Discovery Innovation Advocacy
Special thanks to the following people and their respective units for helping to make this important trip possible.
Dr. Paul McNamara, Associate Professor College of ACES, UIUC
Dr. Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies, UIUC
Mike Doyle, Executive Director, University YMCA, Urbana-Champaign
Sam Smith, Director of Civic Engagement and Social Practice, Krannert Center
Dr. Stephanie Craft, Head, College of Media, UIUC
David Ivy, Business Admin, UIUC
Sierra Leone, West Africa
Innovation & Advocacy
Last Stop...Sierra Leone, Kenema, Makeni, Bo...
Well, after Abuja and Accra, I finally made it to Sierra Leone…and I was in love with her once again. Aboard the Sea Bird, the water, beaches and friendliness of the people reminded me so much of the east coast of Virginia. While in Salone, I worked in many areas, with various villages, people and organizations. I revisited my research on problematic issues that I covered in my first documentary to ascertain what changes or improvements had been done. I also used this opportunity to meet new people and learn of political changes. For example, I learned that, under the new President of Sierra Leone, the Open Government Initiative was dissolved and redesigned under a new name and new leadership. I also learned of new leadership of the National Federation of Civil Society. During my first trip to Salone, I worked with the Open Government Initiative and the National Federation of Civil Society to begin developing canons of ethical journalism practices. I was part of a 3 day workshop, talked and worked with journalists, visited certain locations where journalism and media messaging was being practiced and spoke on topics such as how the freedom of the press plays an important role in developing a free and democratic society. Over the years, I continued to advise on a number of issues, including social media platforms for outreach during the outbreak of Ebola. So, who are some of the new leaders? One of them is Miss Yeama Thompson, Commissioner of the West region, who, warmly, welcomed me back to Salone. Thompson directs the Right to Access Information Commission that replaced the Open Government Initiative. She spent time speaking with me about her work and what work still needs to be done as well as how we can work together on media workshops in the future, continuing my work to help with the development and improvement of this beautiful country. She also chaperoned me around town, picking up fresh seafood on our treks as I listened to her many cultural lessons that are so valuable to me or anyone who wants to be a part of Salone. We had a great time! People are really friendly here, just like in Abuja and Accra.
I really enjoyed staying right in town near the water at the Jam Lodge. The management and staff were extremely accommodating. They had a driver pick me up from the boat ramp and drive me safely into town to my new, temporary abode. It is quaint, located in a beautiful area overlooking the beautiful mountains, clean, and the food was delicious. At night, Salone was beautiful as the lights cascaded up the glorious mountains. Can lights cascade UP? Oh well, I like how it sounds so, I will stick with it.
My room was very nice and comfortable with its own air conditioning wall unit (which is an improvement from my first trip). I had satellite television and had someone there to cook, clean and even wash or iron my clothes whenever I needed. There was adequate security around the complex and a nice outside bar, television and pool table area. Of course music was playing from each corner of Salone. I like the fact that some things have stayed the same ... the sounds of LIFE through their Music is a constant and I love it!
A colleague of mine and Director of Civic Engagement and Social Practice of the Krannert Center on UIUC campus, Sam Smith, has been doing some great work in Sierra Leone. He and I work with a team of people who really want to make a difference on committees and as members of the Board of Governors at the University Y. Executive Director Mike Doyle leads this and other Global Initiatives to better the world. One of the places on their map is Sierra Leone. At the request of Sam, I met with Herbert Bangura, the Executive Director of Young Peace Builders (YPB), a youth-led social advocacy organization based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. His organization is extremely active on social media and in the community.
On behalf of the Y's Global Initiatives and initiatives of Sam Smith, I participated in a celebration for children from various villages whose families can not financially afford to celebrate the holidays. There are also mobility challenges. The roads that are unpaved and untouched by technology in many cases, make it extremely challenging to move from one place to another, even for a simple gathering. Additionally, most of the roads are only wide enough for a single line of people or motorcycle. So, Herbert, physically, and Sam, virtually, brought the celebration to them. In the Kathiri village close to the Makeni area, in a central area framed by shade-providing trees, we brought lots of food, gifts, music and the joy of giving, just for the children. I danced and enjoyed the company of close to 200 children who gave me so much love, it took my breath away at times, emotionally AND physically! When I began dancing with the children, it began small...a few children dancing, smiling, pulling on, and laughing at and with me. But, as the day pressed on, I felt them move closer and closer to me...so close, that I could no longer dance with one small group at a time. We had to dance as a community...all of us moving together as one, like one single, swaying tide of love and connection. Getting there was a bit rough, but, once we got to the village, it was like one big backyard party with "Aunties" with behavior modification "switch" carrying "aunties" and Dance Contests!
