There are so many platitudes or maybe they are idioms regarding "one step at a time" or "one bite at a time". Yet after 20 years I find truth in them. I never would have thought that I would have helped build the #1 school in Sierra Leone that educates over 700 children or created an international psychosocial FGA program that changes peoples lives or helped build the capacity of many organizations that have touched so many more people, except, I just didn't stop taking the next step or the next bite. So 20 years later, LemonAid Fund gave out 20 plaques of appreciation and 20 certificates to our first group of National Trainers of FGA and my heart was singing. So many shared stories around the room. So much satisfaction of what we had been led to do together. There was Fody who, at first, couldn't articulate his gratitude for the years of scholarship support he received from LemonAid Fund and the emotional support he got from Francess along the many years since he lost his parents in the war. There was Rugiatu (Nene), Christiana and Aminata. long supported by LemonAid Fund in their courageous stance to end the cutting of FGM, who slipped in late apologizing for the dust on their shoes as they had just come from the Bondo Bush (where only those who have been initiated/cut are allowed) to help stop FGM. There was the Secretariat of the Human Rights Commission listening eagerly to what LemonAid Fund had done to promote human rights over the years as he was new to his position. There was Mr. Scott the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning representative of the Non Governmental Organization community in Sierra Leone who said, "MoDEP needs to be handing out awards to organizations like yours". And the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children's Affairs stood up and not only launched LemonAid Fund's Vision One Million FGA but she went on to lift our other work with the ministry over the years including that the Ministry would get on board to end FGM!! And the stories go on as wide as the smiles in the room with no smile bigger than mine. "I did that!" with a GREAT deal of help from my FRIENDS and FAMILY and those committed to helping themselves and helping others who are asking for help. I am deeply appreciative of all of you who helped make this happen with me over all the years.
Congratulations to the Honorable Dr. Isatou Touray on her appointment to Vice President of The Gambia. The story of Dr. Isatou and her then organization Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) goes back to 2016 when Vicki and I brought six The Chicago School of Professional Psychology students to The Gambia. This was one of the 10 countries LemonAid Fund piloted the Forgiveness, Gratitude and Appreciation (FGA) Approach before launching it on the 22 February 2019. It specifically looked to provide healing of the trauma girls and women experienced during initiation and the cutting associated with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The women and men of GAMCOTRAP were so selfless that some had spent time in prison, literally lost their hair and had been ostracized for their work.
When I first met Dr. Isatou, she looked deeply into my eyes and said, "I dreamed you were coming to help us. I have seen you in my dreams". There were countless Godincidences during our 10 day stay in The Gambia, however, one of the first stands out to me. As part of an initial meeting with new organizations I have people set an intention for our work together and then have them select an angel that best reflects that intention for themselves and the group. It is always a powerful exercise. This time was no exception. Dr. Isatou picked the first angel for our time together "healing". Then 20 other people picked other angels and we wrote each of them on the board. I was the last person in the circle to pick my angel. Now I have to say that I've had the angels for years and years and there are a few duplicate angels, not because the cards came that way but because the angels have found there way into the bag. I also picked "healing'. The connection between Dr. Isatou and Dr. Nancy was noted by everyone. It created a foundation for trust and a friendship.
As we left The Gambia, Dr. Isatou voiced her desires to run for President of The Gambia to make much needed changes. Although not President, being the Honorable Vice President is pretty close to her dream coming true. Wondering if LemonAid Fund will be back in The Gambia to implement a nation FGA program to help heal not only those who experienced the trauma of FGM, but to help build resiliency and well-being throughout the country for another dream come true.
An evening to remember February 22, 2019. Looking out over the sea of faces and seeing 23 years of your life right in front of you is an amazing feeling. From three original Kids in Distress (KIDS) members I trained in 1996 in psychosocial techniques who were the precursors of FGA to a former member of the National Commission for War Affected Children where I helped conduct a National Children's Strategy after the war to representatives of the Ministries and our Network Partners throughout the years. When expressing my great gratitude I must start with Francess Browne for helping to make miracles happen from the Sierra Leone side. Without Francess LemonAid Fund may not be here and definitely would be so successful. She has been the bug that has been the catalyst for so much of what LemonAid Fund has done over it's 20 year history (and even before as a KIDS trainer). While I was evacuated out of Sierra Leone by the UN, Francess was chased out as rebel's burned her house and shot at her as she ran with nothing but a lapa (a piece of material used to wrap around a woman) and her 5 year old daughter. I flew home and she was left to wander in the bush for days and make her way to Guinea (the neighboring country) on her own. She has given tirelessly over the past 20 years to help her fellow Sierra Leoneans and grow LemonAid Fund as a volunteer.
