THE GESSL CHRONICLES
On the day of my travel, 10th August, 2018, I crossed over with a transport boat, locally called ‘’Panpa’’ to Tagrin – Lungi. I was accompanied by my family members, father, mother, younger brother, cousin and nephew. We boarded a taxi from Tagrin to the Freetown-Lungi International Airport. Upon our arrival at the Airport, I straight away went for check-in, and during the process, I suddenly encountered a problem with one of the senior officials of the KQ Airlines - he told me I was below the age of travelling alone (18 yrs), as I needed somebody to accompany me and above all, I didn't have a guide with me, so they wanted to council my travel to Ghana for the program. And the only option that was given to my father was to produce my birth certificate and a letter of proof from my mum and dad on the spot, in order to prove that, they were my biological parents and they consented for my travel, outside the country. They further explained to us that, some people used to traffic children to other countries in the same manner.
We stood there for about forty minutes; my father was with me, as they disallowed my mum and the rest of my family members to gain access in to the Airport, because they did not take their passports along with them. I and my father were there inside the Airport, talking with the man in question for about 35 minutes, but he was insisting that, those were the rules and regulations of travelling abroad in every airport with regards underage children. My father talked and pleaded with him to see with reasons and allowed me to travel, in as much as the program meant a lot to me. After some moment, Allah came to our aid and inspired him, when he finally allowed me. That moment brought me into a joyous mode. Meanwhile, at first, because of that gentle man’s rejection, I was so sad, imagining that ‘’O’’ God you’ve given me the opportunity to travel outside Sierra Leone, so why have this happened to me. So on hearing that wonderful news of acceptance by the man, I was so happy and felt fulfilled.
After they have allowed me that to continue my travel, they then checked my suit case and hand luggage and they later gave me my boarding pass, where my seat number was stated as 15. My other impression and happiness was, after boarding the flight, I came across a young man, whom I requested to help me locate my sitting place and he told me I will be seating nearby the window, and because of that, I became more happier. When I entered the plane, I felt as if I was already in heaven. I became so happy and there were air hostesses that asked me to look for my seat number. I did just as I was told. I had to look for my seat number and I ended up finding it. There was this man seating behind me, who later joined me. I greeted him and he responded with a smile, which made me so happy.
My father usually told me that, whenever you are in doubt of something, you must not be afraid to ask and should always be humble and kind hearted. Above all, he said we must know the way and manner we ask questions, so because of my adherence to the pieces of advice been given to me by my father, I was opportune to have a helper in the flight. It was so amazing to me that, I thought on my mind ‘’O’’ God I know that you have sent my helper. The man’s name was Mr. Mohammed who has been in America for a long time and he was so kind to me. He helped me with everything I wanted and he even ended given me his complementary card. We took about 2 hours 30 minutes in the flight. We reached at Ghana Airport 7:10 pm and became relieved.
The experience on travel was very horrible, as the procedures at the airports were so much. They had to check me more than two times and had to go to the immigration and because of that, I was so nervous, but later everything went well. I was very much happy for going to a wonderful country called Ghana, which I have heard a lot about in terms of their standard of education. Anyhow, I was at the same time sad being the first time I had to leave my parents for another country. Finally, we landed and it was time for me to join another transport. At the Airport, I was so scared, especially when I had to enter a bus to the terminal, which was the first time for me to board into such bus, in fact, I was about to fall down because my hands were not well placed at the top handle of the Airport shuttle, where they should be, but there was this young lady that helped me out. We finally reached the terminal, it was unbelievable to me, as It seemed like I was dreaming, so I ended up shedding tears of joy.
After collecting my suit case, I went outside to look for the person that was to pick me up from the Airport, whom I fortunately saw. Both of us waited for some time looking for other YALE students and we later saw them. The bus took off at around 9:00pm to our destination, Tema International School. From the Airport to Tema was an hour drive. We had discussions in the bus with my new friends from other countries. When we arrived at the Tema, I was so sleepy and tired, because of the travel and I eventually decided to go to sleep.
Over there, Tema was so beautiful and amazing. In the morning of the following day, we were asked to go for breakfast at around 7:00am. After breakfast, we later went for orientation. We played a lot of games. They talked to us about the ‘’do's’’ and ‘’don’ts’’ of the program and I was opened to a lot of opportunities, like attending many workshops, had lectures with different important people, had discussions, talked about different seminars and also did an S.A.T test, even though it was so hard but I had to know what the S.A.T. was all about.