After leaving the village, Herbert found me a really nice hotel to slumber for the evening called the Where Else hotel located on the Makeni-Kabala Highway. Catchy name right? I met the owner, Stanley Bangura, Jr., who is a journalist and publisher of the Northern Times newspaper (the only sustainable outlet in the provinces according to him), a CEO of a radio station (93.3 in Makeni), restaurants and other media outlets and so on and so on.... It was a very pleasant place to stay, the management team were, again, very polite and hospitable (female manager by the way), with tea and biscuits in the morning placed outside of your door, and there were beautiful sites within the complex as well as outside my window.
One of the things I really love about traveling to Africa, is that, for the
most part, I am offered luxuries on a daily bases that are routine for them
and hard to attain in the U.S. unless you're rich. Everyone is always very
polite. I can get my food made the way I desire and men ALWAYS carried
my bags (nothing against strong women/womyn). My dwelling is cleaned
daily, and my clothes are washed and ironed in a professional manner.
Some of these services are free, but, even with paying a little bit, it is
worth it. I get this type of treatment everywhere I go, including, the
Where Else Hotel.
I asked Stanley, how can one survive and thrive in their business
ventures in Salone, something he has been doing for a while.
Survival Tip No. 1=DIVERSIFY!
It was my first time meeting Herbert Bangura of the Young Peace Builders. As you can surmise from the videos of our trip to Kathiri, he is truly invested in the youth and doesn't mind joining in on the work that has to be done. He, constantly, talked about how he wants to help the youth in ways he wasn't helped and in beautiful ways. Helping the youth and developing the community and villages is his passion.
Later, on our trip back into town, Herbert discussed with me the many challenges children face on a daily basis.
Sierra Leone is a beautiful country, and, like many countries in the world, it has its fill of things that are not so friendly, nor, beautiful. Like the terrible news of a spike in the rape of young, female children, as young as 3 months old. There is actually a campaign called, Hands Off Our Girls, led by the First Lady of Sierra Leone to stop this crime. The causes? Some say that Ebola took the life of so many women that young girls are now the target. Others say that it is spiritual, meaning evil spirits within people doing evil things, while others say it is just a simple case of bad people doing bad things. Whatever the reason, it was very obvious through billboards spread throughout the city, that it is a serious problem and the first lady and President are trying to make a change and protect these young, innocent victims. There are a number of articles written about these heinous acts.
Article on female students/teacher
Article on the widespread problem
This was very, very sad to hear. Hebert also spoke on this topic as well. Telling me a story that chilled me to my bones (some audiences may find some of the story disturbing to hear).
For some reason, my spirit demanded that I meet this child. I asked Herbert if he could help me meet this child. I did not know if this would be possible because I was scheduled to meet up with my group from the university that day and stay with them for the duration of my time left in Salone. As the universe would have it, on one single day, the group from the university that I was with decided to stay in Makeni because it was too late and dark to travel the roads to Njala University (our next destination). And on this one single day, Herbert called me to tell me that he had the child with him and could bring her to me. I couldn't believe it! We were going to meet! Herbert introduced me to her, one of her uncles and the man who tried to help her, medically. When I asked about what happened, he repeated the story to me, but, it just did not sound right to me. I asked about her condition now and whether she ever made it to a hospital. She did not. The story goes...she emerged from the woods bleeding, profusely. Someone went to get her mother and on a motorbike, with the child stretched horizontally across her mother's lap across the back of the small motorcycle, her mothers arms placed around her to keep her from falling, they made their way to a "doctor," a man who, I found out later, wanted to study to be a nurse or doctor. But, it was a blessing that he and Herbert were there to assist physically and financially and the man was there to provide whatever medical attention he could. She needed blood but there was no way for her to get a blood transfusion. So, they "packed" her to stop the bleeding. She had to be treated in the "doctor's" home along with TBAs, which stands for Traditional Bath Attendants, because the roads were impassable for an emergency such as this one and her family could not afford a hospital bill. To make matters worse, there wasn't a hospital nearby.
