Kroo Bay my kiddies, leadership and personal coaching
For the past seven years, I have lived between New York and Sierra Leone. My journey in Sierra Leone began when I started to work for the UN and then I eventually ventured into entrepreneurship. My mother and maternal family are Sierra Leonean and Liberian. I decided to test out the market for my leadership and personal coaching services in Sierra Leone for a few months despite the many challenges I would face. I wanted to prove that leadership and personal coaching was applicable anywhere and could make a difference in a person’s life regardless of their economic background.
I won’t lie, the obstacles were many like scratchy internet connection and educating people on coaching and how it could transform peoples lives. Despite, my initial frustrations, I decided to take on a different approach. Work on educating people about coaching and do some pro bono coaching instead. There were many days, when I wanted to run back to NY where the conveniences are many. However, I made a promise to myself not to back down from the challenge.
For the most part, I must say I always received positive responses and interest to my work. I didn’t blame people for not understanding the professional of coaching. You see Sierra Leone is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and also paradoxically one of the poorest. It doesn’t matter what tier of life you fall into the society, life can be stressful, hard and harsh. It takes an enormous amount of will to not give into bitterness and become harsh with others. People don’t think about personal development work as important especially if one wishes to embark upon a journey of leadership. Yet it is this very concept that I am passionate about especially in the area of leadership and personal coaching. When things do not go right in any society, like it or not it all boils down to leadership.
For a long time in my own life, I had always enjoyed giving back engaging in community service without expecting acknowlegements, it was something that was very normal for my family. I remember living in Dakar, and volunteering at a refugee centre with my good buddy Chara and scrapping enough francs together to take the car rapid (bus) negotiating in Wolof (Senegalese language) just to be with those people several times a week and support them on a number of issues. In those days, I remember being really broke and yet still finding a way to get to that centre. Those people became like a family to us. I decided to combine my love of community service with my leadership and personal coaching however I didn’t know where to begin. I asked God to lead me towards that path and little did I know two weeks later that path would make itself clear to me.
One early evening at an event for former NEC Commissioner and current Deputy Minister of Education Christiana Thorpe, I spotted two women, one woman with a baby on her hip and six kids who trailed behind them. At the event, one of those women got up told the audience that she was the advocate coordinator at the Word Made Flesh (WMF) community centre at Kroo Bay and she wanted these kids to be inspired by Ms. Thorpe who had grown up in Kroo Bay at a different time than what it had become today. The woman asked Ms. Thorpe for some advise for those kids and Ms. Thorpe responded about the importance of an education and she also put the responsibility back onto those of us in the audience to stop complaining about the state of the education system and do something to support these kids.
A red light clicked in my brain and after the discussion, I went to speak to these two women. I told them that I was a leadership and personal coach and offered to do some pro bono coaching and if they knew kids or youth who would be interested in my work for a few weeks. I came to find out that the two women were Jennifer and Salomeh. Jennifer is from Canada and Salomeh, the acting coordinator is from Sierra Leone. Jennifer asked me to come to the centre and find out more about their work and see how I could use my skills to be of assistance. A few days later, I found myself at the center and was given a tour and introduced to the staff. I was amazed at the committment of the staff at the centre especially in dealing with the needs of so many children with little resources. Jennifer asked me if I could coach, ten kids from the Bay and I was excited. I could see she was a little surprised when I said, I wasn’t being sponsored by any NGO, I wasn’t getting paid a grant and I wasn’t being sponsored by any organisation. I was doing this pro bono because I felt compelled. I also refrained from doing any social media postings while I was doing coaching with the kids so I could focus on these kids fully.
Immediately, I went home and prepared my group coaching plan for the next nine few weeks. Then a few days later, Salomeh, said she wanted to ask me an important question. Salomeh asked me if instead of coaching ten kids would I be comfortable coaching 40 kids ages 11-18. I said yes immediately and then got scared about the thought of coaching so many kids and if I would be able to meet their expectations. Thoughts began creeping into my head, about being relatable to these kids and I was worried about my criole which wasn’t that great. Kids usually have zero filter so I knew I had better capivate them from the day one and truly get into their world or else they wouldn’t trust me. Then I calmed down realising that it was what I had asked God for a few weeks earlier and there was no backing out now. I got to work on my lesson plan and was determined to be of service to those kids and put aside any other thoughts. I remember one day, a missionary from Germany who was visiting the centre said to me, “Wow, of all the places, you could have taken your work to and your chose Kroo Bay one of the most underserved communities. You could have picked some elite children to give them leadership and personal coaching what made you come to Kroo Bay?.” I laughed, “No, Kroo Bay chose me and these kids all of them are the future, they will be our future leaders of tomorrow, we have to support them in making good life choices and helping them to create a system for their lives that will work. These kids need support and deserve to feel loved. This is my own way of giving back.”
Kroo Bay for those who don’t know is an extremely poor and overcrowded slum area in Freetown, where residents are literally living upon garbage and during the rainy season conditions get even worse. It’s really overwhelming to see the conditions and sometimes one cannot believe that people and children live there, but they do. Jennifer when she first gave me the tour of the centre, she walked me to the back area and she opened one of the back doors and I got a glimpse not only of the entire Kroo Bay, but a sense of these children’s lives and suddenly all of the things I complained about in my daily life paled in comparision. I had lots to be grateful for and I also realised that I had an opportunity to make a difference.
