Jim Edwards returned to his Mooresville home from the West African country of Sierra Leone at the end of May, excited about what he believes will be a life-changing experience.A world traveler, Edwards said the trip to Sierra Leone was “one of the most rewarding trips of my life” because I’m getting a chance to help somebody. “I was asked if I wanted to make a difference,” he said, becoming visibly emotional. “It was hard to turn that down. It’s a chance to give back.” Edwards will be helping Just Hope International, a Brentwood, Tenn., nonprofit organization that has begun a two- to three-year project to help 200 orphaned children in that country. Some of the children, said Edwards, became orphans after their parents died in a ferry accident almost four years ago. The ferry capsized after drifting into heavy seas southeast of the capital city of Freetown in September 2009, according to the Cape Times South Africa newspaper. Eighty of the 150 passengers died.Local villages, said Edwards, have tried to help the orphans, but they don’t have adequate resources to provide clothing, shelter, food, water, educational supplies and a way toward a better future. In 2012, JHI bought 100 acres of land in the village of Bauya, four hours from Freetown, the capital. JHI plans to build a church, housing, a school, a medical clinic and roads. And that’s where Edwards, 64, a retired engineer and environmental health and safety expert, comes in. His job is to build three roads in the next two years to three years that will link the village to the outside world so that goods and services that the orphans need can flow faster and more efficiently in this remote, poor and jungle region. Sierra Leone is located on the West Coast of Africa, along the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean, between Liberia and Guinea. Its land mass is slightly smaller than South Carolina, with a population of 5.6 million. A civil war that raged in the country from 1991 to 2002 has taken a huge toll. Tens of thousands of people died, and more than 2 million people were displaced, according to the CIA Factbook. The civil war served as the setting for the 2006 film, “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly and Djimon Hounsou. That war further damaged a weakened, mostly agricultural economy. Seventy percent of the population lives in poverty, 65 percent is illiterate, and life expectancy is 59. The challenges facing Edwards are daunting. During the rainy season, which lasts roughly from May to December, it can rain as much as 200 inches, according to the Factbook. By comparison, Charlotte’s annual rainfall is about 43.5 inches. Most of the road construction he’s responsible for can be done only in the dry season, which lasts roughly from December to April. And he had to hire and train workers on how to build an access road through dense jungle to the worksite where the village will be built. “The resources I had were the 40 workers, machetes (to clear jungle vegetation), shovels, head pans which were filled with gravel and carried balanced on the head, two wheelbarrows and a 4-foot truck bed,” said Edwards By the time he left, at the end of May, just before the beginning of the rainy season, Edwards said, the workers had built a gravel access road a mile long. For two weeks’ worth of labor, they were paid 4,300 leones, which is excellent pay in their country but is equal to $23 in the United States, he added. Edwards is proud of what they did in such a short time. JHI was founded by Karen Bruton in 2008. She received her undergraduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill and an MBA from Wake Forest, and she became a Duke Energy vice president before giving all of that up in 2007 to pursue her passion: helping others. With lessons learned from previous national and international charity work she was involved in, Bruton has vowed to infuse JHI with a holistic approach to caring for the orphans at Bauya. “Many social projects are not much more than give-away programs,” said Bruton. “That makes the giver feel terrific, but that type of activity rarely has any long-term sustainable results that will truly make an impact in a person’s life.” Her goal, she said, is to not only feed, clothe and provide shelter but also provide them with brick-laying, agriculture and sewing skills, and other microbusiness skills so they become self-sufficient. JHI has two sources of funding. As a nonprofit, it can seek public donations. Putting her business and managerial skills to work, Bruton also established an investment fund, which provides an additional source of funding for the JHI Foundation, which was founded in 2011. Bruton met Edwards while both were at Duke Energy, and she recruited him for the road construction job. Edwards spent May 2-29 in Bauya, assessing the situation, learning the culture, negotiating with tribal chiefs for wood and other supplies and recruiting locals to work on the road-construction project. Back at home at a restaurant overlooking Lake Norman, Edwards pulled up a picture of the 1-mile road from his Smartphone that he and his crew, which he dubbed the “Just Hope Road Warriors,” had built. “In looking at that road and knowing it was built one shovel at a time is really a complement to those workers who through their sweat built it,” he said. “They were really building their future. Maybe, just maybe, they knew that. I hope so.” Bruton is proud of the work she has done in other countries and with what she plans to do in Bauya. When asked why not spend the same amount of time and money to help poor people in the United States, she replied, “Just Hope is working in areas where there is nothing. There are no churches that give a helping hand, there are no government welfare programs or Social Security, there are no programs to assure children are educated or are fed. There’s no electricity, no water. Nothing.” “I have slept on dirt floors in a mud hut. I’ve never had to do that in the U.S. I recognize that there are people who just don’t understand what this kind of poverty is like.” When people ask this question, “I’ve actually started asking them what they are doing. It’s amazing how many people don’t have a response.” Edwards is scheduled to debrief JHI officials sometime in June about his experience in Bauya. That’s when he hopes to learn when he can make a return trip to finish the job he started. He can’t wait to return so that he can spend the wet season getting supplies delivered and stored so that they can be used when the dry season returns.
Monday, Jun. 17, 2013
Mooresville man uses talents to help Sierra Leone orphans
Learn more: www.justhopeinternational.org
Kim Smith is a freelance writer for Lake Norman News. Have a story idea for Kim? Email him at email@example.com.
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