As I listened to the story, my eyes stayed on the child sitting next to me. Wishing that I spoke her language so that I wouldn't need a translator and could ask her what happened for myself. She wasn't smiling. I knew and felt that this poor baby had experienced something extremely traumatic. I wanted to comfort her in some way, so, I began to speak to her and allowed Herbert to translate what I was saying. I learned very quickly that she understood my smiles, my gentle touch on her hands as I was speaking to her, the comfort of my eyes when my inner child connected with this child, and she began to give me eye to eye contact and a very, leery, smile back. I asked them, besides the incident that took place a few months back, why does she look and feel so sad? I was then told that her mother, the one who held her and protected her on the back of the motorcycle, had just passed from an illness one week ago. I could not fathom how a child could endure all of this at such a young age. So, I grabbed her into my arms and hugged her and kissed her and made her smile and took care of her school supplies via a donation to Herbert, and gave her some money just for candy! I just kept hugging her and hugging her and by the time our visit was over, she was SMILING!!!! I went back to meet with the group from the university and when I told Amber Martin, our guide extraordinaire, of what just occurred and the back story, in one swift dictation of a few sentences, my smile was washed away. "Janice," she began to cautiously but directly speak to me on many levels. "I hate to be the one to tell you this, but, I am almost 100% sure that she did not sit on a tree stump. She was probably raped. But, because of her religion and to keep her status of one deserving of marriage in the future, this lie was made up to protect her." "What???!!!, I yelled in disbelief?!!!! And then, I began to cry for this baby. Yes, it all makes sense to me now. A mother/a woman knows (nothing against men or fathers)...and I knew that what Amber was telling me was probably the truth. It broke my heart but it also ignited me to action, to do something about this situation. To this day, I continue to keep tabs on her and how she is doing and Herbert and I continue to have conversations about solutions. When I speak to him to this day, he continues to have Hope for the future as he did when I first met and spoke with him.
Basic Cost of Assistance Needed for Education in Makeni
Because the children live in extremely, remote areas, they must travel by foot through the brushes, then either walk on foot or travel in a car or on the back of a motorcycle the 23 miles to school every day. Many children go into the brushes to gather sticks before school so that they can sell the bunch for money and use it for transportation to school and food. IF a family has food, they usually cook and serve this food in the evening as the single meal the family will have all day. It costs around 5000 Leones just for transportation to and from school every day (5 days a week), which is about $1.75 in US dollars.
Another mover and shaker of youth development and sustainability is Christian Kamara. Christian is the Director of the YMCA in Sierra Leone and has an ongoing relationship with the University Y here in Urbana-Champaign. He works with the university's team, led by Y Director, Mike Doyle, to develop partnerships that can assist Salone's Y in obtaining their goals for the future. I had a wonderful opportunity to greet, meet and eat with Christian's team at the headquarters in Salone. This is another case of hands-on movement and development. For instance, youth at the Y in Salone are very talented furniture builders. Christian has the youth take that talent, procure a contract with a school to build school furniture and entrepreneurship and its benefits are established and serve as a building foundation for economic sustainability. To assist in the nurturing of this partnership, as part of our YMCA initiative at the university, I conducted a multimedia/digital publishing/social media workshop with the Y’s staff. It was a very lucrative conversation as they were very open about what seemed to work, what didn't work, and what work still needed to be done. I also made suggestions from a journalist's point of view of how they can improve communications between the Y and political officials and other media platforms and outlets. After the workshop, they fed me a delicious lunch and gave me a tour of their facility that included a hostel and workout room! The importance of Y’s as an integral part of community development and sustainability was made even more obvious to me, whether here or abroad, as I toured their facilities and learned more about their ongoing activities. The Y in Salone helps to assist more than 2 thousand youth a year with their day to day challenges. They also work to educate and encourage the youth to be politically involved so that important, policy changes can be made…by way of positioning voting efforts. As you can see from the slide show below, Director Christian Kamara and his team stay involved and stay busy across the regions!
I had learned a lot by this time on my journey. Some pleasant, some not so pleasant. Here's a pleasant note for you. For many years, since I was a little girl, I was always interested in the Gullah people and culture. I even remember watching a show called Gullah Gullah Island on PBS. As you may know by now, I studied and read everything I could on the Gullah Geechee people, first, informally, and then later on, formally when I began my academic research. One name that I kept running across was Joseph Opala. Opala is a prominent, American historian who played an integral role in the connection between the Gullah people living along the southeast coast of America and Sierra Leoneans living in West Africa. As a scholar and researcher, I grew to know his work pretty well and about 2 or 3 years ago, he and I, finally spoke over the phone, thanks to an introduction by Anita Singleton Prather. Prather is a well known Gullah storyteller who has advised on movies like The Patriot and Forest Gump. Anyways, he and I continued to speak over the phone from time to time about my work on the Gullah Geechee and he watched my documentaries on YouTube and became a big fan of mine as I am one of his. But, I never had a chance to meet Opala in person. Ever! But, guess what happened? As fortune would have it, while I was there in Salone, I received an email from him saying that he was in Sierra Leone for a short visit. We set up a time and place that was convenient (basically my hotel was around the corner from his hotel) and we finally met, had dinner and wonderful, educational and intellectual conversation. It was truly a blessing to have met him...in Salone!!! At that very time in our lives. How awesome is that, I ask you?
