Shells for Wells is about a community of people, called Ronurie, who live in the northern jungle of Sierra Leone. They live in abject poverty and dream of having clean water wells, sanitation, basic medicine and sufficient food. Our goal is to help improve the quality of life for the people in Ronurie by helping them raise money to attain these fundamental life necessities. And as a byproduct, give Ronurie hope and a sense of control over their future.
The giant African land snails are indigenous to Sierra Leone and have beautiful shells, which are used to create one-of-a-kind plant art. The Ronurie people hand pick each shell from the jungle.
Shells for Wells provides the purchaser a unique artifact from Sierra Leone - a symbol of Ronurie's culture. In turn, 100% of the net proceeds are returned to the Ronurie Village to pay for water wells, sanitation and other basic life necessities.
The Ronurie people are very thankful for this opportunity. They are so excited knowing that a piece of their village traveled across the world to be shared with and valued by you. We hope that this unusual artifact will not only remind you of Sierra Leone, but serve as a conversation piece to share with others.
It was in September 2011 when we first visited Sierra Leone and the Ronurie Village. We were a team of three, sent by our church, Shepherd of the Hills, to support the local missionary in Sierra Leone. I can't disclose any identifying information about the missionary to protect him and his family. In the world of global outreach, Sierra Leone is still considered to be dangerous for Christian missionaries.
While working with the missionary, we had the opportunity to visit many villages in the Freetown area and all were wonderful experiences. However, one particular village stood out and touched our hearts –the village of Ronurie.
Ronurie was the most remote and probably the poorest of the villages that we worked with. The level of poverty is extreme, even by Sierra Leone standards. Their existance relies on subsistence farming, which does not produce enough to feed their families. In fact, the average person in Ronurie lives on less than one dollar a day. Not until September 2012 did Ronurie have access to clean water. There is no sanitation.
Consequently, death in Ronurie is common and often attributed to water-born diseases. Malaria is also prevelant. They have no access to medicine or medical facilities.
Ronurie has limited to no contact with the outside world and for many, our visit provided their first glimpse of white women. Yet in spite of all of their hardships, the village welcomed us with such warmth, joy and love, it made me think of what it will be like when we enter heaven.
Our task was to give out reading glasses and spend the day interacting with the people in the village. The reading glasses were generously donated by Eyes on Africa, a California-based nonprofit organization. We assessed hundreds of people for proper eye glass strength and taught them how to wear and care for their new glasses. It was such a joy watching people re-discover their sight.
The Ronurie people showed their hospitality and appreciation with gifts of pineapple, coconuts and corn. They cooked us lunch of chicken and rice - giving us the best of everything they had. This generosity touched our hearts and we felt the beginning of a connection to these people.
As we got ready to leave at the end of the day, the village Imam and elders asked to meet with us and the missionary. Using an interpretor, they asked for help with building a water well and toilettes. The missionary agreed to try to help within the next year.
This is what started us to think about the options to help Ronurie raise money to pay for a well and other basic life necessities. But there were obstacles; Sierra Leone is considered to be the most impoverished of all third-world countries, there is no tourism and the Ronurie village is completely secluded. We have to be resourceful and creative, which lead to the idea of the local land snails.
We worked with the resident missionary and other friends in Sierra Leone to coordinate the collection of snail shells. The people of Ronurie gathered the shells throughout the rainy season. We returned to Sierra Leone on a seond mission trip In September/October 2012 (the end of the rainy season). We spent one week living with the Ronurie Village while we helped drill a water well.
We also collected all of the snail shells and brought them back to the United States in our carry on luggage. The Sierra Leone postal service is completely unreliable so mailing or shipping the shells is not an option.One carry-on suitcase, containing the more "fresh" snail shells had to be thrown away. The suitcase was stored in the planes' overhead bins. By the time we arrived in Los Angeles, we had traveled for nearly 24 hours. You can't imagine the smell when the overhead bin was opened. It was very awkward to say the least.
The shells come from giant African land snails native to Sierra Leone. The snails, locally referred to as bush snails, are individually collected from the jungle during the rainy season by the people of the Ronurie Village. The snail meat is harvested for food. It is cooked in palm oil and doesn't have much flavor.
The shells are stored in the village until they can be hand carried to the United States. Once in California, the shells are sanitized, polished and decorated with plants.