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Native son delivers aid, hope to ancestral village
Seattle Times staff reporter
All Raymond Scott of Renton wanted to do last December was ship a 40-foot cargo container full of humanitarian aid from Tacoma halfway around the world to Sierra Leone, then deliver its contents to the ancestral estate he inherited a year and a half ago.
But when Scott finally delivered his "bag full of goodies" in March — including a diesel truck, bags of rice and cement, a power generator, bicycles and clothing — he could hardly contain himself.
"Tears were running from my eyes when it rolled into town," Scott said as he sat with a photograph showing the truck entering his family's village of Ngalu on March 27.
Scott arrived back in Renton in early April. He brought home an equally rich cargo of experiences that illuminate the big and small needs of his economically starved homeland, and how big and small deeds can change things.
In the photos of the truck-arrival party in Ngalu, an ensemble of male drummers and female gourd rattlers can be seen adding to the reverie as a traditional spirit dancer dressed head-to-toe in a grass cloak entertains the crowd.
"They danced all night!" an elated Scott said. "They danced all night for a truck."
Sierra Leone at a glance
Population: 6 million
Bordered by Guinea on the north and east; Liberia on the southeast; the Atlantic Ocean on the southwest and west
Total area: 27,699 square miles
Industry/resources: Much of the country's wealth comes from rich mineral resources, including diamonds, chrome, bauxite, iron ore and rutile. Agriculture is the other main industry.
Official language: English, though many tribal dialects are spoken.
Government: Sierra Leone is governed under a 1991 constitution that provides for a multiparty democratic system and human-rights guarantees. A president is both head of state and head of government.
Civil war: The country, and its natural resources, were ravaged by the civil war that began in 1991and officially ended in 2002. Roughly half of Sierra Leoneans don't have access to safe drinking water.
Inheriting a challenge
Three months in Sierra Leone offered Scott all the pitfalls and scattered moments of accomplishment that come with being a one-man Peace Corps.
Scott decided to launch the aid and business-development project in late 2003, when a 48-square-mile territory in the country's southeast region passed to him following the death of his father, Joseph Scott-Manga.
This year's humanitarian trip to Sierra Leone was his second. But it turned out to be an exercise in patience and resolve as Scott waited in the capital city of Freetown for the container to arrive.
The container missed a connecting vessel on its voyage from Houston to Belgium to Africa. Then it was unexpectedly diverted to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. With expectations in the family chiefdom running high, and with the considerable pressure he placed on himself, Scott's frustration boiled over.
He dashed off an emotionally charged e-mail to his boss at Boeing, John Mullen, that contrasted with his typically ebullient tone.
"Hi, Boss. Well! I am still alive but sometimes feel like being dead may not be that bad. Like they say, the best war plan is excellent until you run into the enemy and every thing goes to hell in a hand basket. The worst part about all of this is that the container has still not arrived in Freetown."
"I will not be coming back as scheduled this week (March 4)."
Civil war's ghastly legacy
Bringing hope to Sierra Leone
While staying with family in the Freetown area, Scott witnessed what he said were overwhelming scenes of hopelessness in the city, where many families fled during a civil war that raged through the 1990s. Rebels employed the gruesome tactic of cutting off people's limbs if they were suspected of supporting the ruling government, resulting in a nation filled with amputees.
The country of 6 million sits on a treasure trove of diamond and iron deposits, yet its people are among the poorest on earth, earning less than $50 a month on average. Diamond smuggling served as a major source of funding for the rebels. Eighty percent of adults in Sierra Leone are illiterate. Joblessness is rife.
"You go in the street and you see lots of young people milling around with nothing to do — thousands of people walking the streets aimlessly at night," said Scott, who left Sierra Leone more than 30 years ago to study finance at Seattle University. "It gave me a sense that the whole society is still in shock over that civil war, and the feelings are still very deep, and very bitter," he said. "I found myself caught between those forces, because I know people on both sides."
Scott said he gave away close to $1,500 to relatives and friends in Sierra Leone just to help cover school tuition costs, plus another $500 for school uniforms and shoes. One relative had been caned every day because he wore brown leather shoes — the only pair he had — instead of black.
"It was extremely draining just seeing all this desperation, wanting to do a lot but having all these financial constraints," Scott said.
He said he called home to his wife and leading supporter, Bryanna Scott, every other week to ask her to wire money from their savings.
Here are some of Raymond Scott's relief and business successes in Sierra Leone so far:
Scott hired former child soldiers to assemble a steel trailer on the flatbed of his diesel truck through a vocational program set up to retrain ex-fighters.
