BLOG: Charvat, Williams Aide in Sierra Leone

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Maryland men's basketball head athletic trainer, Matt Charvat, is in Sierra Leone, Africa with former Maryland football standout Madieu Williams. Charvat is working with the Madieu Williams foundation to provide aide to underprivileged youth in Africa. Check back for updates to Matt's blog!

Day 5, June 28

Good morning to you all in the States.  By the time you all read this we will have begun our journey to the airport to start making our way back to the States.  That journey starts with an hour ride to a boat taxi and will hopefully end with a smooth ride on the beltway in Maryland!

Patti and I spent Saturday morning at an Internet Cafe called Crown Express.  We enjoyed some uninterrupted internet time and some American style pizza.  The rest of the group went to what is called the "Big Market" which we would call a mall.  The group shopped for souvineers and found themselves some good deals.  We then all met at the cafe and headed to a Chimpanzee Sanctuary.  We had about a 90 minute walking tour through the jungle and saw many different size chimps.  This place is a rehabilitation facility where chimps are eventually re-released into the wild again.  It was an absolute blast to learn about them and to watch them play and interact.  We definitely got a good look at the chimps and they got a good look at us.  Unlike the chimps at the zoos in the states, these guys don't see near as many humans so watching their reactions was priceless.  Very much worth the treck up the mountain to see them!

Yesterday we drove to Toku Beach which was very peaceful and relaxing.  If there was anyway this area could be commercialized it would be a 5 star beach.  Cool breeze, gorgeous views, and peaceful quietness.  Most of the group stayed and relaxed on the beach while Patti and I decided to go into town for a bite to eat.  That's were the days adventures started for us.  Let's just say that the rainy season, mountain one lane roads, large pools of puddled water, and lack of being anywhere near people or a village made for an interesting ride.  After about 90 minutes of puddle passing we made it to the city only to find the restaurant closed.  We then headed back to the hotel during a downpour and proceeded to navigate rivers of rushing water through the city.  SO finally close to three hours later we arrived safely back at the hotel undamaged but a bit hungry.  But honestly how can we complain about hunger over here??  We definitely cannot and will come away with a great story!

Starting to pack some things up now and thinking about the trip.  Looking forward to getting back to Maryland and our normal routine and lifestyle.  But honestly that makes me feel a bit guilty, we stayed and lived better than the majority of the people in this whole country and I'm excited to get back to my shower and a grocery store?   It is an odd feeling so I hope I explained it well.  These trips to Africa I have taken have continued to change my perspective on life and everything that is involved in it.  It helps me always take a step back  and realize what I may be stressed out about that day is truly not worth the brain waves.  We are so blessed to have what we have and that is the bottom line.  The old adage "Don't worry be happy" comes into play at that time.

Hope you all have a wonderful week and I will post again when I get home.  Until then I encourage you all to look up the Madieu Williams Foundation and read about the great things they are doing. Get involved if you can or just learn more about Madieu and his efforts in his native country!

Day 4, June 27

Good morning from Sierra Leone.  Spending our first "off" day from the school and slept in a bit or should I say didn't get out of bed early!!  The last three nights I have had a very hard time sleeping and been pretty restless.  Hopefully tonight will being some good sleep!

Yesterday was the engineers and Madieu's last day in Sierra Leone.  We all went to the school to say good bye to everyone and took lots of cool pictures.  If you are a twitter user my handle is @charvat33 and I have been posting picture up there from the trip.  The engineers admired their work on the completed water system and Madieu spoke to his teachers for a bit.  We then left the teachers to do some professional development at the school with the Sierra Leone teachers and Madieu and I went to lunch with the engineer group before they got on the ferry to go to the airport.  

Madieu and I then went back to the hotel which ended up taking us about two hours. We were in the "downtown" area where the streets were absolutely packed!!!!  I can equate it to walking out of a NFL football stadium after a game in those huge crowds and then trying to drive through it.  But add 100 degree weather, no breeze, and people trying to sell you something through your truck window every time you stopped.   We would move about 50 feet then sit for about 10 min. It was like a sauna in the truck but I saw some very interesting things!!  Probably the craziest thing was two people dressed as police but with clown make-up on putting on a comedy show.  They stood directly in front of our truck basically trying to make us give them something before they would move.  Yeah, the whole experience was a bit intimidating.  