We also had the opportunity to learn how to tackle Annotak, Targets, elimination methods and I had the experience what it means to live alone and meeting with different friends from different countries. I interacted with people I have never come across before, made new friendships with students from other parts of Africa and the World at large, which sounds good. It really helps me to improve on my understanding of different things on planet earth. And I am ready to share my experience with other friends and colleagues.
On the 20th August, 2018, we departed Accra at 12:05. I heard the announcement of our arrival at the Lungi Airport, at 5:00pm, and I was collected from the Lungi Airport to return to Freetown, by my parents.
I must conclude by saying, I am happy because I had the chance to know and learn more skills in terms of solving problems and also learnt how to become a good leader. Most grateful to Allah for the blessing and opportunity together with all well-wishers, who supported me, including GESL.
Isha's Yale African Scholars Experience
September 5, 2018
I never thought I would fly in an aeroplane. I knew that one day it will happen but I never knew that it would be this early. This happened when I was chosen to attend the YALE YOUNG AFRICAN SCHOLARS PROGRAM YYAS 2018 at Gashora Girls Academy, Rwanda. I was eager and at the same time nervous because it was my first time of travelling out of my country.
I went to the airport on Saturday morning the 29th of July. Fortunately I met two boys going for the same program. Unfortunately for me the flight was over booked and I had to stay at the Lungi International Airport Hotel until everything was settled. I left for Ghana on the 31st of July.I was transiting there.
Also at Ghana I had to spend one day again there, because the date for my flight has already past. I was so angry and thinking of how much I would be missing at YYAS. I arrived in Kigali at Gashora Girls Academy on the 2nd of August. The next morning I joined the others at YYAS for breakfast and classes.
YYAS is an intensive academic and an enrichment program for African Secondary School Students. Their aim is to prepare students who wish to pursue tertiary education and make a meaningful impact as young leaders and for us to be independent as we travel alone. They help students to know the procedures in applying to different universities.
At the YYAS program in Rwanda I learnt how to value time. Our classes, seminars were strictly based on time. Everything we did starts and ends on time. I am someone who do not value time, but when I went there I started to value time.
Every morning at 7 to 8 we had lectures and discussion sections. The lectures were sometimes done by a Yale faculty member and practitioners. The lectures were to expose us to a wide range of ideas and to do research about different things.
I learned about Africa and some of the diseases affecting Africans and solutions to them. During University guidance from 3 to 4, we were taught about financial aid, how to apply to universities and questions to ask.
I was also taught about the SAT which was new to me and I had no idea about. At first I found it difficult to understand - we were taught about SAT because it is a requirement for some universities. We normally had SAT tests after SAT classes by Madame Esther.
Enrichment activity was one of my best activities. We did an activity in which I learned that when working with a group or team, you need cooperation and should work hand in hand in order to reach the set goal.
Saturdays and Sundays were mock admission days. During those two days different admission officers from different universities came and told us a lot about their schools, and said that if we are interested in any we should email the program manager Madame Laura Kaub at YALE. I learned a lot about their universities and high school. Most of the universities there offer financial aid and scholarship to international students.
Every night, we had workshops in which we were 8 in number. We were like a family. We wrote endless essays about ourselves. It was for us to increase our writing capacity. Workshops were the last classes we attended before going to bed.
On Sunday we had a talent show in which different people showcased their talent. It was fun, and I made a lot of friends.
After everything it was the certificate ceremony. Everyone including me was eager on that day to receive their certificates. The certificates were given to us by our workshop instructor. I received mine by Rahim, my workshop leader. He was like a father to us.
I met different people from different African countries. I made lot of friends. Though I was afraid and thought that because I didn’t go early because of certain circumstances that I will miss a lot but Yale Young African Scholars Program [YYAS] was really fun and a life changing experience.
All these things would not have been possible if it were not for GESL. So I want to use this opportunity to say a very big THANK YOU to them for everything.
I am really grateful to them. Also a special THANKS goes to Aunty Kaata, Aunty Maryam, Aunty Nandi and most of all Uncle Imran.Thanks a lot for believing in me and making me believe in my self and be my self. Once again, THANK YOU.