Ten women from Ngalu are participating in a micro-business venture set up by Scott and managed by his brother Solomon Scott-Manga: Each woman received 10 bags of Costco rice, from Scott's shipping container, to sell at market. They contribute a portion of their sales to a pool set up to purchase more rice, then keep the remaining cash for their families.
Scott gave one of his uncles some cement and some bags of flour to start a small bakery.
He helped set up meetings between a representative for the Seattle-based Prosthetics Outreach Foundation and government officials in Sierra Leone that resulted in a partnership to build an artificial-limb workshop in the north of the country later this year.
The Prosthetics Outreach Foundation has set a goal of equipping more than 100 civil-war amputees with limbs in the workshop's first year of operation, said Raymond Pye, foundation technical director.
Scott's portable sawmill business in Gibbina employs some 20 people.
While waiting for the container, Scott helped re-roof a family compound badly damaged during the war. One of his aunts, who received a mattress donated by a family in West Seattle, now lives in the building.
A cousin, Moses Manga, who used to walk miles tending to relatives each day, was "on cloud nine" when he received a bicycle from the container.
Local farmers started using the diesel truck Scott shipped in to travel to the regional market in Bo, Sierra Leone. The words "Ngalu Chiefdom Agriculture and Rural Development Project" are printed on the doors of the truck.
— Tyrone Beason
The container finally arrived in Freetown on March 13. It was so heavy that the port's cranes had trouble lifting it. Port officials, pondering the container's extreme weight and the four huge locks securing its contents, asked Scott if he was shipping gold.
"Finally seeing it there was very satisfying," Scott said, noting that shipping costs totaled nearly $16,000, three times what he expected. "I was very, very relieved."
His joy would be short-lived. When Scott and a dozen relatives unloaded the container for inspection, a boatload of thieves came ashore and started looting the 50-pound bags of rice Scott had earmarked for his villages.
Scott said relatives cornered one young man by a fence and were ready to pummel him when Scott ordered them to stop. Instead, Scott said, he asked the boy to help with the container, gave him money to buy rice for his family and hired him to clear brush on property he owns in Freetown.
At difficult moments, Scott recalled, he consoled himself by focusing on others.
This granny's got game
When Scott assumed authority over his family's territory, he acquired the status of a chieftain. The powers allow him to supervise development of the land — as well as mediate some civil disputes.
One day, while visiting a small lumber operation he set up in the village of Gibbina, an elderly woman in the crowd came forward with a "complaint" for Scott. Usually, this means a marital conflict.
But the woman said the village men were hogging a nearby soccer field, in a clearing that once served as a military training ground.
So Scott personally led the women to the field and let them play.
"These girls, they were mothers, wives; they all went out and played soccer," Scott said.
"And the grandma said she wanted to play, too!" Scott said, chuckling.
He appointed her goalie.
"Granny the goalie!" Scott said with delight.
Scott held up a photograph of the woman, dressed in a traditional patterned dress, floral-print top and head wrap, standing under a "goal" of bamboo stalks.
"She was very proud of herself," he said, still smiling.
The men made a deal with Scott: They'd agreed to share the field with the women in the future — if Scott got them a new soccer ball. Since Scott's wife had purchased soccer equipment for the container last fall, he obliged.
"These people thought something big had happened," Scott said. "A soccer ball, something that simple."
As thanks, the villagers offered Scott a goat. He declined.
Work is far from over
"You go in there and you touch one village — you give them this hope," Scott said.
"In the back of my mind, I have this fear: 'OK, how am I going to keep this going, get it to the next level?' "
But already, Scott has started a lumber business with a portable sawmill he sent to Sierra Leone last year, he's helped rebuild structures in his ancestral village that were damaged during the war, and he's given villagers a new way to take their goods and produce to market with the diesel truck.
Scott's current challenge is to start a rice-farming project in his region, something he considers vital to establishing a sustainable economy there.
He's working with Federal Way-based World Vision to ship at least one tractor, along with a 10-ton generator donated by an Everett family, to Sierra Leone. And when Scott turns 55 in December, he intends to retire early from Boeing, where he's worked since the mid-'70s.
Mullen, Scott's Boeing boss, at first had his doubts about Scott's grand Sierra Leone goals.
"I thought he was biting off probably more than he could chew," Mullen said with a laugh. "I just have a lot of admiration and respect for him for doing this."
Minutes before Scott left Ngalu, one of his uncles pulled him aside: "You have given us hope," the uncle said, according to Scott.
"I said, 'Uncle, you don't have to thank me,' " Scott recalled. " 'This is something that I have to do. I only wish I had the resources to do more.' "
The uncle suddenly called out for Scott's brothers and cousins. They all formed a circle.
" 'Your brother has a wish — let's pray,' " the uncle said.
"And we prayed right there."
Tyrone Beason: 206-464-2251 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company