But then without Vicki Browne (just incase you need clarification, no relation to Francess Browne) where would the global Vision One be? I am deeply grateful for Vicki who has been there in over 6 years and 10 countries as the Vision One Million FGA has taken shape. It is rare that you can find a friend (48 years) and a volunteer work mate that brings joy to your life and makes a difference in the world. It is rarer still to find someone who will take the Postal Bus in Uganda, 11 modes of transportation across El Salvador through Honduras to Nicaragua and sleep under mosquito nets across the world without complaint.
And for the fabulous week of workshops, visits to villages, planning for the future and celebration, my appreciation to Kathy Reinhardt (who came on a second trip with LemonAid Fund) and her boys Quinn and Oliver can't be expressed enough. Because of their willingness to step into the unknown and support LemonAid Fund, LemonAid Fund was able to make dreams realities. They didn't flinch when I explained how to flush a toilet with a bucket of water provided, they asked well thought out questions when meeting a young girl who told her story about finding the safe house to escape Female Genital Mutilation and were willing to squeeze into the car for yet one more bumpy ride so we could visit a school or a group of people unexpectedly added to the list because they were excited to see us. It does take a village. Together we celebrated! You will read more in another post of our evening highlights and visit upcountry to just a couple of LemonAid Fund's Network Partners. Peace, Nancy
Our best intentions just couldn't be met. Stuff happened and something had to give for our sanity. So here I am waiting for the Sea Coach that will take me to the airport to catch the plane first to Brussels and then the States writing this blog post that is almost two weeks overdue.. The intensity of the last two weeks can't be captured in words, although I will try. Everyday was a challenge in flexibility, focus and forgiveness. Vicki and I stayed at the LemonAid Fund House/Office where there isn't running water and the electrical current was so weak that the air conditioners just couldn't function. Of course most of those in Sierra Leone whom LemonAid Fund serves have much less amenities than these. The average 89 degree weather, we had, was wonderful compared to the Northern US States in February, however, it also added another factor we needed to deal with everyday and night.
The first week was dedicated to planning, preparing, programming and paperwork. It was also about catching up with what has been happening on the ground with LemonAid Fund Network Partners and continuing to strengthen relationships. We were in an out of many ministry offices, had meetings with people sometime in the most interesting places such as the tailor shop, and doing a lot of waiting. Waiting is a past time in Sierra Leone. Waiting in traffic, waiting for someone to arrive, waiting for the tailor to finish making the dress...yet despite all this we had everything ready for Kathy, Oliver and Quinn when they arrived on the 16 February at 9:30PM exhausted, hungry and totally in for the experience. You can catch up with more of the day to day highlights on LemonAid Fund's Facebook page. Peace, Nancy
I was last here in 2014 with plans to return the following year to help lead a LemonAid Fund Women's Journey. Unfortunately, the Ebola Outbreak cancelled those plans. Now stepping off that plane and looking at the clear sky and smiling faces who greeted us, I was quickly reminded of all the reasons why I fell in love with this place years ago. Nancy and I were met at the airport by Ali (see photo) who helped arrange our transport (bus and then boat) to Freetown as well as outfit us with a local sim card and data/minutes. The tumult at the airport as we waited for tickets made me smile and want to pinch myself. I was finally back in a country that I had raised money for, collected books for (more about that later), read about, had life-changing experiences in and for now, most importantly, here to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the LemonAid Fund.
While I pride myself in knowing the work that Nancy has done over the years, yet each time I return here I am amazed at the magnitude of her achievements. She has been immersed in Sierra Leone for over 20 years, built relationships, supported projects, seen kids graduate, helped change policy and to quote her "helped people's dreams become a reality".
As I walked up the steps at the Dele-Peddle School (see pic) today I got that same emotional feeling as I did that first time. This was a dream that the Proprietress, Francess Browne, which became a reality with the help of LAF. It is now the number one school in Sierra Leone (by test scores) and the kids who attend are getting an incredible education. As I walked from room to room I saw kids ranging from ages 2-18 with their school uniforms on sitting attentively at their desks. The younger ones were packing up to go home and the older ones were working on their mid term exams. The feeling in the school is that learning is important. It's a place where kids learn academics but also learn life skills.
