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Sierra Leone, not your usual family destination
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Remember over the hills and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go? In this case, it’s over the sea and across the mountains to a Sierra Leonean village they went in a homecoming of sorts for Lisa Varnes-Epstein and her family. Varnes-Epstein had left Sierra Leone 22 years earlier after living and serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years.

Lisa, her husband Michael and their three teenage children will speak about the three months they spent in Sierra Leone at the Soldiers Grove Library on Tuesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. The Varnes-Epsteins, who live in rural Gays Mils, will discuss their work and establishing connections to a community whose circumstances are so different from those found here.

Despite several years of discussing the trip, it still came as something of a surprise to their children.

“They do a lot of brainstorming,” explained their eldest child and son, Kai. “I didn’t really believe we would be going.”

Traveling to a country that has ranked in the bottom three for human development according to the United Nations is not a trip most would envision for their family. Nor is it an experience you can really prepare for culturally.

The children were still given a schedule and chores, but they differed from before. Instead of feeding chickens it was sweeping floors with brooms made of bundled grass and no handle. And hauling water because running water was not available.

Travel was a different experience too. The children noted that seatbelts were not used, the vehicles were often battered and the roads were hard-packed dirt.

“They would try to fit as many people into a car as possible,” Ahmae, the youngest daughter recalled. “You would have a car for five people and they would fit 14. There would be someone on top with chickens and goats.”

“It was halfway through the trip before I realized what I had left behind,” Kai explained. “Things like food without rice.”

 “I felt guilty when we where in London on the way home and had hamburgers,” Ahmae said. “I felt guilty knowing what my friends in Africa were eating.”

Yet, as their parents would attest, the purpose of the trip was to develop close relationships with the people in their village and to understand how others live. In the case of Michael and Lisa, the purpose was also to work in a way that helped the community improve its collective life in a sustainable and self-empowering way.

To learn more about their work and the entire family’s experience living in Sierra Leone, go the Soldiers Grove Community Building at 7 p.m. on May 1.

The event is free and all are welcome. Refreshments and snacks will be served afterward.

The silent auction being held by the Soldiers Grove Library as part of their expansion project fundraising will conclude that evening. Librarian Cele Wolf plans to announce winning bids after the Varnes-Epsteins conclude their presentation.