Blog Post Week 1

In our first class back on campus, we spent some time discussing what we learned during our summer fieldwork earlier this month. After some personal reflection, these are a few things I learned.

  • Being in Sierra Leone for three weeks was such an enriching and illuminating experience. The most obvious thing I learned was just about the culture in this small, sub-saharan nation. Unlike anywhere else I have been in the world or in the United States, Sierra Leone had the strongest sense of community that I have ever experienced. Everywhere I went (bakery, shop, village, market, etc.) I noticed how much everyone meant to each other and how each person had their own role within their community. People were overwhelmingly welcoming and respectful to each other. Which unfortunately, is not something we always experience back in the States.
  • I learned how to negotiate and communicate in a market and in stressful situations. Often times early on in the trip, our team had to travel to the market to buy supplies to make our products. After experiencing the crazy markets a few times, I began to notice some vendors were trying to sell me their products for a higher price. To use our money responsibly, I frequently spoke to these vendors and negotiated their prices down to an acceptable price.
  • One of my favorite things that I was able to do in country was travel to people’s homes to get surveys filled out because through that one conversation, I was able to learn so much about that person’s values and personal priorities. To me it was interesting how different some of these priorities are. Based on my experience, religion and family are the most important parts of people’s lives.

Professional Development:

  • Professionally, my experience in Sierra Leone this summer was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. Our team worked on a daily basis with translators and interns. Our translators were paid and were working only for our group. The interns were assigned to our team and wanted to learn as much as they could from our project. So, I really learned how be in charge and lead a group of people. I frequently had to communicate with our translators and interns to tell them what needed to be done. Leadership is a really important skill to have and is something that I will utilize academically, athletically, and socially.
  • At the same time, I also learned how to step back and let someone else lead every once in awhile. To me, this is one of the most important skills to learn as a leader. Each person that I worked with had their own strengths and weaknesses, just like myself. There are times when someone else is more qualified to complete a task and I learned how to utilize all of these strengths on our team to make us the best we can be. Again, this is something that I will carry with me back in the States in all aspects of my life.
  • Finally, I learned how to make decisions in tough situations. Early on in the fieldwork I think our team ran into some issues when we encountered difficult situations. Not only is it important to be able to make a firm decision, it is also important to plan for when things go wrong. Multiple times in country we were forced to come up a plan b. Learning to adapt to the circumstances was vital to our success.

Personal Development:

  • Personally, I feel like I became more confident in myself. During my time this summer I was frequently put in situations that I had never been in before. I think the success of our team helped me to believe in myself and my ability to work through new experiences.
  • I also think I learned how to communicate better. Clear communication was critical in Sierra Leone whether it was among team members, with the translators, or just about anyone else. Good communication facilitated the strong relationships that we developed in country. Additionally, it brought our team closer together and I really believe that we will be a more cohesive and united team moving forward.
  • Lastly, I was able to make so many new friendships and formulate strong relationships with faculty and students at Lehigh. The group of us that travelled to Sierra Leone became incredibly close and frequently gave each other advice when they were stuck in a rut. I think these relationships will bring fresh ideas and help to our projects this fall.


Our first full day in Sierra Leone!

Our day began with a brief tour of the facilities here at World Hope International, our primary partners in-country. A World Hope employee, named Musa, then took us to the bakery that was recently completed on the grounds. The bakery, Betteh Bakery was just recently completed and workers are going through training before the facility becomes functional. Primarily built for the purpose of making bread, the facility’s oven (pictured below) will be perfect for cooking our muffins and potentially dehydrating ingredients for the bouillon cube. Most of the other equipment inside would not be necessary for the project.

Following our visit to the Betteh bakery, we travelled to a facility overseen by Musa where disabled workers work on various crafts including: metalwork, woodwork, and farming of cassava, ground nuts, ginger, and development of cornflower and palm oil. This was important insight for both of the malnutrition groups, as it showed us that most of our ingredients are readily available. We also came across a possible new ingredient. The moringa leave is very common here in Sierra Leone and is believed to be one of the next superfoods. The leaves are high in both Iron and Vitamin A. The leaves can be ground down to a flower and perhaps mixed into our products. While there, Musa, who oversees social ventures at World Hope, explained that he has the resources to set us up with suppliers for a lot of the ingredients our recipes use, which answered a lot of our supply chain questions very early.

Finally after returning from the visit, we went downtown to explore the markets.

Once again our ingredients were confirmed to be available in the markets. We received our money towards the end of the day and plan to figure out the cost of the ingredients most likely tomorrow. We also travelled to a supermarket to see the price of certain ingredients that we were thinking about incorporating into our recipes. For example, we looked into using coconut milk as a base for the pudding product. As expected, the prices were too steep to include in the products.

All in all, we had an extremely productive first day here. In Khanjan’s words, we really “hit the ground running” and are excited to keep moving forward during the next few days.