"A Long Way Gone" detailed the horrific civil war in Sierra Leone from the eyes of a kidnapped child soldier. Somehow he survived senseless, inhuman violence not only as a victim, but also as a child drugged and forced to perpetrate this violence. I had an oblique connection to the country through my men's group to a school being founded there, and I decided to try to volunteer there and see the aftermath. Before I made a move, the founder of that school sent me an email for the first time in a year. Soon I was making plans. My first few weeks in Africa were with the local pastor who I had only ever emailed.
Though many people doubted and worried, I was in perfect hands. This became a theme as continually exagerated western fears and information was proved wrong by my experience in country with the people there. As for Pastor Elmer, he was quiet, unassuming, beautifully devoted and perfectly irreproachable in my experience. He was the first of many awesome Sierra Leoneons I would go on to meet...
A month before the trip I had connected with the Bishop of the United Methodist Church Sierra Leone who connected me to a team of Americans traveling to the CRC orphanage. There I witnessed a beautiful community of children brought out of one of the worst wars in recent history. While teaching at the orphanage I met a charismatic teenage orphan with a proposal to help his home village. Trying to enable youth was always an interest of mine, so it wasn't long before I was back in the States trying to raise money for work in that village. After a year of absolutely no success, I finally enlisted the support of friends at my church and soon we were seeing donations for the young teen's dream of building safe housing for widows. Partnering with an employee at the orphanage, I started the project with the construction of five three-family homes. Verifying with pictures and the like, I sent the money little by little and with the homes almost built, made plans to not only see them but bring a team of the CRC orphans with me, to give them a taste of mission. Spending some singular days doing a VBS in an illiterate farming village gave these teenage orphans a taste of outreach.
They saw people less educated, less wealthy and less fortunate then them, even though they were orphans, and it made a mark. Back at the orphanage in our debriefing meeting, one of the CRC teens said, "Alan, unless you send some of those kids to school, nothing will change in that village." And thus we started scholarshipping adolescents to middle school. Meanwhile the project continued to be kept afloat by small donations from individuals. Before long, we fixed the one damaged well in the village. On April 5, 2014, we opened a solar powered rural health center with a generous grant from the Thaakat Foundation and the government of Sierra Leone. The center would come to serve around 5,000 people in the area and became the key to protecting the whole area from the Ebola epidemic that ravaged the rest of the country. Meanwhile, we continued expanding our education program and managed to save the Benmat Primary School in Bo from shutting its doors. A year later, we began our first community farm and in the summer of 2015, we opened a much-needed rural elementary school. We found amazing, unlooked for progress in attitudes towards girls education and in our focus on creative confidence through the arts, Hoping to spread and share our work we brought a team of six Americans in 2016 and seven this year, holding medical clinics and school programs for the arts and basic literacy.
At the request of the muslim villagers, we have started a church and in an amazingly courageous committment our board member Reverend Enid Benjamin, has been in the village for four months to encourage the church and the school.
Always though, we've been led and inspired by youth...their judgment, their vision, their ideas. From the first visionary teen to our now young adult orphan employees, Young Vision Africa has always been about the vision of young Africans.
Our mission ﾠis to empower young leaders in developing nations to achieve sustainable change in their communities by showing them God's love in action and spirit. We do this through our sponsored students, villagers who we took from the fields all the way to highschool. We do this through our buildingless school in a crowed room with four classes facing each corner. We do this by changing culture and mindset through experience. When the very conservative village witnessed their girls scoring at the top of our classes, they made an incredible change to ask us to hire a female teacher. When we gave them the blunt truth about the reality of AIDS and it's prevention, they did a culturally unheard of thing in their full acceptance of condom use.
Simultaneously our hope is to challenge those with resources to fulfill their responsibility to those without. ﾠEmploying Sierra Leoneon nationals to execute all of our work, we provide jobs which are so desperately needed. Villagers put in sweat equity on our construction, education and community farmﾠprojects. ﾠ Feeling called to help those in greatest need, we desire to revive communities through the contagious inspiration of compassion and God’s Love. We are a faith based Christian organization with several different religions represented on our small board.
Alan's been an educator who's led mission/service work in homeless communities in Manhattan, the Cheyenne River reservation, Appalachia, and New Jersey. He went to Sierra Leone alone in 2009 to connect with a pastor trying to found a new school out in a very rural area.
Alan travels to Sierra Leone periodically to bring Americans to participate in YVA's work, observe completed projects, and create/enhance new initiatives in conjunction with the villagers of Blama Peri and in Bo.
Abu grew up a war orphan at the Child Rescue Centre. Having completed certificates in higher education, Abu joined the YVA family to facilitate communication between students and sponsors. Abu finds joy in his work, “ because whenever I look at the faces of the kids that are sponsored by Young Vision Africa I always praise God for his goodness. I hope through the grace of God to see these kids with good future.”
Our lead teacher at Tato Primary and our farm coordinator, Saidu displays amazing intelligence, versatility and commitment while living in rural Sierra Leone. Working with children and adults, educating, encouraging and telling their stories, Saidu is the complete picture.
Malikie has been Saidu's right hand man since the beginning, teaching with sincerity and humility and reliability.
Princess is a born educator - naturally animated, creative and engaging. Besides that she's fully committed to the work of the school.
Cutumu usually handles 1st grade and it steady and reliable.
Ibrahim is energetic and entertaining. He's filled with energy and smiles in front of his classes.
Co-sponsored by the Sierra Leone government and Thaakat, Mariama relocated to the village with her family to take charge of our health center when it opened. She is hard working, communicative and compassionate and the village fell in love with her immediately. She is yet another beautiful person who personifies what YVA is about.
Regina is an all around YVA bastion, coordinating volunteers, recording our dispersements and improving our social media. She has a Master of Arts in Political Science from California State University, Northridge with a focus on International Relations and Comparative Politics.
Megan is a soon-to-be registered nurse. She heard Alan and Abdulai speak at Ramapo and started working for YVA even before anyone knew it. As secretary, she is incredibly efficient and dedicated, and exemplifies the hope and faith that YVA seeks to spread in Africa.
A native of Sierra Leone, Dlonra brings an experienced contextual perspective of the country, besides running her own non-profit in Sierra Leone. The Passion for Children Foundation outreaches to underserved children in the capital of Freetown.
Reverend Enid has an amazing story of Providence in finding Sierra Leone and YVA. From Guyana, South America Enid has committed herself to YVA's future, taking an amazing role in our April '16 trip and planning on a long term stay in '17.
Lloyd came on our trip team in April, shooting the student movie, taking great portraits and making quick personal connections with the kids everywhere. Now Lloyd manages our Instagram page daily and brings his open and giving spirit to the YVA leadership.