As it was with the Ghanaian slum, so should it be with Kroo Bay.- Isaac Massaqui.

By Isaac Massaquoi.

The jury is still out over the success or otherwise of the action taken by the Ghanaian government to destroy the biggest slum in that country in the last few weeks. It will take a little more time before any conclusive statement can be made because there’s just the odd chance that after all the media hype that accompanied the demolition of the shacks in which ninety thousand of the poorest Ghanaians lived, the government might just lose their political nerve and allow the people to gradually re-occupy the slum. I say so because I have witnessed in this country how attempts to deal with the problem of street trading in particular have failed because the traders have skillfully manipulated successive governments, even blackmailing them for votes, so that we still have Abacha Street firmly in their grips. Now the upper part of Rawdon Street is also gone. It would seem that no place is safe from people selling things on the streets, people who ought to have been convinced by the policies and actions of governments past and present that that life in rural Sierra Leone where the majority came from was much more decent and worthwhile than what we have in Kroo Bay. So in the case of the Ghanaian slum, called Sodom and Gomorrah – named after the biblical city, which according to the Bible was destroyed by God for unbridled wickedness and immorality – some of the slum dwellers might defy the government and stay put. I have to make this clear from the outset, that this piece is not just about Kroo Bay. Here, Kroo Bay represents all the physical slum dwellings around Freetown – from those in Aberdeen in the west all along the shoreline down to the far east of Freetown. Kroo Bay also represents all those thousands of Sierra Leoneans who live in slum mentality in Freetown’s many informal, even wild settlements on the hills overlooking the city. I am using Kroo Bay because every time we talk about abject poverty and deprivation in this country, the first place that comes to mind is Kroo Bay. Ghanaian media say Sodom and Gomorrah, which is identified as the 10th most polluted place in the world with huge deposits of digital waste, came into existence largely because people who fled bloody ethnic conflict between Konkomba and Nanumba people in the north of that country in the 1980s poured into Accra and settled there. And with time, they were joined by other family members. In 2015, we are talking about several generations of people for whom Sodom and Gomorrah is home. It’s a fact that Kroo Bay existed before that disgraceful RUF war ravaged Sierra Leone in the 1990s, but there’s no doubt, absolutely, that Freetown became a different city in terms of its demographics and life in general after the war. Many of our people who reluctantly came to Freetown have not returned and the natural place for many of them was Kroo Bay-like places, whether near the sea or those informal hillside settlements that are prone to being washed away by heavy rain every year. According to Ghanaian media reports, Sodom and Gomorrah had become synonymous with armed robberies, prostitution, drug dealing and the consumption of all the filth that is emptied into the city’s drainage system. Kroo Bay and all the slums in Freetown are not any different. Many years ago, Abdul Tejan Cole, who was head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, described Kroo Bay as “a scar on the conscience of this nation.” That description took me straight to the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech to his Labour Party conference in Brighton in October 2001 where, even with the world reeling from the September 11 attacks on the United States, he made this telling statement about our continent: “The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don’t, it will become deeper and angrier.” We may have Hollywood celebrity type houses springing up daily at IMATT and in the Freetown peninsular, creating the impression that life was changing in Sierra Leone. The reality, however, is that the scar that is Kroo Bay – (please, use my definition of Kroo Bay), is getting bigger and bigger. It’s even threatening to overrun the rest of our showpiece areas. As the saying goes, share your riches with the poor or they will share their poverty with you. When Ebola reached Freetown, it is the same slums that suffered badly. When cholera strikes, the same people suffer most. So why do we continue to allow them to live in those places? The Accra Metropolitan Assembly described Sodom and Gomorrah as “not fit for human settlement.” It would have been criminal for them not to have acted after that conclusion. I urge the Freetown City Council and indeed State House (it will eventually land on the desk of the president) to declare Kroo Bay and its cousins as places that are totally unfit for human settlement. That will be a good step from which we can talk about other issues. Those other issues would include producing a credible resettlement plan for the people living in slums and indeed what to do about all those areas. All half a dozen or more people I discussed this issue with before writing this piece were quick to point out that this government will never move against Kroo Bay and other such places because of political reasons. The argument is that any action to take out Kroo Bay, even after declaring it as unfit for human settlement like the Ghanaians did would result in massive loss of support for the government and with 2017 just over the horizon, it would be political suicide to do what John Mahama’s government has just done. I understand that. Politicians have just one calculation: how could they stay in office forever without any opposition. Unrealistic as that may be, it’s certainly the kind of thought that runs through their minds in their ceaseless search for votes. I believe that they lose more votes with that scar called Kroo Bay constantly on the conscience of the nation. The most recent display of our government’s inability to be tough when they really need to was when they allowed a squatter camp packed  with our physically challenged brothers and sisters to be established along Pademba road, close to the correctional center. Day after day, the authorities drive past the squalor but they turn a blind eye to that most glaring example of how unequal a society Sierra Leone has become. Is that how our governments deliver on housing for the poor? They have conditioned otherwise decent people into believing that the only way to realise their potentials is to form their own small colonies, thus providing NGOs with enough raw materials for their project writing and so on and while they constantly beg on the streets. So dehumanising for people who clearly deserve better for simply being born in potentially rich Sierra Leone Surely, our governments past and present are not the only ones facing such accusations. Even in the Sodom and Gomorrah case, the governments in Ghana allowed the slum to grow from an emergency settlement for people fleeing conflict, a bit like the ones we had in Freetown in the closing stages of our civil war, to a settlement of 90, 000 people living in the midst of unbelievable mounds of digital waste with all the consequences of that. In the immediate period after this action against Sodom and Gomorrah, John Mahama’s government is facing a lot of criticism from their supporters in those slums, but the rest of the people of Ghana clearly understand the wisdom behind the destruction of the slum. It will be the same in Sierra Leone. A government must be strong when it must.

