Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grand Opening

This week, on a hot, humid and sunny morning in Port Loko the Furlonge EducAid Senior Secondary School was opened.

Peter Furlonge who, with his brother, had financed the construction, came specially with some friends and colleagues from the UK to officially open the new senior secondary school which has been built on the same site as the junior secondary school.

The students had prepared powerpoint presentations in their various clubs: The Virtual Palaeontologists, The Virtual Explorers, The Believers in Action, The Scientists, The Girl Power Group, The Librarians and so on. The White Ribbon Campaign signed all the men up for the international campaign for men against violence against women.  The Mathemagicians explained all their maths games and the drama group put on a mini play about the importance of educating girls. A couple of keen science students did some practical demonstrations in the science lab. &....there were brief and encouraging speeches from the key players: the donor of the land [generally known as HK], the donor of the construction money [Peter], and the conduit for the money - CEO of Children in Crisis [Koy Thompson].

The Ministry of Education were not represented. Would it by cynical to wonder if this is because of the lack of income likely to be derived, for anyone within the ministry, from a free school??? The opening ceremonies of private schools are usually fairly well attended by MoE officials!

The ceremony as such was very informal and the overall effect was pleasing. The students were inspirational in their enthusiasm for education and the confidence with which they spoke. The visitors seemed pleased with all they saw and have indicated a desire for on-going involvement in the project.

Staff and students worked hard behind the scenes to get the displays and presentations ready and indeed, sweeping and painting and clearing the building. Congratulations to all involved.

The first floor of the new building is finished. We plan to go up another floor before roofing and to establish the whole site as a centre of excellence for secondary teaching that teachers from all over the district can come and visit. Our dreams for Rolal and the community are many and we hope that, through the powerful tool that is education, real and sustainable prosperity may be achieved for this community and beyond.

Georgie cuts the ribbon and officially opens the school.

Rupert, Georgie and Stefan observing the science practicals.

Peter, conscious of the importance of ICT for real education, was delighted to find computers in use in the new school.
Koy enjoying a game of 'Trilemma' with the Mathemagicians, a short time before he explained his vision of Sierra Leone in 20 years time with a female president who would have been educated in the Furlonge EducAid Senior Secondary School.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable Sierra Leoneans please go to

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A battle for the mind

There are large numbers of Sierra Leonean youngsters who were taken off into the war and forced to do unspeakable things and who are still suffering from the effects.

The majority get little help beyond the long finished 6 month official disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation programmes. Equally, most go on into life with many key issues never having been addressed, living in the margins of society in and out of crime and detention.

We see some of our youngsters grasp the opportunity of education as a means out of their old lifestyle and a way of putting their old life behind them but for others there is a psychological battle that is much harder than just learning to read and write.

I had a heart-breaking conversation with one of our young men the other day. He has come on in leaps and bounds from when he first came to us. He was a tough cookie who kept himself to himself. It always seemed to me that he was on rebel alert at all times. You could imagine him, at the drop of a hat, taking off with his ever present rucksack on his back, never to be seen again.

His academic progress has been good and he has sat the first round of public exams but then seemed to come to a stand still.

It has taken some time for us to realise that a significant part of the problem is that he knows what he has done. He knows how terrible the things are that he did. He knows that many people would judge him as beyond hope, if they knew the things he has done. He himself is finding it all but impossible to see himself in any other light than as the perpetrator of terrible deeds.

This young man, at the age of ten, watched his friends being shot in front of him for crying and for refusing to take a gun. Yet, he cuts himself no slack for the conditions under which he agreed to fight and can not forgive himself. He sees himself as 'that sort of person' now. I found myself pleading with him to think back to who he was and how he was, before the war and to acknowledge that he was not always so. I pleaded with him to allow himself to move on and see himself in a different light, to believe he could leave that behind and be true to his real self which does not like violence.

It has become slowly clear that the self-perception of many of these young ex-combatants is generally the greatest barrier to progress for them. He is doing well so far. He has shown great determination to persist in his studies and become someone new but the battle is not over for him yet. He fears the judgement of others and still judges himself. The whole international community judges child fighters as victims of war. Let it be hoped that he too will allow himself some peace and start to see him as I see him: a young man of resilience and courage who has overcome appalling violence and trauma and who has dared to grow in new ways and take hold of new opportunities. On this more positive view, there will surely be a foundation for the building of something great.

If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid's work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to