Category Archives: Sierra Leone

Learning About Africa: Ebola

Yet again Africa is in the news as the other, as a place of horror and misery.  So just a few reminders:

Ebola is not throughout Africa. You don’t need to worry when coming into contact with someone from the continent or someone who has been there recently. Africa is a big continent and Ebola is not everywhere.  In fact…

Ebola is currently in three West African countries:  Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But…

Ebola is not an air-borne illness. You will not contract it by being in the same plane or auditorium or building as someone who has it or has come from one of the countries where it is prevalent. In fact…

you would need to be directly exposed to fluids from someone with the illness to be exposed. And that means that it is in the affected areas, in direct contact with those who have the illness, that you would be most at risk.  And that is just not true for those of us living in the United States. So stop worrying about getting it here. Instead worry…

that those in the affected areas do not have the basic health care we in the United States take for granted. And so while there is indeed not a cure for Ebola,…

with the sort of hospital care we in the US take for granted, treating the disease in early states, many who are dying would be saved.  But…

in the affected areas that sort of care is rare.

To learn more please read:

Stop Worrying About Ebola (And Start Worrying About What it Means)

As WHO Warns Ebola Death Toll is Underestimated, How Should Global Community Handle Dire Crisis?

 

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Learning About Africa: Congratulations to Joseph Opala

 PRESS RELEASE

Historian Professor Joseph Opala receives
Sierra Leonean Passport

Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States of America H.E. Bockari Kortu Stevens today presented Americo/ Sierra Leonean historian, Professor Joseph Opala with his Sierra Leonean passport. The impressive ceremony took place at the conference room of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington D.C.

On 20th May 2013, Professor Opala was sworn in as a Sierra Leonean citizen by H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma. This was in recognition of his role in documenting the historical link between the Gullah people in the United States of America and Sierra Leone, and for his outstanding contribution in preserving Sierra Leone slave castle of ‘Bunce Island’ as a heritage site . The esteemed historian was also awarded Sierra Leone’s Order of the Rokel by President Koroma in 2012.

Welcoming the recipient, Ambassador Stevens narrated the excellent historical work and research conducted on the Atlantic slave trade in Sierra Leone by Professor Opala thereby drawing significant interest in the subject, particularly the direct historical connection between the Gullah people of South Carolina and the people of Sierra Leone. The Ambassador congratulated Professor Opala on his numerous achievements and hoped that he would use his Sierra Leone citizenship to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for that country.

Responding, Professor Opala thanked Ambassador Stevens for taking the time off his busy schedule to present him with his new Sierra Leone passport. He noted that he was very proud to carry the Sierra Leonean passport and wished his Sierra Leonean wife, Fatmata, was there to witness the epoch occasion. He thanked the members of the Bunce Island Coalition and the Friends of Sierra Leone for honoring him with their presence.

Professor Opala was accompanied by a fifteen member delegation drawn from colleagues, family and close friends; some of whom came from as far away as Oklahoma City, Atlanta and New York. Before concluding, he presented the Ambassador with gifts and historical artifacts for display at the Embassy.

EMBASSY OF SIERRA LEONE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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A Remarkable Young Inventor

I just heard about Kelvin Doe, a 15 year-old Sierra Leonean who is featured in the following video, part of an intriguing series about prodigies.

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Learning About Africa: Sierra Leone Joining the Conversation

Last summer while in Sierra Leone I discovered firsthand the difficulties of connecting to the Internet when the only option was via satellite. I often sat fruitlessly watching the slow crawl of a site attempting to link up and it made me become more realistic about setting up relationships with schools in Sierra Leone using the Internet, knowing how hard it would be from their end. It also made me admire all the more the Peace Corps Volunteers who were blogging, say Bryan Meeker (whose latest post “What Makes a Volunteer” is incredibly moving).

So how wonderful to learn that today Sierra Leone is getting its first fibre optic cable that will make an enormous difference in the speed, reliability, and range of its Internet connections. The details are in this Reuters article:

Sierra Leone will secure its first fibre optic connection to the outside world on Monday with the arrival of theAfrica Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable in the capital Freetown.

Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from a devastating 11-year civil war that ended in 2002, is part of a dwindling group of countries still wholly reliant on highly expensive satellite bandwidthfor internet connections.

Numerous studies have identified cheap and fast Internet as a factor that can boost a country’s economic growth.

“The vessel that carries the fiber optic cable is currently within the shores of Sierra Leone,” Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Information said in a statement.

It added the vessel would dock and lay the cable later on Monday at a landing station by Lumley Beach in western Freetown.

When complete, the 17,000-km (11,000-mile) ACE cable will run from France to South Africa, connecting 23 countries. The cable was launched by France Telecom as part of a consortium with telecom operators in participating countries.

Sierra Leone, along with neighbouring Liberia, missed out on previous fibre optic cables laid down the West African coast, such as SAT-3.