Credit: Politico Sl.

FAMILIES WITHOUT BORDERS; NOT ONLY A SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAMME, BUT A PARENTING, MENTORSHIP, LEADERSHIP AND COACHING PROGRAMME.

By Foday Kamara. Beneficiary, Families Without Borders.

Families without borders is an organization with a mission to improve the lives of children and families through education and economic development. The organization do this through an empowerment model – honoring the inherent capabilities of individuals and providing the education and tools for them to improve their lives and communities. The organization has been engaged in offering scholarships to less privileged high school graduates to study at the University of Makeni, a private university in the north of Sierra Leone. I am a beneficiary of their scholarship programme which has gone beyond being  a scholarship programme to “parenting, mentorship and coaching”  and so I have decided to share to the world what I have learned so far from being part of the programme.

Before now, I have referred to and heard many people refer to Families Without Borders as a scholarship programme, but I just found out it has gone beyond being that. Scholarship according to “Merriam Webster Dictionary” is “an amount of money that is given by a school, an organization, etc. to a student to help pay for the student’s education”. Mentorship on the other hand is a guidance provided especially by an experienced person in a company or educational institution. Mentors are there to show the way. And parenting simply means to act like a mother or father to someone. Coaching according to “businessball.com” typically refers to methods of helping others to improve, develop, learn new skills, find personal success, and achieve aims and objectives and to manage life’s change and personal challenges.

Families Without Borders has clearly crossed pass what scholarship means to becoming a great parenting, mentorship and coaching programme. The activities others and I have taken part in since I came to Families Without Borders depicts those of proper parenting, mentorship and coaching. I came to Families Without Borders with the aim of getting someone or organization pay my fees to the university, go through my course, graduate and go out and look for a job to get me money and enrich myself, but the first conversation I had with Mummy Terri Khonsari, the founder and director of Families Without Borders changed it all around. I now realized I was coming to create a global family of change makers, go through numerous trainings and preparation for good leadership and take part in many life changing community services etc. All this while still in the university. How marvellous!

There are few other scholarship programmes in Sierra Leone and at the University of Makeni, but none is as life changing as Families Without Borders’. It is evident at the University of Makeni by the outstanding performance of the students in the university both in academics and otherwise. The university sees Mummy Terri as our mother and the organization as a family as the name depicts. Colleagues in the university often ask “has your mother come?” not has your sponsor come? This is because the founder treats every student in the programme as her own child and entreats us to treat others as brothers and sisters. The founder, Mummy Terri possesses every good quality a parent should have. She is patient, a good listener, a good teacher, loving, frank, supportive, understanding, etc. She has used these traits to change lives tremendously. Her teachings changed me from being a tempered and quarrelsome person to a patient and peaceful one. I will tell you that no scholarship programme in Sierra Leone is offering as much as Families Without Borders.

In November 2016, Families Without Borders took students on a retreat to Eden Park in Freetown where women from various organizations in Freetown were invited by Mummy Terri to impact a great deal of knowledge unto us the students and inspire the girls in particular. The retreat which focused on leadership and personal development taught and inspired every one of the students in the programme. It is worth saying that the mentorship which was given by the women from TechWomen and Mummy Terri herself made great changes in our lives. This cannot be seen easily in Sierra Leone and many other countries in the African continent. Among the many important things learned was sexual and reproductive health education. This was very important because such topics are always seen as a taboo and parents never discuss this with their children. The awareness this created helped other members of the Sierra Leonean community and the University of Makeni in particular as we embarked on sensitising colleagues in the university.

Considering the area of coaching, the organization has just been excellent and has scored great goals and made lasting marks on the lives of the students and many other Sierra Leoneans. As I write this piece other and I students in the programme just completed a four days intensive coaching in public speaking through Families Without Borders from one of the members of the Board of Directors, Mr. Chike C. Nwoffiah, who happens to be the director of Silicon Valley African Film Festival. What we learned were just so great and helped unlocked many hidden potentials in almost all of us in the programme. This is just one of the many coachings and trainings we have benefitted from the organization.

I can tell my readers with the highest degree of confidence that not even most of the richest parents in the world can offer as much as Families Without Borders and Mummy Terri in particular is offering to us. No wonder we are always the best in the university because we get all we need to be the best.

As I write students from Families without Borders are taking intensive classes on using the internet for research and contributing to global knowledge through blogs and other means. The interactive session also benefited many other students from the university of Makeni, including lecturers.

I cannot hang my pen without saying thanks to all those whose effort, money, and other resources have been invested in the programme to see us this far. I can proudly tell you that your resource is helping make the next generation of Sierra Leone’s leaders. The efforts are great and we will not waste that.

The leadership trainings that students have taken part in over the years has awaken a new breed of leadership in almost all of the students. Others and I have learned a great deal of leadership traits like truthfulness, accountability and transparency, integrity, etc. These are the values which many leaders of today lack, but they are what “our family” is built upon. Because we have these values in us, we shall continue to be the great leaders the organization has made us.