Madieu and I eventually went back to the hotel and sent the truck back to the school to get the teachers.  Madieu and I sat at the hotel with Kathryn Connolly and Madieu's cousin Yilia.  Kathryn is part of the engineering team and is staying in Sierra Leone by herself until August when the engineering team comes back to hopefully complete the secondary school construction.  Big props to Kathryn on her commitment to the project!   The four of us sat and discussed various cultural differences in marriages, weddings, and general life in the states.  Madieu hopes to get Yilia into graduate school for business in the states around the DC area.  She is a very bright woman and I hope we can figure that out!  So if anyone of you have any suggestions or connections let me know!

Dropped Madieu off at the ferry to the airport and I went to get food for the group.  Madieu gets very sentimental on his way out and very proud of his work!!  That guy deserves a high five from everyone over here and he is making a difference.  

Hope you all have a great day and will check back soon!

Day 3, June 26

Hope everyone is doing well back in the States.  We are getting ready for our last day at the school tomorrow and also preparing for the Engineering and School of Public Health groups to depart back to the United States tomorrow afternoon.  Madieu will also be leaving on a red eye flight back to London for a quick one day visit with some family before getting back to his wife and young son in Maryland.  That will leave myself in charge of finishing up the week's events and helping our education crew travel safely back.  We have met a relative of Madieu's who will also be with us to make sure everything runs smoothly.  There is a little bit of an anxious feeling without Madieu here but I know we are in good hands and I can help get us where we need to be!!   So keep your fingers crossed that you all won't get any crazy stories the next few days!!!

The engineers spent yesterday finishing up their clean water project and it is officially complete!!!!  You should see the pride these students have in their work an the looks on their faces as it was getting completed.  Also learned that many of these students are computer or chemical engineers and have never done anything like this before.  With the guidance of Dr. Lovell he instructs  them step by step and puts them to work basically like construction laborers.  They went from digging a foundation and pouring concrete to installing the solar panels.  Much credit to them and a job well done!!

Professor Elizabeth (sorry can't remember her last name at this moment) also has a small group of students here from the school of Public Health.  They interviewed and educated the women of the village about female reproductive health while also trying to grasp what the average female here really knows about that side of their development.  Again, something that is taught in schools and by families many times goes unknown.  She also handed out tooth brushes and tooth paste to the children that were donated by my dentist in College Park Dr. Malinda Dice-Shah.  She has heard many stories about my experiences here and sent me to Africa with over 100 toothbrushes and travel size tubes of tooth paste for the children!  Thanks so much for that and it was a great success!!

We also have great news that we tracked down our last bag of luggage which contained the 4th grade books!!!  Madieu, my fiancé Patti Klobus, and I spent the rest of the day trying to track down copies of a book that the teachers wanted to add to their curriculum.  This job back in the states would have involved a few strokes of the keyboard for a search and order project on the internet.  But in Sierra Leone we spent the better part of a few hours and 3 different "stationary" stores and still didn't get a definite answer as to where we can find them.  Hopefully we can get some good news.

The last part of the afternoon was spent with a gentlemen named Peter Andersin who is originally from Minnesota back in the States.  All I can say is this man was one of the most fascinating people I have ever met.  As I am going to do I would encourage you all to google his name and learn about what he has done in his life.  He started out in the Peace Corps in the early 1970's and ended up being one of the most respected men in Sierra Leone.  His work included reporting on the civil war here and he was actually captured by the rebels and held prisoner for a period of time.  He has also participated in the recent prosecution of Sierra Leone War criminals and the trials that convicted them.  I really can't do him any more justice than that in this quick email but I would encourage everyone to learn about him and how one man's work can truly help millions of people......

Well it is 4AM here in Africa so I guess I should try and go back to sleep.  My internal clock is very much a mess right now so hopefully I can make this happen!  I wish you all a good night and a Happy Friday when you read this tomorrow morning!

Day 2, June 25

Having a bout with insomnia right now so I thought I would try and see if I can get this email to come through.  It is amazing the things we take for granted in the States, I will never complain when I lose an internet connection again!  

Today was spent doing many of the same type of errands with Madieu throughout the city today.  We had three main goals today with the main goal being visiting the secretary of education to try and obtain the curriculum for the secondary school when it opens in the near future.  This will allow the school to make sure that we are teaching the kids the correct information that will allow them to pass tests and advance through the schooling steps.  Hopefully with his secondary school opening, Madieu can now control the paths of some of these students and see them all the way through into college.  You would think this would be a pretty minimal task right??  Well three buildings later and a lot of excuses we obtained a cd disc that we are unsure will work and were told we could not get a copy because they were "out of copies and to come back tomorrow."  So again something that would be as simple as an email with an attachment in the States took the better part  of two hours and we still did not reach our goal.

