Dreams persevere despite floods in Freetown

Reportage from Sierra Leone by René German Pedersen

2019 floods in Freetown
Every year, the rainy season brings enormous challenges for thousands of people who live in the slums of Sierra Leone, where Dreamtown works. The rainy season runs from May until September. At its peak, it brings more rain in a single month than an entire year in Denmark, which leads to devastating floods that often result in fatal outcomes. 

2019 was no exception. On the 2nd of august, a heavy downpour and subsequently flash floods left six people dead and many of the communities of Freetown devastated. One of the areas that were hit the hardest was Culvert Community – a slum community located in the eastern part of Freetown close to the sea.

At its peak, the water level rose to 1.5 meters in Culvert community.

At its peak, the water level rose to 1.5 meters in Culvert community.

Joseph’s dream
Joseph, a young man who just turned 30, moved to this area from a small village in the north of Sierra Leone eight years ago. He decided to come to Freetown to live with his aunt so that he could pursue his education and to better his chances of fulfilling his dreams. A couple of years ago he achieved an important step towards this, when he finally got himself a small plot of land in Culvert Community, where he has since started the construction of a small house – step by step.

“It is a slow process”, he tells me. “I don’t have a steady income, but once in a while, I manage to save up 65.000LE (59DKK) to buy a bag of cement, and then I build what I can. Every time I make a small amount of money, I put it into the house.” With a big smile on his face, he tells me, that he hopes that the house will someday set the frame for his biggest dream: his own family with a wife and a couple of kids.

Water polluted with dead animals, diapers, and flooded toilets increases the risk of cholera and other water born diseases

Water polluted with dead animals, diapers, and flooded toilets increases the risk of cholera and other water born diseases

Deadly water
This dream, however, is at the moment postponed indefinitely. Three weeks after the flooding his house is still under water, and even though the water level has fallen from the initial one and a half meter to only half a meter, he still can’t build on the house - let alone stay in it. The general lack of sewerage systems, toilet facilities and waste management in the area, makes the water infested with deceases and bacteria – evident by the dead animals, used diapers and other garbage floating in the muddy water around the house. Cholera is one of the diseases that often hit the flooded communities and often brings deadly consequences for the residents to whom medical care is a luxury seldom afforded. 

Joseph goes on: “This is the first time that my house is under water even though the community is flooded every year.” When asked why he thinks that is, he tells me that more and more people move into the area, and that many dam and block the natural waterways and drainage canals, which would normally lead the water coming from the mountains into the sea. “They do this to make room for their own houses, not knowing that it leads to flooding of other areas in the community”, he says. Joseph also tells me that he’d wish the government would give the new settlers better opportunities for moving to other and safer areas than Culvert Community, which is already overpopulated and prone to floods.

Dreams persevere
Joseph doesn’t let the flooding kill his dreams though. He tells me that he has plans to build a waterproof wall around the house, before he resumes the work on the actual house itself. With a firm and determined expression, he tells me that he knows that with the grace of God, hard work, and a positive attitude, he will someday finish his house and achieve his dreams despite the setbacks this rainy season has brought him.

Joseph standing in Culvert community, Freetown

The article is written by René German Pedersen, Anthropology student and Project Officer with Dreamtown. René currently lives in Sierra Leone where he supports Dreamtown’s work to improve the wellbeing of young people living in slums.

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