friendly curiosity – he was one of the few white people to set foot in the village.

One of the first steps was to clear the land.

Mondema, Blair explained, is part of a chiefdom, which brings with it a stark difference from working on a project like this in the states.

“No building permits, no zoning permits,” he said. “If the chief says yes, you're good to go.”

Another important aspect of getting this project off the ground was community involvement.

Blair said there is an amazing sense of democracy in the village, with meetings regularly attended in the hundreds to cover everything from gardening issues to setting curriculum for the school that's starting to take shape.

One meeting in a neighboring village, which came about after word spread of what was happening in Mondema, drew close to 1,000 people all interested in the new developments.

Seeds for the future

Pokawa said he hopes to have classes begin this fall, with the village already working on making the 7,000-plus bricks which will comprise the walls of the school, with work on the first sustainable permaculture farm in Sierra Leone well underway.

The dream Pokawa envisioned during days stuck in his room at boarding school, the realization of the power of education, the decision to turn in the keys to his Twin Cities cab, are now solidifying themselves in the walls of the school, the land for the farm and in the minds of the people of his village.

“It was one of the most fulfilling aspects of my life,” Pokawa said. “I really feel lucky to have always had this message of this man who brought me out of Zimbabwe and say he hopes he isn't contributing to a brain-drain in Africa and that he can give back in this way.”

The website Pokawa created in early days of his foundation's infancy,, has all pertinent information relating to the project in Mondema.

One of the initiatives is the Seed by Seed, Brick by Brick Campaign. Pokawa's goal is to raise $100,000 over the course of the next year through engaging 1,000 – or more – people to contribute $100 per year.

If reached, the donations would help build the 20-acre permaculture farm, and early childhood education center for 250 children, and help non-adversarial civic engagement and community democracy with rural Sierra Leone.

“It's really a dream come true and it's also a reality of what I've always thought of myself,” Pokawa said.  

Read Part 1 of the story here

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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