By Tamba Abdulai (YES 2013-2014, Sierra Leone, hosted by AYUSA in Greeley, CO)
I’m Tamba Abdulai – Vice President of the Sierra Leone YES Alumni Association and the President and Founder of the Tamba Abdulai Foundation, a foundation that aims to give girls access to quality education and prevent discrimination against women in Sierra Leone.
My exchange year on the YES program taught me about community volunteerism and positively changed my perspective on Americans. Because of this experience, I have something different to share with the world. I consistently use the skills and knowledge I gained during my exchange year to help my community through volunteerism and promoting education for girls in 15 underprivileged communities. I also enjoy telling people about America and its lovely people.
Girls’ education in my community, the rural areas of Gbense Chiefdom in Kono District, is not a priority. My community is very conservative and traditional. Girls are not given the opportunity to go to school because they are being trained to take care of their future husbands. Parents’ understanding of education is extremely low. According to a survey I conducted through the Tamba Abdulai Foundation in 2014, 95% of the people living in the 15 communities in which I work are illiterate.
The desire to address the lack of education for girls in my community led me to apply for a YES alumni grant, which my team and I were awarded in the summer of 2018. As the core components of the project, we recruited, guided, and mentored 85 students (70% female) from 15 communities throughout the 2018-19 school year. We enrolled them in school and provided them with the necessary school supplies, which were donated through the Tamba Abdulai Foundation.
My team and I organized ten workshops in the project communities. Each workshop included a mentorship component for the students and a workshop for parents about the economic benefit of female education, gender equality, and the effect of early marriage.
At the end of the 2018-19 school year, 100% of the children in this program successfully completed the school year without any early marriages or drop outs. 90% were promoted to the next grade level with a grade average of 74% or higher (for reference, 50% is passing). My team and I were able to reach 150 parents and guardians through the awareness workshops about female education and discrimination. This program also introduced an element of civic engagement during the project year, and, as a result, many students gave back to their community through volunteer service.
One female student stated, “My parents and I are very thankful to Tamba for his courageous humanitarian effort and supporting us with our school affairs. People should not discriminate against us – we are women, and we can do what men can do.”
One parent said, “There are no words to describe how thankful we are to you. You have really demonstrated patriotism to us. I asked my child to stay home last year because I did not have money to send my child to school. I do subsistence farming, which is the only means for our daily survival. I am appealing to you to please continue to support our children for 2019-20 academic year.”
Aiah Thomas, the town chief of Gbukuma, said, “Please continue this mentorship program on gender equality. Most men don’t value women in society or contribute to their education. This is a great lesson to all of us.”
My long-term hope for this project is to continue supporting these vulnerable girls. I want to see every child supported through this program complete high school. I stand firm with girls’ education and against discrimination against women, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy. I will continue seeking funding and support for these efforts.
I learned so many things leading this project and as president of Tamba Abdulai Foundation. It is very challenging to work in a community like mine, where knowledge is limited and education isn’t valued. But I am dedicated to it. It was also a challenge, but a great professional development experience, to manage volunteers, work effectively as a team, manage resources, and be vigilant about financial accountability.
There are many parties to thank in the success of this project. Thanks to the YES program, my fellow YES alumni, iEARN, Tamba Abdulai Foundation volunteers Musa Jimmy, Sahr Ellie, and Tamba Emmanuel Ngaujah, the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Ministry of Education Science and Technology, District Council Chairman Sahr Solomon Gbondo, local authorities, teachers of the schools the students attended, individuals and organizations who contributed financially through crowd funding or helped in other ways. Finally, a big thanks to the sponsor of the YES program and the YES alumni grants program, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.