Diamond in the Rough: Sierra Leone

Posted April 16, 2013 by Laura Cook in Features

Digging Below the Surface in Sierra Leone.

Originally published in WildJunket Magazine Spring 2013


talled along a dusty road, our vehicle slowly took its last breath with a billow of smoke. As fumes crept out from under the car hood, I began to question my logic in visiting a place like Sierra Leone. I suppose the nervous glances from my traveling companions did nothing to hamper this train of thought.

When I told friends and family that I was heading off to this small West African nation, I was initially met with one of three reactions: bewilderment, horror, or stifled laughter. Indeed, the country is sadly known for the brutal civil war and ultimately the negative images associated with it: blood diamonds and children brandishing guns.

But I’d heard from a work colleague that this nation, which locals affectionately call “Sweet Salone,” had a lot more to offer than just precious stones and dark images. So, in 2011, I set off on a two-week adventure to find out what to expect in one of Africa’s smallest but most thought-provoking countries.

My time was split between visiting the remote north – where I learned about a humanitarian project – and the serene lagoon-fringed Atlantic coastline of the Freetown Peninsula. In the northern town of Kamakwie, I spent time alongside dogged, industrious members of the Sella Community Project as they tackled poverty through adult literacy and small business creation. I met teenagers determined to catch up on missed education, and middle-aged housewives gathering supplies to run market ventures with gusto. And I savored long strolls in the white powder sand, where beachside B&Bs pumped out jovial tunes from old-school boom boxes, and pineapple sellers donned vibrant prints and the latest hairdos.

It became clear on that journey that Sierra Leone wasn’t just a series of negative images, but instead filled with promising paradoxes: women living in extreme poverty but refusing to be crushed by it; hard-working locals unafraid to take time to enjoy the melodies of the latest musical hit; and a landscape awash with tranquility while it slowly heals.

Sierra Leone may not be a polished tourist destination, but it certainly was a diamond in the rough.

To support the work of The Sella Community Project see sellacommunity.org


This article was originally published in WildJunket Magazine Spring 2013

About the Author

Laura Cook

Laura Cook is an award-winning humanitarian photographer who believes images can change the way we look at the world. Follow her journey to unique corners of the world on lauracookphotography.net.

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