I was also fortunate enough to meet Amadu Massally, a power-hitter when it comes to tourism development in Salone. Salone is a wonderful place to visit for tourists, in general, as well as Spring Break travelers! Great things are happening when it comes to the tourism potential and Amadu is one of the key people wanting to bring positive attention to the land of lioness mountains!
Finally, I met up with three wonderful people who played major roles in the production of my fist autoethnography back in 2013. Isatu Smith took me on my own private tour of Bunce Island back in 2013. Bunce Island is an island in the Sierra Leone River. It is situated in Freetown Harbour, the estuary of the Rokel River and Port Loko Creek, about 20 miles upriver from Sierra Leone's capital city Freetown. Bunce Island was historically known as the largest British slave castle on the Rice Coast of West Africa. Founded around 1670, tens of thousands of African captives were shipped to North America and the West Indies from Bunce until the British Parliament finally closed it down in 1808. It was two days before I was leaving to head back to the United States and I did not have enough money left to tour Bunce Island on my own. Usually, there is a group that takes the tour because of the many legs of transportation needed to get there, financially. Isatu even tried to find other tourists who were interested in going so that she could plan a group trip that would then be affordable for me. But, it didn't happen. So, 2 days before I headed back to the U.S., Isatu called me to say that she will give me the tour for whatever amount I could give her and still have enough money to get home. And that is exactly what she did. She even supplied me with food for lunch! She could not fathom me, an African American, who traced my DNA lineage back to the Mende tribe living in present-day Sierra Leone, or any other Black American, NOT visiting Bunce Island if they had the chance. My ancestors were definitely watching over me and so was Isatu Smith. I thank you.
Samuel Musa Koroma and Mohammed Mosere Lacha. Sam and Mohammed helped me capture parts of my trip to a Mende village in Kaiyamba, Moyamba district, once ruled by Paramount Chief Ella Koblo Gulama and Madam Yoko. It was a wonderful visit and if it were not for Samuel and Mohammed, I would not have had the wonderful footage to use in my first documentary series. I had not seen them since 2013 and, because technology can be a bit slow in Salone, they were not aware that my series had been picked up by NTA. This meant that they had not even seen their work broadcasted. When we met up at the Family Kingdom Resort, I was finally able to show them the episode that they helped create. It was a touching and wonderful moment. I also knew that it was a blessing that we were all together again, despite the Ebola outbreak and the mudslide that killed so many people. I was so happy to see all of them.
I was also happy to see this gentleman. The picture on the left shows him when I met him in 2013 outside of a grocery store in Salone. The picture on the right shows him sitting in front of the same grocery store six years later. To this day, I still do not know his name. He was the only one I had seen in 2013 with physical evidence of the tragedy of the civil war in Salone, losing both of his hands. If you watch the series, you will learn that many people did not talk about about the war in 2013 and they still do not like to talk about it now. So, I never bother him. I just take his picture, give him some money to help out and to say thank you for allowing me to use his image to tell a story of civil unrest that we should never forget and continue to pray for his well-being. I was happy to see that he has endured.
I must also say that I was not prepared to see what was left over from the mudslide that killed over 1000 people. It was tragic to see with my own eyes. Unregulated construction on hillsides and mountainsides is noted as contributing to this destruction. This is what the spot looks like now. Nothing normal or natural about this tragedy. I do not think it is a freak of nature. It is careless movements of human beings manifested.
I am going to end this part of the journey on an upbeat! The Family Kingdom Resort! Family Kingdom is a beautiful place and convenient place to stay. Everyone was so nice there and the location itself is directly right across the street from Lumley beach. At this location, we had pretty much everything we needed, including currency exchange posts, turndown services, laundry services, a nice kitchen, patio, nice comfortable bed, shower, refrigerator and restaurants lining the beach just or right next door. I was able to connect with my FB friend Egerton Kamara who is a music promoter in Salone, which was a pleasant surprise. I used the pronoun WE in this paragraph because it was here that I met up with Dr. Paul McNamara and his study abroad class from the AgReach program at the University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana. It was exciting, educational, challenging, and rewarding!!! Just like my "journey" getting to the Family Kingdom Resort itself as you will see from the videos below. Watch them left to right. Enjoy! AgReach, the final leg of my journey is up next!
It was also a beautiful day to run out of gas in temperatures of 98+, wait in the car while driver, Sinneh Kamara,
walked to a gas station, came back on a motorcycle with an arm full of water bottles filled with gasoline! Lol... and we were
off again! Yay! While all of this was happening, I received a comforting message from Amber E. Martin...I wasn't afraid. It's how it is sometimes in Salone. You must have patience and stay positive !!!