Vickie Remoe Institute of Digital Communications

Why Is A Sierra Leonean CEO sleeping in a Toyota in the Sahara Desert?

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IB Cole, Co-founder, Puzzle Pieces Sierra Leone, by the Toyota he’s had to sleep in more than once on the Budapest Bamako Rally

On any given day, you’ll find Ibrahim Cole, the CEO of Leonoil, a multi-million dollar oil import and distribution family-owned business, at their terminal in Kissy, Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown. However, the past two weeks have been different. IB has been in the Sahara desert, embarking on a 9000km journey in Budapest, Hungary, and ending on Freetown’s Lumley Beach in Sierra Leone.

IB is participating in the Budapest Bamako rally alongside two friends: Mohamed “Med-Iye” Waritay, a network engineer based in Virginia, and Drizilik, Freetown’s breakout music star. With over 1000 participants, it is the world’s largest amateur rally. The trio travels in a Toyota Landcruiser, branded with the Puzzle Pieces logo, representing IB’s autism charity. He established the charity after his son, Mahmoud, was diagnosed with autism. Born in the US and raised in Freetown, Mahmoud began showing signs of autism at the age of three, such as difficulty making eye contact and meeting developmental milestones.

The Cole family had access to world-class therapy and support to manage Mahmoud’s diagnosis. As they went through this journey, IB and his wife Nalla realized that many other Sierra Leonean children with autism would never have the same resources. This realization prompted them to start Puzzle Pieces to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and mobilize resources for autism families.

During their stops in Morocco, Mauritania, and Senegal, IB has been sharing video updates of their journey. These updates include sand surfing, getting stuck in dunes and relying on other racers for a tow, and enduring freezing conditions while sleeping in the car. They forgot to get their blankets from the car’s roof before dark. Alongside these adventures, IB also shares videos about his family’s journey with autism, discussing the sacrifices, challenges, and lessons they have encountered.

 

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A post shared by Ibrahim Jefe Cole (@ibrahimdcole)

In his first video, IB announced that his son has autism and encouraged parents to provide their children with the best opportunities in life, just as they would for any other child. In his second video, he sheds light on the extreme measures that autism families often take due to the fear of stigma. In the third video, he shares some sacrifices autism families must make to give their children the necessities.

 

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A post shared by Ibrahim Jefe Cole (@ibrahimdcole)

 

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A post shared by Ibrahim Jefe Cole (@ibrahimdcole)


The Budapest to Bamako rally will end in Freetown on Monday, 12 February, 2024. IB, Med-Iye, and Drizilik are expected to receive a hero’s welcome both for their advocacy and being the first Sierra Leoneans to participate in the rally.

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