Everyone from the village had turned up to meet us, dressed up and dancing
Late last year, Karma Cola creators Simon and Matt travelled to Sierra Leone to meet the people of Boma who grow our cola nut, they didn’t quite know what to expect
September 9th 2014
We asked Simon to share the experience and to tell us about the first project supported by the Karma Cola Foundation, the Makenneh Bridge.
How do you get to Boma?
It’s a long way from New Zealand (where Karma Cola was founded) to the rainforests of West Africa. It takes a day and a night on two planes, a really bumpy boat ride across the harbour to Freetown, a couple of days in a four-wheel drive and a bit of a walk at the end to get to the village of Boma. But, it’s the most worthwhile trip I’ve ever made.
What is Boma Village in Sierra Leone like – can you describe it?
Boma is on the banks of the Makenneh River surrounded by jungle. There are no roads just tracks, no electricity, earth rammed floors and thatched roofs. On the surface the trappings of life may seem primitive but the people in Boma live together well as a community, supporting each other and doing all they can to educate their kids and restore the village and tend the surrounding forest farms.
Tell us your first impression on arrival in the village?
Matt, Albert and I weren’t sure what we’d encounter when we first arrived in the village and I’m not sure the people there did either. When we arrived outside the village we were met by a welcome party made up of a few of the women of the village and escorted to a bridge over a tributary to the Makenneh River. We could hear the sound of drums and singing. When we caught the first glimpse of the celebrations in our honour I was overwhelmed. Everyone from the village had turned up to meet us, dressed up and dancing. The party carried on all afternoon and evening. They certainly know how to make you feel welcome in West Africa.
What were your impressions of Sierra Leone?
Although no one really talks about the civil war that tore Sierra Leone apart there are still signs of the damage and you can see how it disrupted the countries development taking it further back in time than the 10 years it lasted. In contrast to this is the warmth of the people we met and their reliance on each other as a community. The children in Boma are bright, healthy and many of them speak two or three languages, which is a great reflection on the parents and organisers of a community that doesn’t have electricity or running water.
What is life like in Boma?
Life moves at a much more enjoyable pace in and around the rainforest in Sierra Leone. You get up when the sun comes out, you go about your day in the company of your family, friends, co-workers and the wider village community and you have a few palm wines when the sun goes down and then head to bed. It’s a lifestyle I could get used to.
Part of the proceeds from the sale of every bottle of Karma Cola goes back to the people of Boma. Tell us about the first project to be supported, the bridge that Karma built?
Before the Makenneh Bridge was built there were a few logs that would frequently get washed away in the rainy season, a river and a swamp. Now there’s a properly drained culvert and a bridge that lets people pass between the old and new parts of Boma village with dry feet and can be driven over when supplies come to town. In Sierra Leone, something as simple as buying concrete can be costly and challenging so the construction of the Makenneh Bridge, while it may seem like a small feat, is a big thing for a village trying to rebuild itself after the war.
When we started on this journey we really didn’t anticipate the projects that we could be able to help with. We handed the decision making over to the villagers. So to know that our first project has made such an impact is awesome.