Next we went in search of a lost bag from the airlines that contained some of the books that were purchased for the school.  Two buildings and again we were told to come back tomorrow after 10 AM in hopes that the bag was on the flight that came in today.  We will keep our fingers crossed and hope it makes us into our hands.  

Walking through the city is also quite an adventure with Madieu.  First and foremost, I am obviously the minority in this city here thus I get some very interesting looks.  I also get approached by almost everyone selling something as they equate people from the States as having money and do all they can to sell you something.  It is also very funny as we will be walking and Madieu will begin to laugh at what someone is saying.  He would let me know what the people were saying.  Other than the obvious race difference, Madieu and I are also much larger than most of the Sierra Leone native.  Many have never seen people of the size and height of Madieu and I.  One particularly funny comment was one person on the street calling me "white Godzilla."  Yes it will take me a long time to lose that nickname with Madieu!!!!!

There are so many thoughts that run through my head throughout the day and it is hard to describe everything that I am feeling/seeing so I hope I am doing an adequate job and you all are enjoying this read.  Thanks so much to the Maryland athletic department for posting my thoughts and sharing my thoughts with my Terrapin Family!!

One last thought as I hopefully can fall asleep soon.  One thing that I always notice is how happy all the children are throughout the city at the various schools.  You rarely see any child without a smile on their face.  Every time they see me they smile and wave as chances are I am the first foreigner that many of them have every seen.  I saw groups of kids today playing soccer with an empty water bottle and laughing and smiling non stop.  Also saw a group of school children with a plastic laundry basket that it almost seemed as though they were fighting over.  I watched for a bit as we were stuck in traffic and saw that the basket had a number of various size rocks in it and I think the goal was to have the person who was carrying the basket keep the rocks for as long as they can.  Just the plain ingenuity of these children and making something out of nothing almost inspires me if that makes sense.  We take so many luxuries for granted that I think we all could learn a lesson from these children and start kicking our own water bottle around the yard and see if we can mimic the enjoyment that it brought those children today!!

Off to bed and hope you all have a great evening.  No matter what your beliefs are go to sleep and thanks for everything that we have in our lives!!!

Day 1, June 24

Spent the first full day at the school and driving around Freetown with Madieu doing various errands for the foundation. As many of you know I did not get to see the school on my first visit to Africa so it was great to see all those smiling kids! They have started construction on what we would call "middle school" building this week. The engineering school has partnered with Madieu and his foundation and excavation has begun. This school will consist of 4 class rooms and an additional multi-purpose room. And by class rooms I mean basically 4 walls and a roof by our standards but a very nice area in Sierra Leone. Over the last few years solar panels have been installed in the school to provide electricity to run the lights and the few cell phones that people may have. The cell phones here are basically what we in the States would call pay as you go and are surprisingly effective.  

Another interesting project is a rain water collection device that collects the rain water and then using additional solar panels for a filtration system. This will allow the students to have clean water when available which many have never had their whole lives. We have access to clean water and drinking water everyday and everywhere we go and here it is considered a luxury.

I also saw the American Embassy today as well as visited real estate for future use by the foundation. The thoughts are to possibly buy/build a home that would suit the needs of both Madieu, his family, and his foundation. We visited a brand new development with nice homes starting at around 300,000 US dollars which Madieu says is outrageous. He explained that this project is government funded and they are just looking for a way to make money. 

We ended up going to dinner last night as a group and found out what it was like to drive through the street and back road at night. It was an experience to say the least. We actually got stopped at a "check point" by a military officer in blue army fatigues. I was  in the front seat and he came to my window to speak to the driver. He had a very large gun and exchanged a few words with the driver. The driver was just agitated and almost seemed disrespectful to the military.  I wondered about this and asked Madieu why the dislike for the military. He stated that most natives lost respect for the military during the civil wars in the 1990's. He said that basically when the rebels entered the city the military usually fled rather than fight. That is hard to comprehend and another luxury that we take for granted. Anytime the citizens of our country are in distress the government comes to their aid.  Just think about something like 9/11 or hurricane Katrina happening and our government just walking away........

Thats it for day one and will do a post later with day 2 events!! 

Arrival, June 24

Greetings from Sierra Leone!!  After almost 24 hours of traveling via airplane, boat, and SUV we arrived safely to our hotel.  Just completed our first day at the school and heading out to dinner in a few minutes but wanted to send out a quick note to tell everyone we arrived safely.  

It has been 3 years since I was last here and you can already see some of the improvements to the city, especially the completion of the 'bypass' which is a brand new road that saves a lot of time in travel!  Looking forward to telling you all more this evening after dinner.  Thanks again for everyone and their support!!  Being able to have experiences like this makes me feel very blessed!!