Many of the children of Kroo Bay, live a life of daily struggle, some of them have lost both parents and are being taken care of by elderly guardians, some of them have suffered traumas, many of them struggle with the daily occurences of violence and sexual and physical abuse around them. Young children die during the rains when their homes get swept away. At the centre, the children get many of their needs met with mentoring, tutoring, food and learn to foster a relationship with God to get them through challenging times. Salomeh, a beautiful woman with smooth dark brown skin and kind eyes helped me translate my english into flawless criole, every Thursday at the Lighthouse series for nine weeks. I proudly called my sessions, “Choose to be Wise, Happy and a Leader” series. I must tell you the kids made my work very easy, they were very sharp and participated fully.
I enjoyed coaching these kids, leadership skills and life lessons and answering their own questions on everything from school work, bad friendships and personal integrity. At one point, the group swelled to about fifty and it made my heart really glad and felt blessed. I loved even more when the kids would share that my work was making a difference in their lives and giving them hope about their future; it meant that I had earned my title as their wise ‘Aunty Jumoke.’ I enjoyed listening to their personal struggles and giving them comfort which is all sometimes a kid needs. I made sure that what I was coaching them on made sense and was relatable for them. I came to find out that each kid, had their own unique personality and many of them had some very big dreams. It showed me that even in the midst of chaos, children still had big dreams. Many of them told me when they got older they would demolish the Bay and move the families elsewhere and others said they would become lawyers, doctors, pastors or politicians to change the lives of people in the Bay. My sessions were always straight to the point and always tinged with humour and I used my own personal experiences to help the kids to see that challenges face all of us on a daily basis it is how one handles those challenges that count. I allowed myself to be silly and vulnerable. These kids are intelligent and bright and picked up on the sessions quite quickly. Many of the kids in the group were also high performers academic wise. From time to time, when there was snickering and not paying attention I would have to call them out and it was always done in love.
Every week, I was prepared to deal with the challenges of working with a big group outside in the courtyard and sometimes working with no lights when there was no electricity as the evening drew near. Sometimes, the questions they asked and were tough and all one could do was listen and give them a hug. I said they had a choice in how they viewed their lives, they could see themselves as victims and give up or they could feel that were were the chosen to transform their lives and those in their community. A few weeks back, a child asked a question about their future they said that people keep telling them that if they don’t come from an important family or a family of means they hold no worth in Sierra Leone society. That saddened me immensely. I shared with those kids that I too had often felt like the odd man out in Sierra Leone; my background was a curious mixture of many ethnicities and my criole wasn’t that great; however I did not let that stop me from making a difference regardless of what people thought. I told them that for me true leadership was about making people feel valued regardless of their background. I told them that no one could predict their futures simply because they were born and raised in the Bay.
I had a few individual sessions too which were very rewarding for me and quite heart wrenching. I had friends who asked me how could I keep going into the Bay and not feel sad. My only response to them was that sadness is a state of mind, I felt sad for their conditions however kids are resilient and they just need to be focused on the right things and not the things that cannot be immediately transformed. Some of the kids who are fortunate to be a part of the WMF centre are academically gifted.
On my 9th week and my last day, Salomeh asked me to hold a special session for some of the parents and guardians. And it was great to share what I had been coaching the kids as well as inspiring them to support their children’s futures. The parents were really amazed that their kids had some big dreams for themselves and their communities. I chose to see some of their stern faces as just being tired and not that they didn’t want to listen. After the session, one of the parents came up to me and said she was really touched by what the kids were learning and that I took the time out to speak to let them as parents and guardians. That brought tears to my eyes especially since many of the parents are single mothers, guardians and grandparents (many who are very old) and have their own daily struggles and have not been fortunate to have completed their education or even have a job. Even if these parents and guardians were to get jobs, many of them are either too old or the money from those jobs would not be sufficient which then force the kids to sell goods on the street.
During my last session with the kids and it was beautiful as Salomeh asked them to all pray over me in unison. I also simultaneously said my prayers for them, their community and Sierra Leone. I told them wistfully, that I was never meant to stay permanently, as they must now go and apply these principles to their lives. I promised them that I would follow up with their progress and continue to serve as their coach and mentor even if I was not physically in Sierra Leone. I handed out some of my leadership and life skills tips to them on laminated cards and told them that whenever they forgot what I had coached them they could always refer to the cards and remember me. It was hard for me to leave them and I miss my kiddies already. Even though my work as a leadership and personal coach, has me now back in NYC for now to work with clients from all over the world, I will always work on ways of giving pro bono coaching to kids from less fortunate backgrounds. I believe that leadership and life skills, will one day be an important part of the education curriculum in Sierra Leone and throughout many countries across Africa. Leaving was most difficult as my name started going out about this work in the Bay, I had people requesting that I go in and create sessions and I had to turn them down.
With that being said, I really understated the needs of these kids at the WMF centre. Many of these kids, only get to eat once a day at the community centre which can only afford to give them a boiled egg or two and rice or fufu with leaf sauce on Thursdays. As I mentioned earlier, the centre is unable to meet the growing demands to bring in more kids and hosts a children’s party for 600 kids during Christmas where kids get to play and have a nutritious meal. The staff also give the kids who come to the centre, clothing and tutoring to supplement their educational needs.
I would like to encourage those who are interested in supporting the children at the centre, I will leave information down below. For those who are already in Sierra Leone and want to donate, please write an email to the acting coordinator Salomeh Dumbuya.
Donations from Sierra Leone:
email: Anusumama Bangura at email@example.com
From the US:
http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/support/give (designate for ‘Sierra Leone’)
From the UK:
https://my.give.net/wordmadefleshsierraleone (designate for ‘Sierra Leone’)
Direct inquiries and for those living in Sierra Leone who wish to donate:
Ms. Salomeh Dumbuya: firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to wish my kiddies, inner peace and happiness. And to tell them that no matter what remember that there is a woman named, Aunty Jumoke that loves them whereever they are and hope to see you all one day soon and if not now to see you all doing some great things in Sierra Leone one day.