Sierra Leone’s Goodwill Ambassador for children and youth, Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, records direct messages for broadcast on Pikin to Pikin Radio

February 2015

This blog post was originally published on Pearl Works website, available here.

by Penny Boreham, Series Editor, Pikin to Pikin Radio

“It has been so impressive to see very young teenagers at the checkpoints with the older youths checking that no one sick passes through and that people go to the hospital.  The children and youth of Sierra Leone have been awesome! Sierra Leone is very very proud of you.” (Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden)

Dr Blyden is a household name in many parts of Sierra Leone, an activist for youth rights, a former advisor to the president, a trained doctor and also a journalist and publisher of the most widely read newspaper in the country. It was the young people themselves who voted her in as their “Goodwill Ambassador” – they call her “Aunty Sylvia.”

I met up with her when she was over in London to participate in an event on “The socio-economic consequences of Ebola in Sierra Leone: Challenges and Prospects for Youth” (at Chatham House) and she recorded some messages for children and young people of Sierra Leone, to be broadcast on Pikin to Pikin Radio.

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Talking directly to the children and youth of Sierra Leone on Pikin to Pikin Radio

In these messages, Dr Blyden expresses deep empathy for what children and young people have endured during the current crisis, celebrates the resilience and pro-activity of young Sierra Leoneans and actively encourages them to refocus on their education.

Learning to unlearn how to touch one another

“I know it has been a very tough time, we have had to change from a situation of being a warm, friendly, touch-touch people, and ‘learn to unlearn’ how to touch one another. It is going to get better, we will go back to hugging one another, playing football, sharing the same food bowl, but one thing that we must never go back to is not washing hands. We have learned washing our hands regularly is vital.”

Dr Blyden also wanted to celebrate how children and young people have been rising to the situation in countless ways:

Sierra Leone is very, very proud of you

“Very young teenagers have been at the checkpoints checking that noone sick passes through and if someone is sick that they go to the hospital. We can see that the future for this country is very bright. The children and youths now know that the future belongs to them, they cannot allow the adults just to babysit them. You have been awesome. Sierra Leone is really very, very proud of you.”

In another message, Dr Sylvia Blyden emphasises the importance of education and appeals to children not to forsake their learning:

Honk down on your tables and chairs, listen to your teachers!

“Education is the most important thing that any young person can acquire. Education is far more valuable than money, that’s why it is said that book learning is much better than silver and gold. During this crisis period, education came to a halt but now, slowly, the Ebola crisis is being kicked out.

Youths now have to buckle up and make up for lost time. Yes, we did not go to school for several months because it was important we were not exposed to the virus, but now when the time is right honk down on your tables and chairs, listen to your teachers, and restart your education as there is nothing more valuable than education.”

She also recorded a special appeal to the girls:

Do still focus on continuing your education!

“Learning and education are very, very important… especially for you the girls. Most of you look on me as your role model as I am independent and can take care of myself, but that is because I went to school! I understand that because of the Ebola crisis a lot of young girls unfortunately got pregnant. But this does not mean the end of your schooling. After you give birth to the child, there are ways and there are and will be support mechanisms. I urge all of you, whether you are pregnant or teenage mums, do still focus on continuing your education at the earliest possible chance!”

Dr Blyden also shared her deep concern about the plight of the country’s orphans:

“One of the most terrible effects of this crisis is the amount of orphans who have been neglected, the kids who lost their parents and went on to survive the virus or were never infected. They are seen as little walking bombs, and no one wants contact with them. They are stigmatised. No one wants to care for them, share with them any tender love. Their homes have been split apart and no one wants to touch these children. This is the most traumatic thing, they are in their hundreds and thousands.”

Dr Blyden reported that the British government had given 2.5 million pounds to support the orphans but that there was going to have to be a huge amount of psychosocial support and strong government support put in place otherwise, as Dr Blyden put it, “we will lose a chunk of the next generation coming in.”

“We came through the war and were the fastest growing economy so we can come back from Ebola.”

Dr Sylvia Blyden told Pikin to Pikin Radio that despite the huge toll on the country’s physical and emotional well being she believes strongly that, with the appropriate support, her people, and in particular the younger generation, will show just how resilient they are.

“There’s a lot of depression, people are unhappy with what has suddenly struck the country but Sierra Leonean people do have great resilience. We came through the war and became the fastest growing economy so we can come back from Ebola, too.”

A recording of the Chatham House event that Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden took part is available to listen to here.