Located along the Atlantic Ocean in western Africa, Sierra Leone has a long, rich history built on centuries of trade and commerce. The country got its name from Portuguese explorers who called it Serra Lyoa, or “lion mountains,” referring to the mountainous peninsula near present-day Freetown that forms one of the world’s largest natural harbors. Sierra Leone was a key part of the Atlantic slave trade, which flourished throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
During the 18th century, Freetown—the nation’s capital—became an important center for anti-slavery efforts and a refuge for liberated slaves from Nova Scotia and Jamaica. Following the abolition of the slave trade in England in 1807, British crews directed thousands of former slaves to Sierra Leone, and the colony gradually expanded inland throughout the 19th century. The descendants of these former slaves are referred to as Creoles or Krios.
In 1961, Sir Milton Margai led Sierra Leone to independence from Great Britain and became the country’s first Prime Minister. In recent years, following a brutal 11-year civil war that ended in 2002, the country emerged as a model of peace and reconciliation, and has since held three cycles of peaceful and fair elections. The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak upended daily life in Sierra Leone. But the country has overcome from this tragedy with resilience, strength, and a positive trend towards economic growth, strong democratic institutions, strengthened health systems, and peaceful stability. You and the other members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network are at the forefront of these changes. Help us celebrate Sierra Leone as the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!
Read on to discover how members of the YALI Network in Sierra Leone are empowering women, inspiring community action, and encouraging civic engagement.
Our first featured YALI Network member, Francess Fatama Kpaka, comes from Freetown, where she runs a program that aims to improve women’s lives by training them in leadership and women’s rights.
Francess says YALI Network Online Courses have given her valuable knowledge about topics such as empowering women and civic leadership, which she shares with the women in her program. Courses like Understanding the Rights of Women and Girls and Understanding Elections and Civic Responsibility, she says, have not only positively impacted her own life, but give her broader community hope for the future: “The YALI Network Online Courses will help my community and nation improve their leadership skills and participation in the election process.”
Francess also shares her knowledge with others through #YALILearns events. “Since I joined the YALI Network in February 2016, my knowledge, experience, and personal growth has increased,” she says.
Inspiring Community Action
Since becoming a member of the YALI Network, Mani Ngaujah has been a tireless community organizer in his hometown of Freetown. He has helped to organize community action around an incredible range of issues, including promoting rights for women and girls, encouraging youth participation in government, creating a platform for children’s rights, and encouraging volunteerism among youth.
In September 2017, Mani organized a community mobilization program in Patbana in the Port Loko District that included community and religious leaders, youth, women, and people from the public and private sector. “We held a demonstration where all attendees added firewood to a fire. The more firewood was added, the longer the fire could burn,” Mani explains. “The activity demonstrated how community projects can only be sustainable if all community members make a concerted effort.” He also organized an event to celebrate Mandela Day.
Mani has now completed 5 YALI Network Online Courses, and says the skills he’s learned from the YALI Network have helped him mobilize his community in a broad spectrum of ways, “from holding regular community meetings on human rights to assessing quality education and reporting child abuse cases.”
Encouraging Civic Engagement
“After completing a YALI Network Online Course on Understanding Elections and Civic Responsibility, I set out to share my experience with and mentor my friends,” says YALI Network member Talatu Jalloh from Freetown.
But Talatu didn’t stop there. He also revived a previously defunct community-based organization that raises awareness around peaceful voting and the election process. “Given that the 2018 election is around the corner, Sierra Leone is at a crossroads,” says Tatlu. “I galvanized youths with a simple message of the need to maintain peace during this election period, which is a defining moment in our country’s history.”
Within three days, Tatlu’s group reached over 35,000 voters and encouraged the peaceful distribution of voter ID cards within his community.