Sierra Leone Returnee Weekend: African Leadership Academy, Mentoring Minutes, & Hawa Bangura

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On Friday I sank into a copy of Sylvia Blyden’s Awareness times and the front page read: Female Lawyer Regrets Coming Back Home to Sierra Leone. I read the article written by Hawa Bangura explaining how she was cheated out of money by a local car dealer and that she believes that it was the same local car dealer who sent police goons to her house to beat her and her daughter and drag her off half naked to jail. The next day Adama asked me if i heard about this lawyer lady who got beaten at her house etc…and i told her i had read it in the papers. She asked me if i remember Mama B from Ethiopia and I said yes. It then occurred to me that Hawa Bangura was the daughter of Mama B (Aunty Fama Bangura) who lived & worked in Addis Ababa around the same time that we were there as kids. I then remembered that I had actually met her daughter Hawa at the launching of Adama’s fashion line back in January. I also realised that i knew her daughter who couldn’t be more that 12 years old.

When i read the article initially I was not totally convinced about the factuality of the story and I couldnt and didnt want to believe something like that could happen to someone. But when i discovered that i knew the victim the story affected me differently and suddenly i believed every word and felt an urge to reach out to Hawa. I can not imagine the terror, anger, and embarrassment that she has been through and is still going through.

As I thought about the story even more deeply, I began to wonder how many people like myself read the article in the paper and questioned the validity of her story. If something like that happened to me I would need a support system. I would people to know the truth.

There needed to have been a response from the Sierra Leone community of returned citizens supporting Hawa’s claims and advocating on her behalf. But of course such an association does not exist. While the White & Lebanese communities do a wonderful job of using their resources to support each other, we in the Returnee community spend the majority of our time complaining about our frustrations with the status quo over a couple bottles at Alex’s Beach Bar, Chez Nous, & Plan B. We need to take a closer look at ourselves and figure out a way for us to become a force to be reckoned with using our strengths to support nation building as well as supporting those who have made the sacrifice to come home and contribute to the national effort. If there had been such an association we would have been in a position to validate Hawa’s story and put pressure on the powers that be to ensure that she is treated fairly and that justice is served. Additionally, there are a lot of us Returned Citizens who have a variety of qualifications and expertise to lend to each other. Say you need legal or some IT or educational advice…you’re new in town and you want to deal with professional people who are used to operating on the same level of quality and performance and understand the relationship between time and productivity. How do u find those people and figure out who is who?? If we had an association or A Move Back Club as in Nigeria there are lessons that one could learn from the experiences of others that would not only save on time and agony, it will most times in this environment be saving you money. And in the event that something as traumatic as what happened to Hawa happens to you, you can rest assured you will have colleagues who will be up in arms on your behalf. When we as a community are truly ready to commit to national development we will have to do so together and not person A ego here…person B self interest over there. If you’re here for nation building u know damn well you can not do it alone.

The African Leadership Academy
On Saturday morning after a seriously good time at Old School with Adama that continued to Paddies till after 5 am. We got up tired, sluggish, and smelling of smoke to hurry to the Sierra Leone Grammar School to volunteer for the Sierra Leone Finalist Weekend for the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. Ms. Yeniva Sisay, my dear friend, favorite educationalist and Program Manager of Sierra Visions EXCEL AFRICA and probably the only person who could have gotten me out of bed with only 4hours of sleep. I arrived at Grammar School and we walked into the Chapel with rows and rows of desks. On one wall translated from Latin was the phrase “to have prayed well is to have studied well”…on another wall there were four plaques stating the head boys of the school to some 100 years back except for 97/98 which has no one listed..(I’m guessing there wasn’t much schooling done because of the May ’97 coup). One krio double barrel last name after another covered the plaques with academic year on one side and name of student on another. Another plaque had the list of head masters, while another had the names of students who had been first in mathematics…but the list stopped some 50-60 years ago. It was really great to be within the walls and to see the schools’ and personal histories of some of our national best and brightest while at the same time being apart of what i believe to be history in the making.

About The African Leadership Academy http://www.africanleadershipacademy.org/site
African Leadership Academy (ALA) seeks to transform Africa by developing and supporting future generations of African leaders. Opening in September 2008, African Leadership Academy will bring together the most promising 16-19 year old leaders from all 54 African nations for an innovative two-year program designed to prepare each student for a lifetime of leadership on the continent. Students will be selected to attend the Academy based on merit alone and will complete an innovative curriculum with a unique focus on leadership, entrepreneurship, and African studies. ALA graduates will attend the world’s finest universities and will lead Africa toward a peaceful and prosperous future.

We were going to participate in the selection of the Sierra Leonean Finalist of the African Leadership Academy. When we entered the students were busy taking their written exams. There were 16 students representing various different schools from Freetown & BO. These were the students who had been selected from the over 200 including in the initial selection process. Ms. Yeniva Sisay was proctoring the exam and she handed us a document to read on our roles & responsibilities as observers and interviewers. She looked really fabulous in her blue and white africana. As she walked through the desks collecting papers and moving the students through the other portions of the finalist weekend, she was in her element, and i could feel her commitment to the students. The students played a very interesting game called the SS Africa. They were given a list of about 23 or so personalities with different skills and accomplishments but they could only choose 19 of them for an expedition to a new territory that they would have to develop. The personalities ranged from Wangari Maathai and Nelson Mandela to an 85 year old grand mother and world class athlete. The students had to eliminate 5 people from the trip and give their reasons. Our job as observers (their were five of us excluding Ms. Sisay) was to assess their critical thinking skills and how they share and deal with criticisms from their peers. As we moved on to the one on one interviews my last night activities were catching up with me and i struggled to stay awake. Luckily though Yeniva had provided us with all the sugar one would need to stay awake. I was rescued by some very tasty ginger snaps. I interviewed three incredible young Sierra Leoneans that inspired and affirmed my faith in the future generations of this country. They were articulate, intelligent, well informed, and conscious of their roles in our society and it was a wonderful deviation from the general picture of youth in Sierra Leone. And equally as important, the volunteers involved in the selection process were from the Returnee Community…It was a really good thing for us to be involved in and it is more consolidated efforts such as this that will make our time spent in Sierra Leone as a group more fruitful.

The Mentoring Minutes
The next day (Sunday) I got a call from a cousin of mine informing me that a meeting was being held with some concerned individuals who wanted to find a way to start a mentoring program for local students…similar to the BigBrother program in the States. I went with Yeniva and Adama and Mahawa and we met with several others who had also showed up to be apart of the initial meeting/brainstorm session. We spent about two hours trying to create a loose structure and share ideas and recommendations for what a Sierra Leonean mentoring program should look like. As i looked around i realised that almost everyone present except for 1 or 2 people were from the returnee community. We set target for the next meeting and said our goodbyes

As i went to bed that night enjoying the best of Koroma Electricity, I felt that maybe there might be hope for us yet. Because though the weekend had started with Hawa Bangura’s awful experience and her regrets about moving back home, and my disappointment at the lack of out cry from the Returnee Community, a bit of faith had returned by Sunday. We do need to come together officially but i have a feeling that with small efforts like those i experienced this weekend it is only a matter of time before the momentum builds and next you’re hearing about The Returned Citizens Advocacy Group 🙂

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