One Mt. Juliet family is trying to give some children in Sierra Leone a better life.
Michael and Rachel Ropiecki, and their three children – Aubrey, Anna and Ella – will be relocating for a few years to Bauya, Sierra Leone on the continent of Africa.
The Ropieckis knew they wanted to do something drastic. Through an acquaintance, Rachel heard about a group called Just Hope International.
“By the end of the communication, we were sold,” said Rachel Ropiecki. “They were amazing.”
What they were sold on was building a Watoto Village in Bauya. Michael is the owner of Aubanna Homes, and Just Hope International was looking for a builder. It was a perfect fit.
A couple of years ago, there was a ferry accident, and almost all of the fathers of the community were killed because nearly all of the people do not know how to swim. Due to extreme poverty and lack of employment, many of the women can’t take care of the children, which led to a mass orphanage.
The village will be on 100 acres, and will consist of several boarding houses, schools, homes for the teachers, land to farm, as well as many other things the people of the village would need. Just Hope International will be working with another, The Raining Season, to help finish the project.
Right now, the orphanage situation is dismal. Over 200 orphans are crammed into tiny rooms. Michael and Rachel just returned recently from their first visit to Bayau. It was a bit of a culture shock for both the Ropieckis and the residents of Sierra Leone.
Rachel said upon riding the ferry into town, you could see the extreme poverty and the extent to which the government was ill-equipped to handle a mass influx of people which happened during a war around seven years ago. Freetown is now a city of over a million people.
“It was just houses on top of houses, and I’m using the word house loosely,” said Rachel.
Rachel said most of the houses were just shacks put together with whatever resources people could find, and they stretched as far as the eye could see.
Another shock upon getting off the plane was that they were confronted by a police chief who wanted a bribe. Michael gave him $20, which was about 10 times his daily pay.
“There was trash everywhere,” said Rachel.
There is no trash service there, so people just throw their trash wherever.
There was something refreshing about the community of Bayau. The people, which are optimistic, cheerful and thankful, brighten the community, and bring to light something we may have lost here.
“Community is valued so highly,” said Michael. “They come alive at night.”
Rachel said you can barely make it through the streets at night. There is no television, computer or video games to distract people, so they still interact with each other.
They got to go to a track event nearby, and it wasn’t a just a culture shock for the Ropieckis. They frightened the people attending the event.
“I am pretty sure I was the first white lady they have ever seen,” joked Rachel.
She said that everyone turned their attention away from the event and stared at them. She said even a few babies were crying when they saw them.
When buying the 100 acres of land for the village, the process was a little different from here in the United States. The land cost roughly $6,000 U.S. dollars, and one other item.
“They wanted a bottle of scotch,” said Michael.
Michael said they wanted to have a ceremony to tell the elders who had passed what they were going to be doing with the land, and their offering was some scotch that they would pour into the soul. Both Michael and Rachel thought the ritual was neat, but thought it was funny what happened after.
“Some dude just took the rest of the bottle home,” Rachel joked.
In a few weeks, Michael will go back to help build two wells, and finish the purchase of the property. He will return home, then the family will go for good after that. The kids are excited, but taking it kind of tough as would be expected. Rachel said they have their tough days, but they really understand.
“They get that we are going because there are kids that really need help,” said Rachel. “We have always tried to teach them that the world is much bigger than Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.”
Rachel said she is having bad days too.
“There are lots of conveniences I am really going to miss,” she said. “But I am really excited.”
They think that the project will take at least three years. They said they will return home probably once a year.
The Ropieckis need money to help fund the project. You can contact Just Hope International, The Raining Season or Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read about their mission on westsideropieckis.blogspot.com as well.
Rachel said that The Raining Season is an excellent option for sponsoring a child because of the access you have to that child. Instead of waiting for a letter that you might or might not get, you can actually Skype with your sponsored child, so you can see how your donations are helping them.