My Tenth Trip to Sierra Leone, and an Anniversary

05/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In two days I will board a plane to take my tenth flight to Sierra Leone. It will be the start of a familiar and familial journey that connects me to people who have been the centerpiece of the last four years of my life. It is my tenth anniversary of realizing that my life and my actions don't just stop at the American borders.

In 2005, I went to Sierra Leone to shoot a film. While there, I was intoxicated by what I saw against the disparate backdrop -- gorgeous faces, penetrating smiles, infectious laughter, happiness, curiosity, naïveté, love, joy -- I had to go back. So, in 2006, after rehabilitating a dilapidated, roofless school for the children of Sierra Leone's diamond district of Kono, I had fantasies of this school being my only Sierra Leonean destination point for the rest of my life.

I view this trip as an anniversary because each time I visit to Sierra Leone, it is a journey of a lifetime. Whether three months or three weeks, I am approached with countless opportunities to grow and use a different way of thinking...a different way of being. What growth.

But in what seems like a blink of an eye, our original intention of our special little schoolhouse has expanded into a nationwide program that is responsible for the education of several hundred youth, salaries of over 25 teachers and staff, computer literacy for over 6,000 per year, micro-credits for just over 500 women, and most excitedly, teaching adults the infinite gift of reading and writing. Wow!!

As I'm preparing myself for the tenth journey, I'm thinking about the relationships that have developed over the years. And I'm thinking about my staff, whom, through their work with Shine On Sierra Leone, have pushed tirelessly to rise to the challenge of overhauling outdated laws and lifting even the most hardened politicians to the beauty of our work. And right now, as I pack my homeopathic malaria spray and super repellent, I wonder how that makes them, the informally trained, everyday citizens of Sierra Leone, feel to acquire the desired resources for their community from their government. Shine On Sierra Leone.