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Sierra Leone Youth in the USA Ready to Participate in the Development Process

Press Release

Source: The patriotic Vanguard

 Date: Friday 28 September 2007.

 

“Engaging Sierra Leonean Youth in the Diaspora with New Visions and Renewed Commitment to a Sweeter Sierra Leone" Sierra Leonean youth gathered in Maryland, USA on September 1st and 2nd for the 2007 Sierra Leone Youth Empowerment Conference (SLYEC) hosted by the Young Leaders-Sierra Leone, USA Branch. The first ever conference of its kind in the Sierra Leonean Diaspora, youth delegates traveled from several states, including Texas, Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, and Pennsylvania to attend the SLYEC. Delegates also traveled from Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom, ready to engage in productive dialogue with fellow youth and a vast array of prominent panelists and workshop facilitators.

The two-day event began with the conference on Saturday, followed by a gala in the evening, and concluded with a half-day leadership seminar on Sunday. Each event was filled with enough excitement and highlights to be a milestone event on its own. The conference consisted of a leadership presentation, panel discussion on reversing the Brain Drain, and 7 workshops centered on the following issues as they relate to Sierra Leone: Business, Health, Education, Gender Equality, Public Policy, Law and Human Rights, Media, Technology, Arts, and Entertainment.

According to Eleanor Thompson, the Conference Coordinator for the SLYEC, “The vision behind the SLYEC is for young Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora to become the instruments of change that we wish to see in Sierra Leone, starting with our present generation. We cannot leave it to future generations, especially when we in the Diaspora have the human capital, opportunities, and resources right now to work hand in hand with our brothers and sisters at home who are already working to steer the political, economic, and social action in our homeland in a positive direction.”

The SLYEC, which was covered by Al Gore’s Current TV and UK-based Cotton Tree Magazine, was marked by the presence of very prominent Sierra Leonean youth from around the globe. These youth came to participate as delegates, and some also served as workshop facilitators and panelists at the SLYEC. Among them were notable writer and inspirational speaker Ishmael Beah; celebrated musical artist and political activist Emmerson Bockarie; actress and Current TV host Nzinga Blake; Blood Diamonds and primetime TV drama Lost actor Adetokumboh M’Cormack; Cotton Tree Magazine Editor Unisa Conteh; and former President of the Sierra Leone Children’s Forum Network, Chernor Bah.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Ishmael Beah, emphasized the need for Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora to remember our culture, cherish what it means to be a Sierra Leonean, and give back to our country. Beah stressed on the importance of storytelling and the value it holds as a development tool for Sierra Leoneans and Africans in general. Beah’s keynote address left many of the delegates with tears as all reflected on the past grim history with a sudden sense of hope and determination for a way forward. At age 26, Mr. Beah is the author of the book A Long Way Gone, and has started a foundation that helps to provide educational opportunities for children and young people in Sierra Leone.

Each thematic workshop was filled primarily with youth delegates, but included Sierra Leoneans of all ages. While some workshops were mainly instructive, others were very interactive with delegates engaging with each other on pressing issues in Sierra Leone and sustainable solutions. According to Business and Entrepreneurship Workshop co-facilitator, Ms. Daphne Marke, “The conference by Young Leaders of Sierra Leone was properly conceived, showed adequate planning, and was thoughtfully developed. The thematic workshops provided a forum for examining a myriad of topics for profound discussions and expansive analysis. It was an opportunity to see that despite the complex nature of the multiple challenges in SL, one is optimistic that the youth, so knowledgeable and articulate, given the opportunity to get involved in the development of SL, will affect changes for a greater and more progressive SL.”

Brian Conton, co-facilitator for the Politics and Public Policy Workshop, remarked “At last, a Sierra Leonean youth group not prepared to leave their destiny and inheritance to chance. We saw and experienced a conference designed to do two vital things. Firstly investigate and evaluate in concrete terms the reasons for our present demise as a nation. Secondly put in place the attitude changes within ourselves to see, evaluate, and implement the changes necessary for redemption.”

Hours after the Saturday conference concluded, delegates gathered again in the evening for the second component of the SLYEC, which was the equally exciting gala. The highlight of the gala was a media presentation by gala keynote speaker and notable African American actress Sarah Culberson. The audience was moved by Sarah’s story of her quest to locate her biological father, who also happens to be a Paramount Chief in Sierra Leone, and the ensuing reunion with the entire village in Bumpe that lovingly welcomed her home. The gala included a tribute to Mrs. Daphne Sawyerr-Dunn, delivered by Mr. Mohamed Jalloh. An exhilarating fashion show by Leonché, Sierra Leonean fashion designer Almira Wilson’s clothing line, followed the tribute, and the night capped off with dancing and more networking between conference participants.

The SLYEC ended on the following day with a leadership seminar, hosted by Wilben and Claire Short, who have presented leadership workshops and seminars all over the world. Delegates took the opportunity to learn about the essential principles of leadership in society. During the thought-provoking presentation given by the Shorts, delegates examined many leadership qualities that they can develop in order to work in their respective communities to transform both their communities as well as other young Sierra Leoneans into dynamic stakeholders in society. Yeniva Sisay, EXCEL Program Director for Sierra Visions Inc. and also a member of Young Leaders, noted that the “SLYEC was a wonderful opportunity for young Sierra Leoneans to demonstrate their commitment to Sierra Leone. And it took everyone by storm. We are no longer sitting back. Young Sierra Leoneans are taking an active role in the renaissance of Sierra Leone.”

There is much anticipation now for the future given the commitment of young Sierra Leoneans toward the rebuilding of the nation. The SLYEC laid a foundation for increased participation of young Sierra Leoneans in the USA in development initiatives. Young Leaders - Sierra Leone, which has its main branch in Sierra Leone and another in the United Kingdom, has been diligently pursuing one of its goals to create a “global skills network for youth development in Sierra Leone” with the essentials of leadership in all aspects of society at its core. Current key initiatives of the organization include the Young People’s Development Priority Index Table, which includes benchmarks, targets, and indicators for youth development in Sierra Leone; the Sierra Leone National Youth Helpline; Sierra Leone Youth Employment Program; Partnership towards Educational Development; and other capacity building initiatives for youth in Sierra Leone.

With the success of SLYEC 2007, more young Sierra Leoneans are anxious for SLYEC 2008. According to Akindele Decker, Chairman of Young Leaders - Sierra Leone USA Branch, “The task is now on the shoulders of the youth. Our next step is to materialize all of the resources and networks gained at the SLYEC and transform them into practical initiatives and sustainable solutions for the development of Sierra Leone and youth development in particular.”

Please visit the event website at www.slyec.org and the organization website at www.youngleaders-sierraleone.org for more information.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the SLYEC Planning Committee by email at slconference@gmail.com or the Young Leaders - Sierra Leone at youngleaders_sl@yahoo.com.