Aid for Sierra Leone becomes more than a one-man mission
Seattle Times staff reporter
"We did it!" Scott shouted.
The giant metal care package he's sending to his ancestral homeland wasn't even completely loaded. But it was clear that Scott, a Boeing finance analyst who lives in Renton, needed a moment to celebrate this small step in his own extraordinary journey.
Scott, who turns 54 on Saturday, is on a mission to rebuild and improve life in the 40-square-mile ancestral chiefdom in southern Sierra Leone that he inherited almost exactly a year ago, when his father, Joseph Scott-Manga IV, died. A decadelong civil war ruined Sierra Leone's already-struggling economy, and badly damaged its infrastructure.
As the new "paramount chief" of his territory, Scott says he feels partly responsible for the well-being of the people who live there. He's decided to dedicate the foreseeable future to them.
The story of Scott's inheritance, and his intention to help repair the damage to his family's villages and Sierra Leone's economy, was first reported in The Seattle Times on Oct. 10 ("Native son works for a better Africa.")
Since then, Scott's private business-development and relief project has become something of a public event.
Boeing executives, politicians and humanitarian organizations have expressed support and requested meetings with him.
He and his wife, Bryanna Scott, his main backer in this effort, have received nearly 100 e-mails and phone calls from Times readers who were moved by his decision to help Sierra Leone.
People have offered him money, even though he decided he was not equipped to accept cash donations. His project is mostly self-financed.
Others offered goods and expertise in everything from transportation to power generation to irrigation. Scott has accepted several offers because they fit with his plans to start eco-friendly mining, farming and other businesses, establish electricity and bring clean water to his villages.
Mostly, though, people have contacted Scott simply to thank him.
In Auburn, for example, members of the Kilo Middle School student club Everyday Heroes wrote Scott to express their appreciation.
"My name is Samara! And I just wanted to say that you ROCK!!!" one e-mail says. "Thanks for making a difference in this world! You're a one in a million!"
Scott is shy about all the praise. After all, his project is just beginning.
Logistics of a dream
He's also realizing that wanting to send aid to a developing region is far easier than actually doing it. The aid business is as much about networking, filling out paperwork and dealing with delays as it is about rosy altruism.
But Scott, who has a gift for gab and a persistent nature, has managed to find the right people to help him sort out the complicated logistics of his dream. He has linked up with the nonprofit humanitarian-relief shipping organization Global Outreach Distribution, an offshoot of St. John Baptist Church in Tacoma, to send the cargo shipment to his village of Ngalu, Sierra Leone.
The container is stuffed with supplies, including a four-ton diesel truck Scott bought at auction, a Jeep Cherokee for lighter loads and basic transportation, more than five tons of cement to help rebuild homes damaged during the civil war, three tons of rice, some used bicycles, a moped, a bedroom set, and 50 pairs of shoes donated by worshippers at St. John church.
Scott can attach a story to just about every item he's sending. One of his elderly relatives, who sleeps on a mat on the floor, will receive the bedroom set as a surprise gift.
The small green generator will be used in daylight hours to power a sawmill Scott is setting up in his chiefdom; by night it will light his family's compound.
"It's a big, big thing," Scott said, describing a simple generator's potential impact on life back in the villages, where there has never been electricity. He hopes to send over a much larger generator — a 20-ton model donated by a family in Everett — to extend electricity to other homes. It wasn't possible to send that generator in this container.
The container, loaded with the volunteer help of Sam "Lee" Verrett and the crew of his Tacoma-based metal-fabricating company, Spectre, left a Seattle rail yard Sunday on its way to Houston. There it will be loaded onto a ship bound for Antwerp, Belgium, where it is to be transferred to another vessel for the final voyage to the port of Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital.
If all goes well, the container will arrive in mid-January, said Mechelle Brown Little, executive director of Global Outreach Distribution.
Scott is planning to be in Freetown to greet the container.
He'll have to unload it and transport the contents about 160 miles southeast of Freetown to the district of Bo. From there, the villages are reachable by 25 miles of mostly dirt road.
"It's tough, very nerve-racking," Scott said of the process. "But then when you think about the payback — that's what keeps you going."
Passion and purpose
Sierra Leone is in the midst of a massive social-welfare, health and economic crisis, despite and in some ways because of its enormous wealth of gold, diamonds, iron and other resources.
The war, financed partly by diamond smuggling, left thousands of children orphaned and thousands of adults homeless and maimed.
Still, Scott is far from disillusioned. Those who've met and offered to work with him say they are struck by his passion, determination and organization.
Aroun Edward Taylor-Kamara, a fellow Sierra Leonean who helped Scott load the container, said he too is interested in redeveloping his country's economy and plans to travel there with Scott in January. Taylor, who owns a janitorial business in Seattle and hails from a prominent family in the northern Kambia district, said he wants to start a community center in his territory and launch a business in the diamond trade.
"I decided I've got to do something," he said of the country's needs. "I'm trying to learn how Scott is doing it."
St. John Baptist Church Pastor LeeArthur Madison said his church is getting involved with Scott's cause at a time when the congregation is seeing more African-immigrant visitors and members, and when the church, through its missionary and aid-distribution efforts, is searching for grass-roots projects to take on in Africa.
"His purpose parallels our purpose," Madison said, noting that St. John may help establish a mission in the village of Ngalu.
"I've just met lots of people who have a passion, they say, or concern to help people in need," Madison explained. "I'm moved not by need but by purpose. ... [Scott] began to talk about what he felt God's purpose was for his life. He believed it wasn't by accident that he happened to be the chief in his district."
"Here's a guy who kind of understands basic management practices, he understands how to get things done and he's taking those skills back to Sierra Leone," said Raymond Pye of the Seattle-based Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, which helps groups in developing countries equip amputees with artificial limbs.
Pye said he visited Sierra Leone last spring and saw the need for health services. He credited Scott, who has extensive contacts in Sierra Leone's government, with accelerating the foundation's plan to set up its first African prosthetics workshop, in northern Sierra Leone.
Scott's plans have hit some snags: The cost of shipping the container went from $5,000 to $7,000 when the original carrier backed out, forcing Scott to find a new one. The container was late arriving at the staging area where the contents were to be loaded. Also, a car prowler broke into the Jeep Cherokee a day before Scott was to drive it from his home in Renton to the loading area.
On top of all that, Scott had to take an afternoon off during loading to defend his master's-of-engineering thesis by teleconference.
Scott, though exhausted, hasn't wavered.
"I cannot afford to let obstacles prevent me from doing what I set out to do," he said. "That's not my nature."
Tyrone Beason: 206-464-2251 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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