By Alhassan Abdul Conteh (YES 2013-2014, Sierra Leone, placed by AYA/AIFS in Chicago IL)
Being part of the YES family has been an incredible benefit to my academic and career goals as well as my ability to achieve them. During my exchange year, I developed interpersonal, teamwork, and academic skills. My peers at my host school and my fellow exchange students were happy to learn about my culture, and they shared theirs with me. My host family welcomed me as part of their family, showered me with love, built my self-confidence, and taught me computer skills and how to do household chores. My YES experience inspired me to find a way to make a difference in my own community back home in Sierra Leone.
I come from a community called Mile 91, where people – mostly women and children – must travel great distances every day, sometimes to unsafe locations, to secure clean water. This lack of water often forces people to choose between drinking and showering for long periods of time. School children miss a great deal of school to collect just a few drops of water. They wait in long queues, often being bypassed by those with the financial means to pay to skip ahead. People become afflicted with diseases or even die from this inadequate water supply and poor sanitation and hygiene.
Motivated to address this issue in the Mile 91 community, I applied for a 2022 YES Alumni Grant. The project was two-fold, including the establishment of a hand pump well and a training to teach community members about proper water sanitation, keeping the water supply clean, and using and maintaining the well.
On a donated patch of land within easy reach of community members, we dug boreholes and installed a hand pump well. The well now provides clean water to 800 to 1000 people per day. School children can now spend their time in school rather than traveling to search for water. With this access to clean water, we expect to soon see a sharp reduction of water-related illnesses like cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea. Imagine what community members can do with the financial and time savings that comes from better health and less time spent on finding clean water. The community of Mile 91 is extremely grateful for this well, and a volunteer group has formed that is donating monthly to the support and maintenance of the well.
On behalf of the Mile 91 community and our project team, we extend our utmost thanks to the YES program and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring this project and for their incredible work connecting the world. Special thanks and appreciation goes to our community volunteers, especially John Turay and Ibrahim Conteh; YES staff at iEARN-Liberia; my Grant Advisor, Tamba Abdulai; AYA/AIFS; and American Councils.
As one of the World Water Day slogans remind us, “Water is nature’s daughter. She’s gentle and sweet. If you let her go, we lose the flow and end up in retreat.”