We spent hours planning for the February 22nd celebration but also for all the details for the arrival of the Reinhardt Family. Kathy Reinhart has been a friend of mine for over 30 years, had registered to go on the Sierra Leone Women's Journey and a supporter of the LAF. She is making the journey here with her twin sons, Quinn and Oliver. This is a fulfillment of a dream we have created together. Supporting dreams is what LemonAid Fund is about, along with making "Lemonade" in a sustainable way. They will see how sustainability and LAF go hand in hand. Stay tuned. Vicki
Twenty three years ago today I arrived in Sierra Leone for the first time. The sky was pretty much the same, dusky blue with hints of pink as the sun set while almost everything else was different. Then, the country was in the middle of a civil war, I knew no one and I had never been to Africa let alone Sierra Leone. How different this arrival was as I traveled with my friend of 49 years, yet it held the same magic of Sierra Leone that I have come to know. We were greeted by the smiles of some of the Brussels Airline workers (parents of children at the Dele School), welcomed by Ali who shows up at the airport every time I arrive and depart, circled by those I have come to know selling sim cards and minutes for our phones and then whisked onto the shuttle for the Sea Coach which would take us from Lungi (the airport town) across the river to Freetown.
After a 30 minute boat ride we arrived at the Aberdeen bridge, we walked off the boat to a sea of people in brightly colored clothes waiting for passengers to disembark and collect luggage. The cacophony of sound and excitement brought us new energy after a long trip. Francess (who I trained 23 years ago in psychosocial practices) and Christie her daughter were waiting for us with huge smiles and hugs. As wonderful as this reunion was, it was not the magic I have come to equate with Sierra Leone. What was quite amazing was that I saw a sign with Mike Wessels's name on it. I had met Mike 23 years ago and we had both consulted on the same project; Kids in Distress with Child Fund which employed Francess as well. I couldn't have organized such a meeting even if I had tried. As I hugged Mike my eyes caught a glimpse of another sign with Helen Appleton's name on it, another person I met years ago and now only consults in Sierra Leone periodically. I would never have taken a bet that I would have come in on the same plane at the same time as these two remarkable people doing such good work in the world. A great way to start an incredible two weeks of celebration. Nancy
it's hard to believe that it's been 20 years since the inception of the LemonAid Fund (LAF). I remember so clearly sitting at Denny's Diner in Highland Park, Illinois ( at 3am) with Nancy Peddle and Andra Barmash Greene Ellingson having a delicious and greasy meal and recapping the prior evenings events. We had just attended our 20th High School Reunion and there was much to discuss!!! It was during that chat that I learned that while Andra and I were returning to our respective homes (California and New York) that Nancy was traveling to a place that I couldn't easily locate on a map.....Kuala Lumpur. I returned to New York, got out the Atlas, and located it on the map. I knew that whatever work Nancy was doing around the world as an International Psychologist I wanted to follow and someday be a part of. She and I have had a long friendship (over 49years) and I have been fortunate to be part of the LAF Family as a donor and more recently as the LAF Liaison. This journey back to Sierra Leone is about celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the LemonAid Fund but it's also about celebrating all the people who have been enriched by Nancy's work. For me, it's also about celebrating 49 year of friendship. Who would have thought that two girls from Highland Park, Illinois who became friends at 14 would end up traveling the world and teaching people that Forgiveness, Gratitude and Appreciation is available to all of us...even if you have suffered extreme trauma. My growth as a women, mother, friend, nurse..... etc. has been enormous from the work that I have had the privilege of being a part of with the LAF. Let the journey continue! Vicki
As I left Sierra Leone in the white UN Land Rover, flying a white flag through the sea of fearful faces, some with tears running down them in 1997, little did I really understand the promise I made to myself that I would do something to help those left behind. Now 20 years after founding LemonAid Fund, Vicki Brendel Browne, one of LemonAid Fund's longest supporters (time, talent and treasures) and I will be heading to Sierra Leone to celebrate the achievements of those receiving some of that help through LemonAid Fund over those 20 years in Sierra Leone (LemonAid Fund now acts globally as well). We are excited to take along our friend and her two children who have followed and supported the work of LemonAid Fund over many years. We hope you too will follow us here as we Blog our experiences and share first hand stories of how truly no individual is too small to make a difference. Nancy
Dr. Nancy Peddle Founder of LemonAid Fund and Vicki Browne Liaison for LemonAid Fund, friends since 1972 and co-adventurers and passionate people supporting positive and lasting change globally, write about their experiences and invite others to share theirs along the way.