New Blog by Fr. Themi (Sierra Leone)
The Container has Arrived! – The Agony and the Ecstasy
Posted by Rev Themi on May 28, 2011
The Initial Ambivalent Emotions
When the time for the clearance of a container from overseas draws near the Diocese administration begin to experience sharp and divided ambivalent emotions and a sense of trepidation.
That seems a strange and even bizarre admission. However there are real grounds for our split emotions. First comes the joy of expectations.
Then comes the struggle and anxieties of clearing the container. Followed by a constant effort to keep the goods safe, secure and in the right hands.
Whenever a benevolent group of people abroad – such as the missionary minded youth of the St. George Church of Filiron (near Thessalonica); or, an individual philanthropic organization such as Paradise Kids 4 Africa (Australia) take the rouble to organise the sending of a container to our Diocese in Sierra Leone we inevitably and obviously greet the news with great joy and anticipation. We are delighted and thrilled that our Mission will be the recipient of generous donations of essential food supplies, clothing, furniture, medical equipment, school items, kids’ toys, electronic equipment and other goods for distribution to our schools, staff and the needy.
The Anxiety and Anguish
It may sound strange that in the face of the initial joy and jubilation we are overcome in turn by a sober and even harsh pragmatic reality check.
The reason for this anguish is very simple.
In our past consecutive experiences of clearing containers from the port we have found it a lengthy, painful and expensive event where we inevitably become the victims of unscrupulous opportunism. The process in clearing a container from the port is in these regions of the world is a singularly torrid, gruelling and frustrating event.
In short it is a merciless headache.
PK4A has previously sent over 3 containers full of books and gifts from Australia and unless one knows how to manoeuvre through the multi-dimensional labyrinths of bureaucratic red tape and its idiosyncratic demands the container will remain in port accumulating heavy moorage fines everyday for weeks – while the food items begin to rot.
So the aim of the game is to get the container out as soon as possible with minimal financial damage to the Diocese and our generous sponsors. How do we achieve that?
Our New Approach and Success
Drawing on our past experiences and the lessons we have been taught after several previous false starts we have now mastered the art of minimising the time and cost of clearance. We follow a simple but effective rule.
1. Start the process of clearance early through the arrival of the Bill of Lading and a clear list of items within the container.
2. Appoint the most experienced and “port savvy” member of our administration to handle the process. He needs to be a local who understands the subtleties of the local culture. The presence of a foreigner, especially of European descent, would automatically inflate the financial process. We usually send one of our most dedicated staff members King David Kargbo who works assiduously and relentlessly from morning till evening with a single minded passion to release the container with minimum hurdles.
3. Have as much paper work ready well before the container arrives and ensure that all relevant departments and authorities have been consulted.
4. Pay all bills immediately.
A Container from Thessalonica Arrives
Last week a container arrived from the Church of St. George in Filiron (Thessalonica), Greece. They send us two containers per year. This time we cleared it in record time and with minimal costs. Praise God!
It contained tons of rice (the national staple diet of Sierra Leone), sacks of salt, cooking oil, tomato paste, flour, beans, school furniture, clothing items and medical equipment. In cooperation with the Ministry of Social Welfare and especially with the personal interest shown by the Deputy Minister Mrs. Roslyn Sanko concerning the challenges facing the disabled of this country, we have already started distributing the food items to the community of the disabled (polio and amputee victims) which our Diocese houses in Waterloo at the outer perimeter of Freetown (The St. Moses Orthodox Village) as well as to other disabled groups.
The Holy Orthodox Diocese of Sierra Leone and the Disabled
It is important to note that presently there are no social welfare benefits or allowances in Sierra Leone as in Australia for the physically disabled or challenged. (In Sierra Leone the term “disabled” is employed to designate polio and amputee victims). Consequently their survival to a very large extent relies upon their street begging skills and the generosity of local church organisations or Non-Government Organisations.
It is interesting however that in the three short years of our presence in Sierra Leone, we have become the major ecclesiastical partner in the government’s activities for the disabled of this country. Other church organisation have been reluctant to participate in the affairs of the disabled because of the difficulties they have experienced. Let us not forget that there was a lengthy and barbaric civil war here only a few years ago and the disabled were thoroughly caught up in the conflict. Some suffered brutally at the hands of the rebels (e.g. hand and leg amputations). Others in order to survive assisted or even spied for the rebels. This has caused much psychological and social confusion for the disabled community in the post war situation and has left many scars.
We too are experiencing many, many challenges and problems from our Waterloo community, which I will explain in another article. However because of the love and patience of Jesus and our commitment to Him we continue to persist and assist. Others have given up! However we do need your prayers. Without knowing it we have stepped into one of the most challenging, problematic and dangerous humanitarian realms of the region. May Christ help us.
A New Container Soon
We are now expecting, by courtesy of Paradise Kids 4 Africa, a new container and several shipments to arrive in a few weeks from China and the USA. The container contains a load full of education equipment for our schools and college, another shipment of DVD’s for the children and bible studies and a shipment of 3000 Bibles and study books. Thank you PK4A.
We are ready…!