My father took me to the place he was standing on the Indiana University campus when he first learned the news of JFK's assassination. He said this moment changed him forever. I recall this conversation so vividly; the peachy colored cement sidewalk, the midwestern humidity, and the pain he expressed. I strangely felt like I had missed out on something.
My parents' response to this pain was to join the Peace Corps. They left Bloomington to volunteer in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, West Africa from 1967-1969. They lived in a mud hut, planted rice, delivered babies and immersed themselves in the culture They met lifelong friends. I think they would both confirm that this experience shaped the rest of their lives.
In 1991 I was a junior in college. On a family visit to Penn's Creek, where my Dad and Bill call up memories of ground nut stew and other Mende culturalisms, I remember a more somber tone around the discussion of Sierra Leone. They were wondering if certain people were still alive. A civil war had broken out in Sierra Leone and it was possible that the village that they had served in was gone. The war that started in 1991 would last for 11 years. It would leave over 50,000 dead and entire villages would be wiped out. Children would become soldiers and kill children. School was not a possibility for over a decade.
My parents brought back beads from Sierra Leone. My Dad calls them"Mammi" beads, also known as African trade beads. These beads have been in a mason jar on the mantle my whole life. As a kid they tempted me, but my parents emphasized the sentimental value of them and I wasn't really allowed to use them. Recently, my father gave me the jar, which I consider an honor. This jar knows the story of the people.
Although I never became a Peace Corps volunteer, the genetic inclination to become an educator did pan out. I am proud of my parents' service and I want to give back to the people of Sierra Leone. In my dream of how this goes, the West African people who made the beads used in my pieces get to be a part of sending a grandson or granddaughter to school.
Schools for Salone is a non-profit organization that partners with local villages to rebuild the schools devastated in the war. They have built 18 schools and 3 libraries since 2005. http://schoolsforsalone.org/
50% of my pendant sales will be donated to Schools for Salone.