By Sharon Gardner, literacy intervention teacher and First UMC of Colleyville Partner Church Representative
Jill Barker, Donna Edwards, Kerry Mueller and I, all educators, had the privilege of being part of a "virtual mission trip" to collaborate with Education Manager Mabel Mustapha and CRC Director Olivia Fonnie. Since the planned July 2020 mission trip to the CRC had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, our plans for a Teachers Learning Collaborative, Phase 3, had to be put on hold. TLC is an initiative for teacher-leaders from Sierra Leone to lead professional development for other teachers from Sierra Leone, assisted by teachers from the US. Olivia and Mabel talked with HCW and asked if we would be interested in collaborating virtually, so that Mabel could share some of the training materials with teachers in schools. Mabel was also interested in learning more about study skill strategies. We met several times online, and it was delightful! We discussed and shared information back and forth to support teachers and students. This was a marvelous way to “go” to the CRC without leaving home, and to be in partnership with our sisters in Sierra Leone.
An interview with CRC alumnus Abdulai Swaray, one of the original 40 children rescued from the street during the Sierra Leone civil war. Today, Abdulai is an IT professional who lives with his wife and children in Maryland. He is currently searching for a job opportunity in information technology, cloud computing, cybersecurity, system analysis, or database administration.
I was born during the 'Blood Diamond' war in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in a village in Pujehun district. To escape the war, my parents took me into the jungle where we lived for several years. The rebels eventually found us in the jungle and I was separated from my parents. I followed a convoy that led to the city, and I ended up in Bo city without my parents. I struggled in the city without them. I even entered into child labor and began sleeping on the street and living off the food I found.
I was rescued from the street by the Child Rescue Centre, and lived there until I graduated high school and went off to university. In 2012, I got married to the love of my life. God blessed us with a child, and I had the opportunity to travel to the United States on a full scholarship from Ramapo College where I earned my bachelor's degree in Information Technology Management. In 2018, God blessed us with another child. Juggling work as a dad and husband, I pursued a Master's degree at George Mason University in Applied Information Technology. In 2020, I earned my MS degree with a concentration in cyber security.
During my senior year of high school, I founded an organization called Young Vision Africa to empower young leaders in developing nations to achieve sustainable change in their communities. YVA provided housing, education, clean water, and health services to vulnerable people in West Africa, and we recruited American sponsors to join in these efforts. My involvement with YVA provided me the opportunity to speak globally about issues and challenges in Africa, including the Ebola crisis, and I was a featured speaker at the opening ceremony for Ramapo College's 'Year of Sub-Saharan Africa.'
Those we are serving are at the center of everything we do."
In 2017, I became an ambassador for one of my dream projects, "Healthcare Without Borders" at Thaakat Foundation. We have established two healthcare facilities, treated over 18,000 patients, and delivered more than 450 healthy babies. We continue to develop programs to aid in the overall quality of life for communities in Pujehun District. We manage malaria prevention and treatment programs and have an acute malnutrition program to assist the under-five population. As an ambassador, I helped the Foundation navigate through challenges, keep them focused, and ensure that those we are serving are at the center of everything we do. I am also a board member with Unsilenced Voices, a nonprofit whose mission is to help victims of domestic abuse and gender-based violence worldwide.
While Sierra Leone schools remain partially closed due to the COVID pandemic, the Child Reintegration Centre education department has been holding test preparation classes for students facing promotional exams. In most of West Africa, students who hope to promote from the Primary, Junior Secondary, and Senior Secondary levels are required to pass difficult examinations on a broad range of subjects. CRC students have been invited to attend classes in small groups, where they are tutored with a focus on mathematics and English. Education Manager Mabel Mustapha organized a system to help the students continue to study and prepare at home.
In early July, the government reopened school for students sitting public exams so they can attend remedial classes. The children will have at least two weeks of test preparation classes before the examinations are held. Children who are not taking public examinations will be assessed by their teachers on the two terms that were conducted before schools closed.
The NPSE exam for promotion from primary school is scheduled for July 31, BECE exam for promotion from Junior Secondary is scheduled for July 15, and the WASSCE exam for graduates of Senior Secondary is scheduled for August 4th.
On a fateful day in December 2016, Abubakarr’s life changed forever (you can read his story in our Fall 2019 magazine.) There was an accident involving a motorcycle, locally known as an “okada," near Abubakarr’s home. The motorcycle burst into flames, and Abubakarr was blasted by the explosion, sustaining second and third degree burns on his legs and arms. During his long recovery in Mercy Hospital, Abubakarr's goal was to play football (soccer) some day. With the determination and faith of a child, he has achieved his goal, and today he plays football with his friends every day after school. Abubakarr lives with his large, multi-generational, and very loving family in a small home not far from the CRC. Abubakarr and his brothers have been able to attend school through the CRC's education program, and he still receives regular care from Mercy Hospital as he continues the long recovery from the accident. In the video below, he expresses his gratitude for the CRC and Mercy Hospital, and the care he and his family have received.
Mercy Hospital outreach team was on a visit to Bevehun village when they encountered 6 year old John suffering from severe inguinal hernia. John was transmitted to the hospital and admitted as a "destitute" (his parents were not able to pay for his treatment.) The surgical staff assessed the child and scheduled surgery to repair the hernia, which was successful.
Inguinal hernia is a serious condition affecting all age groups in Sierra Leone. Activities that increase intra-abdominal pressure can cause a portion of the intestine to protrude through weakness in the abdominal wall. Heavy lifting, diarrhea, constipation, or persistent cough can all cause protrusion. Children in poor families may be especially vulnerable to hernias, as they may be carrying heavy water buckets or otherwise engaged in labor, and endemic diseases like typhoid and malaria create conditions that can lead to herniation. Left untreated, inguinal hernia can cause severe and even permanent damage to the intestines.
John's father Augustine was deeply appreciative that his child was successfully treated at no cost. John made a full recovery and was happily reunited with his family.