“At that time we had a civil war, we didn’t have the opportunity to articulate the arrangement to have a landing station here,” said Senesie Kallon, deputy director general of Sierra Leone’s National Telecommunications Commission.

At present, Internet access in Sierra Leone is currently slow or expensive, and often both.

According to the National Telecommunications Commission, the country as a whole has just 155 Megabits of bandwidth, less than would serve a small American or European town.

The World Bank estimates that bandwidth in Sierra Leone costs 10 times the level in East Africa and 25 times the U.S. price. Barely one percent of the 5.4 million population have access to Internet services.

The World Bank is providing $30 million to fund the connection of Sierra Leone to the cable offshore.

“There was an opportunity to connect Sierra Leone to ACE in 2011 and if the country were to miss that it wasn’t clear there’d be further opportunities,” said Vijay Pillai, the bank’s country manager in Freetown.

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Happy 50th Anniversary, Peace Corps

Last week-end, in D.C., there were all sorts of celebrations for Peace Corps‘ 50th anniversary. Yes, it was 50 years ago that this organization began. As one of thousands who served, I can attest to its continuing importance. Especially today when so many are able to travel to remote parts of the world and also engage virtually, I feel Peace Corps more than ever affirms the importance of long-term engagement and commitment to a people and a place.


Sierra Leone was one of the first countries Peace Corps went to and I’ve gotten to know several who were in those early groups. It was sad, but understandable when they had to pull out for safety’s sake in the early 90s and all the more heartening that they are now back.

My return Sierra Leone last summer was incredible for many reasons, one of them the opportunity to visit with the current PCVs in country — there are two groups now, those who came in 2010 (the first group in fifteen years some of whom are in the panel above) and a second cohort that started this summer. I’d already been following some of the first group’s blogs (love this one especially) and it was great to meet them in person. Their enthusiasm, commitment, and tenacity was exhilarating to observe.  It was impossible for us returnees not to see ourselves in these young people, 35 years before.

Three fantastic Salone PCVs (one, er, from a long time ago)

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps. May you have many, many more!

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My Return to Sierra Leone: Stranded on the Sierra Leone River

From our intrepid leader, Amadu Massally:

47 Americans and 8 Sierra Leoneans Stuck


…in the Sierra Leone River and thereby discovered Friends of Sierra Leone Island.  This is newsworthy and in fact book-worthy.  The SL River, being the largest natural harbor in Africa (and 3rd largest in the World) holds hostage 47 Americans.

On Thursday June 23rd, I had the opportunity to take 47 Americans and 8 of us Sierra Leoneans to Bunce Island.  We used a ‘Pampah’ (local boat) rented from the most popular boat transportation company in Freetown today, Pelican, to travel the route as our American friends most of them former or Returned Peace Corps and Current Peace Corps volunteers wanted the authentic experience.  There were a few parents of current Peace Corp Volunteers among us.

So I led the tour of Bunce Island and we had a good time.  On the way back however, with two Captains from the reputable company, we got stuck on a sandbar (think dirt bar in this case).  And very quickly, by the time most people jumped out to push, the water went from knee deep to ankle to dry, dry…

I do not want to tell the rest of the story just yet, because it will be written by a few people I hope, in an article sooner rather than later.

But I wanted to share one of the photos and felt obliged to introduce what may have turned out to be the most memorable experience of the Friends of Sierra Leone return to the country for their own 50th Birthday of the program in SL and worldwide.  Arguably, even more so than meeting with President Koroma.

****

Here are three more photos from me, Monica (and I was one of the last off the boat, I admit, as I feared greatly messing up my sad knees and back jumping down and trying to get back in):

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My Return to Sierra Leone: Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

While Sierra Leone isn’t filled with the sort of wildlife many associate with Africa, is does have quite a bit.  We always heard about elephants, but I never met anyone who ever had seen one.  Sadly, even when I was there, poaching was causing havoc on the elephant population and that has only gotten worse in the ensuing years.  Monkeys, baboons, and chimps were more commonly seen, sometimes sadly as meat.  In 1988 Bala Amarasekaran and his wife Sharmila were traveling upcountry when they saw a baby chimp for sale.  They took him, named him Bruno, and so began their mission to save the chimps of Sierra Leone. Today  Tacaguma is an impressive sanctuary with thoughtful and caring professionals considering how best to help the chimpanzees of Sierra Leone.  Through the war and beyond they have persevered.  You can learn more of the dramatic history here.

I was incredibly fortunate in being able to visit the Sanctuary during my time in Sierra Leone.  It is a beautiful place and the thought and care taken with the chimps is impressive.  At this time one group is just about ready to be sent back to the wild, but first a proper and safe place for them must be found — not so easy given the prevalence of poachers.  The individual chimps all have remarkable stories, many of them available on the site here.  Bruno, however, is no longer among them.  In a dramatic incident he and a group of chimps escaped and, while some have returned, he is not one of them.

Here are some of my photos of the Sanctuary.

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