Travel Notes: Sierra Leone as recounted by Serena Caimano. Part 1

“…people don’t take trips. Trips take people.” (John Steinbeck)

Serena Caimano, CEO at Elgon, in this and the next 2 blog posts, will be giving a testimonial about her experiences in Sierra Leone, the country where Elgon and COOPI, who, since 2010, have been promoting the “Plant the Revival” project, to assist women employed in agriculture, with a specific concentration on cashew nut farming. There, where words such as ‘emancipation’, ‘independence’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ are not by any means everyday concepts, where civil rights are crushed by misery and war, where one lives with little and dies for less, Elgon has decided to get involved to build up and develop this production supply chain. The preferred instruments that the company has been using to do this are training and education, making these some of Elgon’s top priorities.

Indeed, by providing training and instruction to the women in Sierra Leone on the processing, storage and sales of their products, it is possible for them to become much more independent. This is a long-term objective requiring constancy and commitment. However, the path to this objective does not just lead to greater benefits for the women of Sierra Leone because it represents and will continue to represent an unforgettable period of growth shared by the two realities.

Read Serena Caimano’s journal and you will understand what all of this truly means.

 “You decide to take a trip for many reasons. Perhaps you are seeking yourself, or answers to pressing questions, or to get to know what you have not yet seen.”

When I left for Sierra Leone, I was looking for all of these things. I tried to make my fears very, very small, stuffing them down in the bottom of my suitcase, so I could make space for my larger expectations, which would allow me to bring back home as much as I possible could from this journey. After all, “The only rule of travel is: don’t come back the way you went. Come back changed” (Anne Carson).

I was looking for myself in Sierra Leone. After years of working together with COOPI, this seemed like the perfect moment to see with my own eyes what we were actually doing through our awareness, our commitment and our passion, in our own small way.

I was looking for answers to my questions. I wanted to understand what had been, up to that moment, just a distant idea, gleaned through the stories told by others and a long way away from my daily experience, from my life.

I wanted to find out what I did not yet know about Africa and especially about Sierra Leone, its culture and its people. I wanted to find out about what was 4,000 km from my home, from my business from my very existence.

That is why, spiralling through this whirlwind of emotions, I prepared for my departure. And there is nothing more beautiful than the moment before a voyage, the moment when tomorrow’s horizon comes to visit us, to announce its promises. (Milan Kundera).

And as often occurs, in the frenzy of everyday life, with meetings, appointments, business matters, my departure time arrived. Even though I was not yet ready, I found myself on the plane taking off for one of the most meaningful journeys of my life. Though I did not yet know, in just a few short days, I would return with much, much more than I could ever have imagined.