Public Relations Manager Sho Konno spent the anniversary of the first Ebola case in Sierra Leone in Freetown at Restless Development’s Youth Leadership Forum on the Ebola Response and Recovery. The role of youth in containing the Ebola outbreak was celebrated and plans were made for how young people will help lead the recovery of the country. He blogs stories of Sierra Leoneans who are not just survivors of a pandemic, but a generation that has proven themselves as leaders, and are also footballers, musicians, and overwhelmingly positive young people with lives that are about much more than Ebola.
1. The team always playing for away goals
Since the state of emergency was declared in July last year, Sierra Leone has not held any public sporting events and their promising national teams have played all their games away from home. That hasn’t discouraged the under-23 football team, who have just beaten Cameroon in the second round of qualifications for the Olympics, ironically on the away goals rule after 0:0 and 1:1 draws in Yoaunde. They’re confident about facing Algeria in the third round, so maybe you’ll see them in the Rio de Janeiro Games next summer.
2. ‘The Godfather of Sierra Leone music’
Pretty much everyone in Freetown describes Jimmy Yeanie Bangura – ‘Jimmy B’ – as the ‘Godfather of Sierra Leone music’. He created singles and films about Ebola during the height of the outbreak, and came to the Youth Forum to congratulate youth who fought the virus. In his interview with Alusine Suma – a Restless staff member working in the Bombali district with the Social Mobilisation Action Consortium (SMAC) – he praised “That unity that brought us together for once in our life, let’s build on that – the future for us as Sierra Leoneans is very much bright”. If he’s given you a taste for Sierra Leonean music, check out LAJ and Emmerson.
3. Soldier, to Survivor, to Spokesperson for a Generation
Francis Koroma was 11 years old, sitting with his father at home when 13 men burst in. They were carrying 14 guns because one of them was for him. He was just one of thousands of ‘small soldiers’ abducted during the decade-long civil war. Eventually he escaped and made his way to university, but last year Francis and his family were caught up in the country’s next major crisis, at the centre of the Ebola outbreak. What happened next, both tragic and inspiring, is a story he has told on radio and TV to an audience of millions, including the First Lady of Sierra Leone just before she addressed the Youth Forum to say: “In the past, the word ‘youth’ has always been next to the word ‘problem’, now we can see it is part of the solution”.
4. The happy couple defying ‘The Love Disease’
Ebola gets called ‘The Love Disease’ because of the way it infects the people closest to you, and it has also severely strained the love of many Sierra Leoneans over the last year. As summer approaches and restrictions on public gatherings loosen however, long-delayed engagements are turning into marriages, and I was lucky enough to witness the most incredible wedding I’ve ever seen, typifying the tolerance and humour of Sierra Leoneans. An interfaith, intertribal marriage that went from a delicate hand-binding ceremony at the Mosque to a riotous cabaret-show of a reception, with dancing up the aisle and colourful team-dresses mixed with MCs and comedy dance skits which made fun of the groom’s tribe’s accent, the English FA Cup Final, and jokes about Ebola.
5. Mr ‘Mbuntu’ Motivator
Before I joined Restless Development I’d never heard of ‘warmers’, the ice-breakers and post-lunch-energisers that consistently see limbs flying and cackles of laughter at any gathering in every country in which we work. This one got 200 young people up on their feet and wooping after two long days of listening to and challenging their decision makers. It was led by Osman Sow, a 28-year old Assistant Programme Coordinator for Restless Development in Moyamba district, who said:
“This energiser was about ‘Mbuntu’, the Bantu saying that ‘I am, because you are’, but I’ve got lots of routines, I’ve had this skill since I was a Scout. Sometimes the energy can drop in between small groups and participant discussions, then you need to make them feel excited, remind them why they’re here”