Africa

Boundless Hope in Sierra Leone

Aminata Adam-Samura with children in Sierra Leone (Photo: Roland Marke)

The need to educate children in Sierra Leone is urgent and monumental. In some cases, teaching takes place in makeshift tents and rundown buildings without doors or windows. Boundless Hope is a young organization, providing school materials, backpacks, dental hygiene and toys for very poor and at-risk children. Roland Marke spoke to its pioneer, 33-year-old Aminata Adam-Samura.

Roland Marke: Ms. Aminata Adam-Samura, I'm honored to interview you. How and why was Boundless Hope born?

Aminata Adam-Samura: Boundless Hope was born out of a strong desire to make meaningful changes in the lives of impoverished children in deprived communities, especially in the areas of education and healthcare. Specifically, the civil war in Sierra Leone, which left thousands of innocent children and women killed and maimed, heightened my desire and passion to bring hope to the millions of needy people, especially children. Hope that is not limited by war, poverty, fear, gender, ignorance, illiteracy, and so on, hence the birth and name of the organization, Boundless Hope. It's our organization's view that everyone, irrespective of one's socio-economic status, deserves a decent existence.

RM: How was the project financed? What are the challenges and objectives, including the credibility factor?

AAS: In 2007, I personally funded the initial start-up costs, including shipping, freight, airfares, and other logistics, of about $8,000. Costs of the school supplies donated in-kind by GSK [GlaxoSmithKlein] were approximately $15,000 and $18,000 in 2007 and 2008 respectively. In 2008, we also received donation in-kind from my church, Raleigh First Assembly, and from Dr. Thomas, a local dentist in Florida. Other small monetary donations came from previous classmates of the Global Executive MBA at the University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School, and from colleagues at GSK. A major challenge is obtaining adequate resources to support the project's objectives.

The need in Sierra Leone is enormous, but our resources are very limited. Another challenge is ensuring that the donated items reach the target population, which is tied to the credibility factor. Many organizations have donated items to support charitable objectives in Sierra Leone; unfortunately, those items often never get to the intended group. Complaints abound about how donated items are sold to the public markets for selfish gain. It is against this background that we strive to ensure that Boundless Hope is built on honesty and integrity. As a result, we have eliminated all middlemen in the process of reaching the deprived communities earmarked in our projects. We deliver directly to those who are in need, ensuring that all donations go directly to the end-users. We meet directly with local authorities, including local chiefs and leaders, seeking their assistance in our humanitarian efforts. We have a dedicated board of directors that is crucial to Boundless Hope's ability to carry out its mission. Each board member brings a wealth of expertise, experience and caring helping us to serve. Tamba Momoh, a member of the board based in Sierra Leone, has contributed immensely toward the success of Boundless Hope in Sierra Leone. He coordinates and ensures that all items shipped to Sierra Leone are properly accounted for. He has a high degree of integrity and honesty and ensures accountability at all levels, thus making our job in managing activities in the U.S.A. easy.

RM: How did the recent mission go? Why is this project near and dear to your heart?

AAS: Our recent charitable work in Sierra Leone was a complete success. According to local officials, this is the first time ever an organization like ours actually delivered educational materials directly to the children. We were able to provide school materials (bags, books, pencils, and pens), dental materials (toothbrush and toothpaste), to over 1,000 children living in the most deprived communities in and around Freetown. They include: Kroo Bay Community School, Red-Pump School in the west-end of Freetown; Rogberay and Manalo Schools in the outskirt of Freetown; Firestone School in the east-end of Freetown; and Faith Assembly School in the west-end of Freetown. We chose these communities because of their current dilapidated conditions. In some of these communities, we observed that pigs wandered knee-high in stagnant pools of water and human feces floated on the surface, while women and children washed clothes and bathed a few yards away. Kroo Bay and Red Pump communities are built on mounds of rubbish; the areas are regularly flooded and prone to deadly diseases.

The project is near and dear to my heart because of the difference it would make in the lives of underprivileged children. Almost all children in the disadvantaged communities have never owned a school bag. Also, the parents of these children could not afford books or pencils for their children. The head teachers told us that children do not come to school because their parents could not provide them with basic school materials. Consequently, the children drop out of schools and engage in societal vices. In addition, there is a lack of medical supplies at the community rundown clinics.

RM: How will this mission help bridge the poverty gap in Sierra Leone?

AAS: One of the objectives of Boundless Hope is to help poor children succeed in society through education and healthcare. In achieving our sustainability objective, we intend to acquire whatever donations (preferably educational materials and healthcare suppliers) and to actually go and distribute these items to the affected people. Our target is to be able to reach the poor in Sierra Leone. Even though our venture may not solve all the country's problems, it's the beginning and a source of hope to rehabilitate those who cannot help themselves. Our input might be a drop in the ocean, but as the adage goes, "A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step." We hope that this would invite many other people to get on board, and together we will make a difference. These children are our future leaders. Let's motivate, train, inspire and inform them of the importance of a great education, good health and fitness, responsibility and accountability. The more literate people we have, the more the country will prosper. Aid is only as good as the ability of a country to use it effectively.

RM: How will you assess the present educational standard in both the teaching staff and student performance back home?

AAS: Compared to developed countries, the present academic standard in these poor communities is deplorable. The kids want to learn and go to school but do not have the resources. According to the U.N. Human Development Index, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world with about 37 percent adult literacy and a life expectancy of 42. Many people do not realize that public education is not free in countries such as Sierra Leone; therefore most of the poor cannot afford to send their children to school. Most schools in deprived communities are derelict; children sit on the floor and have no books, pens and other materials. In almost all poor communities in Sierra Leone, children go to school for a few years because they have to help parents with their domestic and productive activities. Teachers in these communities are my heroes. Most of the teachers do not receive a salary. They are paid in kind by people in the community, who are palm wine tapers, traders, and subsistence farmers. Children in some villages work on their teachers' farms as a way to pay for their education.

RM: What is your vision for Boundless Hope five years from now?

AAS: Knowledge is power. Educate a child, you educate a nation. Personally, I see education as the catalyst for development in any nation. Our organization aims to provide sustainability through education and healthcare. We consistently intend to provide children with educational materials, renovate and equip rundown schools, and train more community volunteers. We intend to provide school materials to children in 20-40 deprived schools between 2010 and 2015; renovate and build classrooms, libraries, and computer labs for derived children; and provide access to life-skills classes to foster a sustainable environment. We intend to: educate underprivileged children about good healthcare, provide them with dental and medical supplies, and refurbish medical centers in deprived communities.

RM: How could potential volunteers get involved in this worthy project?

AAS: All our donors are considered developing-partners at Boundless Hope. In-kind educational, dental and medical items are mostly needed. Some schools need to be completely refurbished. Our short-term goal is to ensure that institutions in developed countries adopt deprived schools and medical clinics and hospitals in Sierra Leone. Every child deserves a school bag and a toothbrush, one school bag per child. As a registered 501(c) non- profit organization in U.S., all donations in cash and in-kind are tax deductible. For other individuals who would like to get involved in our mission, please visit our website: www.boundlesshope.org or info@boundlesshope.org.

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