Isata's Yale African Scholars Experience
August 22, 2018
The first IGNITE SERIES LECTURE was a very good one, and it was facilitated by Dr. Aisha, a lecturer from FBC. In her session, she spoke and answered many questions on topics such as politics and Bondo Society to name a few. Dr. Aisha spoke about why women were denied political rights, and that she was really disappointed and sad about it.
As she continued with her lecture, different questions were being thrown at her, and there was a particular question a lady asked based on Bondo Society, and Dr. Aisha's response to that was they are not against Bondo Society, but they are against the cutting (Female Genital Mutilation - FGM). She went further by saying Bondo Society is good, the only thing they are against is the cutting specifically.
The women, men and girls that where in the program started bring up different opinions and suggestions about Bondo Society, and women involving themselves in politics. I stood up and said women can only become successful in politics if their fellow women support them, believe in them with all their heart and strength. The IGNITE LECTURE SERIES was educative, empowering, and interactive. It motivated me to never look down or say women are not capable of ruling a country or being politically strong.
The lecture also empowered me to believe in myself and other women out there that we can do anything that will bring change in our beloved country.
Josephine's IGNITE Experience
April 28, 2018
My GESL Mentorship Experience
August 23, 2017
My experience with my mentor is she is someone that does not take no for an answer. She is courageous, charming, obedient, truthful and most especially She Is also God-fearing.
What have experienced so far with my mentor is that she has taken me to a fun fair party which took place at St Edwards Primary School. She and her entire family were there and we had a lot of fun!
On the 13th of July, she took me to Parliament in order for me to be inspired and learn. I was fortunate to meet various people, like the Deputy Judge of Parliament. I was really admiring them and wish to finish school as fast as possible!
Every week, my mentor will call to check on me and advised me to pay attention in with my studies. She is really one of a kind, she is the best mentor every girl prays to have.
-Asiatu Conteh Chanua, Chanua Stage 2 GESL, The Annie Walsh Memorial Secondary School
GESL National Project, FGM, and Our Progress
August 16, 2017
Our Gazania (Stage 3) girls are carrying out a national project titled "FGM E Do So", which will use different forms of media to sensitize the general public about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and will allow the girls to add their voices to the eradication of FGM! Below, please read a journal entry from one of our very own Gazania girls discussing one of their efforts to sensitize their local community to the issue.
My National Project Experience
When we had our community outreach which involved Primary School Children, it turned out successful. All of the children who came were happy to learn about FGM (commonly known as "Bondo"). When they came, we enlightened them about our project and then we explained to them a little bit more about FGM, and they got to know about its effects from our G2G women mentors - that it can kill, cause fistula, internal bleeding, etc. We asked the girls what they think of FGM and they were saying "it is our culture". We told them that it originated from Egypt and that it is only practiced in Sierra Leone - not our culture. They told us that they never want to be part of it and that they will help us pass the message to their peers. Hearing that was positive feedback for us. One of the girls' moms was a journalist and she liked what we were doing and helped us pass the message through a radio station. They decided that if anyone forces them to go through it they will go the police station or elders in their communities or reach out to us....it was really a successful one.
-Fatmata Bah, Gazania Stage 3 GESL, St Joseph's Secondary School
FGM in Sierra Leone, and the death of Fatmata Turay
August 22, 2016
Oh Sierra Leone. The land of everything. I wonder what Sierra Leone has become at the hands of the Secret Bondo Society.
What I am about to write is coming from my heart as a concerned and caring Sierra Leonean girl. When I heard that 19-year-old Fatmata died during her initiation into the Bondo, I felt so bad and sympathetic, but I did not stop there…I started thinking over and over again. If this is happening to our girls in Sierra Leone, what will the future have in store for us? Fatmata’s death was explained in different ways by people of her community. Some said it was because she was not ordinary - she was either a witch or something equally extraordinary…but I want to make it clear to Sierra Leone and the world as a whole, that a lack of knowledge can lead to false judgements and explanations on the loss of Fatmata’s life.
I also want Sierra Leoneans to know that when we are created by God, we are created beautifully from his own image and likeness. God did not create us to join Bondo and destroy the beauty of his creation.
As Sierra Leoneans, we have to face to the fact that we cannot bring back the life of this innocent girl nor bring back her dreams and determinations to life.
Some of you say that men only value girls who have gone through Bondo or that when we are initiated we become perfect marital partners and learn how to take care of our matrimonial homes, we learn how to respect elders and generally become positive citizens, but I want to tell you that this is a lie. Not only do we learn these things when we enter a secret society…that’s why we have parents and guardians who guide us and discipline us.
