YES Programs



The Sierra Leone YES Alumni Dam Project


By Amadu Gbassay Kabia, YES 2010-2011, Sierra Leone

I was born in a village in northern Sierra Leone. My father and mother are both farmers. At an early age, it became difficult for me to go to school. No one in my family had ever gotten a formal education and my father did not think I needed to go to school. Since he is a farmer, and I was his only male successor at the time, he hoped that I would replace him in his farm work. It was painful for me to watch my peers going to school in the surrounding villages. Finally, in 2002, at the age of 8, I started attending school. Then, in 2008, I moved to the captial city, Freetown, to live with my aunt. It was there that I learned about the YES program.

In August 2010, I travelled with five other YES finalists from Sierra Leone to DC and started experiencing the world outside my village. It was exciting for me to have a host family from Texas, and I liked the weather there because it was similar to my home country. I got along with them really well, especially with my host dad and mom. My host dad and I liked to go fishing and garden together. My host mom consoled me when difficulties arose. Every day marked a new experience, like learning about a new religion, meeting more family members, and attending family activities.

My placement organization, AYUSA, first introduced me to the world of community service and its importance. I also got to visit historical places like the Institute of Culture, which is located in San Antonio. When I was there, I got a chance to demonstrate the technique for making fishing poles like the ones we make in Sierra Leone in the villages.

I joined high school clubs like the Fredericksburg Interact Club and the World Language Club. These clubs also helped shape my exchange year, as they got me involved in the community service activities and field trips they organized. I had the opportunity to travel to NASA in Houston with the World Language Club. I am proud that I took part in the picnic and the bake-sale fundraisers organized by the World Language Club for children with cleft palates. My time on the YES program made me a more confident, mature, responsible, self-aware, engaged and motivated person.

Back home in Sierra Leone, I moved to the Tree Planting Community in March 2013. It was the hottest period of the year, and water was very scarce, which made me realize that there were very poor water facilities in the area. The only existing source was water runoff from rocks, and the volume of that source has been decreasing due to persistent deforestation. During this time of year, school children spend most of their time fetching water- day and night, before and after school- they have to fetch water, which leaves little time for studying.

Although I wanted to help my community solve this crisis, it was only after attending the YES 10th Anniversary Workshop in Istanbul, Turkey in September 2013 that I finally had the courage to address the issue. The workshop provided intensive project design and management training, which gave me the tools to plan a large-scale project. In 2014, I met with leaders in the community to get support to build a dam. I wrote a project proposal and received a YES Alumni Grant Award.

While it seemed a daunting task, the project was to dig and build a fifteen foot-wide and ten foot-deep dam. Approximately 5,000 people live in the Tree Planting community, which makes it the largest population in the broader Leicester Road community. The inhabitants include people from different ethnic backgrounds in Sierra Leone and other countries, and every year the population increases. These people need water to drink and to use for domestic and agricultural purposes. They need the dam to ensure better living conditions. The entire community came out to participate in the building of the dam! Yet we knew it would be a challenge. We did not have construction equipment, but the enormous amount of manpower and the number of community members involved made up for that.
















In addition to the many months of intense labor, we needed technical engineering assistance. We are lucky that engineers and contractors live in the community and that they brought others with expertise to help, including Abdulai Kamara, Senior Contractor; Osman Mansaray, Senior Tiler; Ballah Musa Conteh, Senior Engineer; Alusine Sankoh; Sieh Bangura, Senior Contractor; Mohamed Jalloh; Alex Jambolie; Bollah Bennedict; Zackaria Kerra; Donald Bennedict; and Foday Kallon. They not only supported us, but they also gave an enormous amount of time and effort to help construct the dam.

The project has been successful and beneficial to the community. It met the needs of the target beneficiaries, my own community. The following are some of the comments my team and I gathered as we spoke to community members:

Fatmata Kamara, a thirteen year old girl in the community whose chores included fetching water said,

“I am very happy that the problem of fighting for water, waking up early and going to bed late has been solved. I pray that the sponsors may continue with this project until the water can come to our homes.”

Ibrahim Sorie, an eight year old boy who also brings water for his family, said,

“I hardly spend more than five minutes [gettting water] these days now that there is a water tank. Previously, I was always in trouble with my mother for going home late with no water.”

The chief of our community, Chief Senessie, gave me the highest honor,

“I am very happy that my community received this young leader, Amadu, who has been very helpful in mobilizing other young people to light the way to protect the community from the evils that have been happening. Here we are with a community dam to solve the community water crisis. May Allah guide you, Amadu, and may he grant his blessings on you. You are memorable in this community.”

I would like to acknowledge the YES program for its great work in building bridges among young people worldwide. It has provided me worthy experiences. I would like to acknowledge Sahar Taman at American Councils for International Education and Christine McCaleb at iEARN USA, two of the YES Program organizations, for supporting the Sierra Leone YES Alumni Association and inspiring us. My deep gratitude to iEARN and the YES management team in Sierra Leone, especially Jane Peters, our National Coordinator, Massah Mary Kanu, and Umarr Kamara, who gave not only support and encouragement, but also an enormous amount of time and guidance. Their expertise enriched my work. A special thanks and appreciation go to my unforgettable host family in the U.S. Thanks to AYUSA for being an eye opener to the world of community service; Judy and Connie, I am thankful for your full support on my exchange program.

I am grateful to be part of the Kamara family in the Tree Planting community. My fervent thanks go to Musa Kamara and Mariatu Kargbo who have provided warm support in building my future. Special thanks to Alusine Sankoh, who has been my best buddy, working day and night to ensure that this dream came true. As they say in Texas, “Y’all are unforgettable!”  

A special thanks to Chief Senessie for his guidance.

A video of providing background on the Tree Planting community and the need for the dam is here

(Amadu was hosted in Harper, Texas from 2010-2011. His placement organization was AYUSA.)