London students Step Up* to Serve by supporting children orphaned by Ebola in Sierra Leone
Carolyn Conway (Hearing All Voices project manager); additional information collected by Aurélie Vo Thi
March 18th was International Day at the College of North West London and students rolled up their sleeves to raise money for Ebola-affected orphans in the remote Kailahun District of Sierra Leone. This group of ESOL students (English for Speakers of Other Languages) surprised us when they identified ‘supporting orphans’ as something they felt strongly about and wanted to take social action on. But many of the group are themselves refugees who are, or have been, separated from their families. Ntangu from Congo took care of his three sisters when his father died before being reunited with his mother and brothers in the UK. He explained ‘I feel connected to the Ebola orphans. I want to help because I know what it’s like to be on my own. I don’t want them to feel alone and left behind’. When the students heard about a group of 51 children orphaned by Ebola being supported by Margaret, a kind-hearted local in a village in Kailahun District, they resolved to do the best they could. They learned that the orphanage lacked running water and a roof so the local community were providing food, shelter and paying their school fees. But Kailahun is a poor district and they have little for themselves. It isn’t certain that they will be able to continue this for much longer. The spirit and determination to raise as much money as they could on International Day was inspiring. The group pulled together brilliantly as a team. They prepared and sold fruit smoothies and delicious dishes from their own countries, provided manicures and sold raffle tickets with great enthusiasm. Raffle prizes were generously donated by local shops impressed with the professional approach taken by the students they met. The students have so far raised £747. They will be speaking to Margaret and the children in Sierra Leone to decide how best to spend the money and ensure there is full accountability for the funds. But it isn’t only the children in Sierra Leone who have benefitted. Hearing All Voices activities develop vital life and employability skills in all participants. Students’ comments reflect their awareness of their own enhanced agency, communication and teamwork skills:
“Before the project, I couldn’t communicate with people” (Amina). However, she demonstrated admirable communication skills when she approached local shops to get raffle prize donations. “I have learnt to work in a team” Abdi said when reflecting on what they had achieved.
Yazdan summed up what participating in Hearing All Voices meant to her: “I have learnt that nothing is impossible and that I can do anything if I have the determination”. It’s a win-win situation. Children supporting children benefiting both communities. The project continues after the Easter break. (All names have been changed)