I am a Sierra Leonean girl. I am asking on behalf of other girls that we put a stop to these secret society initiations before they destroy and damage the future of young girls in Sierra Leone.
To the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children Affairs, heads of Sowei Council and other important organisations please let us come together and say NO to Bondo Secret Society in Sierra Leone.
And May the soul of our Sierra Leonean sister, friend and daughter Fatmata Turay rest in perfect peace.
A Concerned GESSL'er
We are excited about the GESSL journey, and as we head into our fifth year of operations, we want to share the growth and the change that is happening with our girls with our community. Heartworker Dairies originated from the idea that GESSL work is done from passion, driven by needs of girls in Sierra Leone. With the vision of empowering girls to become leaders and change agents, we celebrate our girls as they make strides to bring change in their communities. Heartworker Dairies is a space of us to share stories of our girls who are doing extraordinary things in the program due to their involvement in GESSL. We at GESSL are heartworkers, because the work is at the core of our heart. This quarter we focus on Josephine Thullah who has been in our program since 2012.
August 5, 2016
I met Josephine in 2012 during our first GESSL, when GESSL was in its pilot phase. Josephine was outspoken, brilliant and curious about growing as a woman leader. Her growth throughout the years has been one we truly admire in GESSL. Over the years, she has grown and has continuously challenged herself to take up leadership roles within GESSL and in her school community. She led efforts in recruiting new GESSL'ers in the recent years and served as spokesperson for GESSL at assemblies, she also serves as a positive role model to the younger GESSL'ers who enter into the program.
Recently, Josephine notified our team that she and group of other youth leaders started hosting community gatherings in slums in Sierra Leone with young people to discuss issues pertinent to them including community change, education, leadership etc. The mandate for GESSL is the develop girls into leaders to become change agents in their community by the time they leave our program. To see Josephine taking up this mantle whilst she is still in the program is such a heart-space joy. Keep pushing, Josephine. We are in your corner always, as you fulfill your own heartwork.
We hope this story encourages you and shows you a bit of insight of the work that GESSL does and how GESSL is transforming lives and communities everyday.
Moiyattu Banya, Executive Director and Heartworker, GESSL.
July 3, 2015
Today, ribbons were flying all around St. Joseph's Convent Secondary School in the spirit of friendship, community action and female leadership! We are so proud of our GESSL girls as they and their peers reached not only their target today but exceeded it. Their peers, teachers, and the whole school came and supported them and asked them not to stop their great work. Great job ladies!
JANET'S JOURNAL ON EBOLA
October 31, 2014
The Ebola deadly virus started in Zaire, in a community around the Ebola River after which the virus was named. It has historically called thousands of people and today it is still destroying lives in Sierra Leone, “the beautiful diamond of Africa”.
It has, not only, destroyed lives but our education, economy, leadership and the country itself. Our educational values have decreased as we no longer go to school because we don't want to contract it, and we lack food as most of the Ebola affected patients are farmers from our various districts and because these farms are left unattended and the crops die. Also, migration has been stopped and the little crops, which are harvested, are not transported over to us. We also don't send our own goods over so we lack food. The commodity prices have increased because ships don't come into our country any more. We are suffering from hunger. If it weren’t for the help we are receiving from other countries, we would not have had any money in our country. A lot of money has been spent just so Ebola could be driven away but to no avail. As of now we have nothing to boast of because even our foreign investors have left us. This is what Ebola has done to a once beautiful country.
I just want to tell you that all of Ebola’s effects on this country are bad; the only good being that it has brought us nearer to God.
The highlight of this week’s news: Nigeria has been declared Ebola free. Hastings Ebola Treatments Centre has discharged 40 Ebola survivors. Deputy Minister of Welfare donated food items to quarantined homes at Brookfields. Ms. Hannah Foullah has formed a group called beauty for country to help stop stigmatization.
*About Janet: Janet Ganu is 18 years old and lives in Sierra Leone. She is an alumna of Girls Empowerment Summit Sierra Leone and a recent graduate of Annie Walsh Memorial School. She plans to attend the University and study law. This journal is part of a series of journals that girls who are part of GESSL were asked to write about their experiences during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone to give them a space to outlet how they were feeling and to also help nurture their writing skills while out of school.