Africa, Day Six: Amazing interviews, inspiring workshops, and more incredible interviews

Today started early again, so that we could cram in as much good stuff as we could.

We interviewed our first Sierra Leone delegate this morning and it was truly an amazing experience. To hear, FIRST HAND, how the civil war affected him, how he survived, and how the Greener Diamond is helping him and the rice fields he works on today was nothing short of incredible.

He opened up to us so candidly about how deeply the civil war still affects him- how the rebels killed his parents in front of him, how horrific life was while he was with the rebels, how he daringly escaped his captors, and how nightmares of all those years still haunt his dreams.

It was all I could do not to get emotional.

In between more interviews with our Sierra Leone delegates, Johnny and I had the opportunity to teach and acting and dance workshop to local actors and children. Johnny masterfully talked on the art of acting to the adults, while I took the kids (all boys!) out in the basketball court for some movement and acting exercises. I warmed them up and taught them the importance of always stretching and warming up before vigorous activity, like football (soccer for you Americans), in their case…. then we did some animal exercises (roar like a LION!), then I taught them a combination of some basic dance steps for them to remember. It was a BLAST!

The best part was afterwards, when the kids all took turns free-styling in the center of a circle. Let me tell you what- for a city with NO dance school whatsoever, these kids can MOVE! I saw popping, locking, breaking, hip hopping, swaying, and even some ernest MJ impersonations!

It was SO inspiring to watch these kids move so naturally, with no formal training whatsoever. They had such an interest in dancing and acting- I showed them the tour’s “sizzle reel,” (clips of the show) which the Disney head office so generously gave to us to share, and they had SO many questions about what I did after I showed it. (Before the showing no one was quite clear on what “The Lion King” was, much less a Broadway show…)

I was so moved by these kids and their ernest love for acting and movement that I hope to be able to send them a play to perform at their school, and hopefully help them find some sort of funding or sponsorship to build an acting/dance space somewhere in the city, with Kimmie Weeks help, of course! But my first priority is always to help as much as I can with the amazing work on the Greener Diamond- the dance school would just be an amazing cherry on top!

Speaking of the amazing Greener Diamond work, we filmed more of the PSA that they are putting together at the workshop too. We are having locals all say certain lines of a PSA that Anna has written and then we’re editing them all together to say one message from many different mouths- we used one of my little kids, and then the head of a local modeling agency for the next. This agency all came out to the workshop to meet us and say hello, and to ask us for advice and connections on how to get the word out about models in Liberia- well here’s your first official word- These women here are GORGEOUS!!!! Look out Tyra- these girls are fabulously beautiful, well dressed, and carry themselves like a million bucks every day.

After we all took pictures with the models (who is going to pass THAT up?) we went back to the hotel to finish up our interviews.

We had two left, one from another former child soldier, and one with the local administrator from the Kono district in Sierra Leone.

The first interview was as emotional as the one this morning- his hardship was sad and painful, but when he spoke about the rice field and how it changed his life, it was completely inspiring. He said that his life was ‘very bad’ before the rice fields were planted and that his new life and the rice fields are a dream come true. It gives the people in the area something positive to do with their lives, because, he said, without the agriculture the people would be stealing and perpetuating the bad things they all were trained to do when they were captured by the rebels.

The administrator of the area even said that the ghettos in the Kono district are clearing out, and positive changes are apparent all around the district. He said that all of these improvements were a direct result of the Greener Diamond and YAI’s fields- the diamond mines that were in the area made such money off of this district- from the mining alone the Kono district supplies 60% of the total revenue for the COUNTRY. Over half. Yet if you visited the district, he said, you would never know that the area was so ‘rich’ in resources because the diamond mines aren’t giving back to the areas at all. They just make the huge profits and never give back nearly as much to the area in which they were mined.

The things that were most impressed upon me today during these moving interviews was, first, how much pain these boys have lived through. Just meeting them, you can tell that they have been though SO MUCH. They have that “10,000 yard stare,” as Johnny put it, and it’s true. They do. Then, when we heard the horrifying things they had experienced, one losing both parents and being beaten so badly his eye doesn’t track, and the other losing his beloved father for whom he was named; it just made all the messages and news stories we had heard even while we were hearing about blood diamonds so REAL- that these rebels, who were fueled by diamond money, wrecked whole families, entire communities, and almost all of Sierra Leone.

That’s another thing that I came away with- the fact that if the diamonds hadn’t been around, the civil war wouldn’t have lasted as long. The rebels who controlled the mines were using the profit to fund the war and supply their troops. One of the boys we interviewed even said he wished the diamonds weren’t there so that the war would have ended long before it did. It’s just heartbreaking to think that choices made so far away from him, in our comfortable homes in America, buying our diamond rings and gold necklaces, could contribute so DIRECTLY to HIS pain and suffering.

Finally, the biggest thing I came away with from today, was how much the Greener Diamond is truly helping in this region of Sierra Leone. These boys were so thankful to Anna and the Greener Diamond foundation for their help in making the rice field such a success- again, it was all I could do not to tear up at their grateful message of thanks.

I really don’t know how I held it together all day…. I’m such an emotional cheeseball…

But really, it was totally inspiring, and just reiterated what I already knew and loved about this amazing foundation and movement- that consumers CAN affect world events, for good or for bad. Historically, our jewelry choices have been hurtful, even catastrophic. But now, there are other, better, more humane choices. Choices that give BACK to the communities that need it the most.

I, personally, am so proud to be a MiaDonna consumer, and to see these people in Sierra Leone being DIRECTLY affected by my fiancé’s conscience choice to not buy a mined diamond, to go with a company that is doing SO much good in the world, to see first hand what a HUGE difference concerned consumers and contentious businesses can make  … it’s simply beyond words.

And NOW I’m tearing up.

Shoot. Thought I’d make it though the day…

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One Response to “Africa, Day Six: Amazing interviews, inspiring workshops, and more incredible interviews”

  1. Lori Stewart Says:

    Don’t worry – I cried for you while I read this incredible journey. Keep up the inspiration and work that you are doing. It’s is wonderful!

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