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Out of Africa
It’s a black sky, and all that can be heard is the chirping of crickets in the muggy bush of the western African country, Sierra Leone. Engineering graduate student Paul van der Boor, and economics undergraduate student Tori Baggio—two members of a five-person intercollegiate volunteer team—appear at home sitting in the wilderness with their host, an African tribal leader who governs Yele, a town of about 6,000 in the heart of Sierra Leone.
Earlier in the day, under a scorching sky, there was no rest. The students, in search of answers, walked along dusty roads, heading toward the outskirts of Yele. Along the way, they took in the skyline—clumps of tin-roofed, mud-brick houses and shops squatted amongst palm and fruit trees, fragrant and golden in the midday light. The students were conducting surveys for their team, e-Luma, in conjunction with the Dell Social Innovation Competition, which funds projects to solve social or environmental problems. e-Luma had submitted a plan to “kick start economic excellence” in Yele by volunteering to spend part of the summer using a refurbished local hydropower plant to bring electricity to nearly 600 households and a proposed community bazaar. (e stands for electricity, and luma means market in the local language, Temne.) The entry was one of five funded by the competition from more than 1,400 submissions.
“How can we help your business?” van der Boor asked one shop owner during the day. He didn’t have to ask twice: “We don’t have a place to store our goods, and our rice spoils. When it rains, it leaks through my roof, and I have to sleep in my store, because otherwise someone will rob my store. I want a steel door so I can lock it. Now the doors are wooden or straw, and someone can come inside and take all my things.”
Conversations with other villagers followed. All embraced the idea of creating a vibrant marketplace.
When the ruby African dusk appeared, van der Boor and Baggio started the return trek through town with a viable plan for the village. Throngs of barefoot boys and girls followed them chanting, “Opotto! Opotto! Opotto!” while adults watched from shaded doorways. The “white man” intrigued the children. Meanwhile, an evening meeting with the community elders awaited the students.
As the Chief sits with them in the peaceful surroundings, his voice rises above the clamoring crickets. He has something to say to the e-Luma teammates. “Thank you for having such a great vision for our people.”
—Emmett Zitelli (HNZ’01)
The E-Luma Music Festival—E-Luma's annual fundraising event—will take place during Spring Carnival. Please visit the E-Luma blog for more details coming soon.