I remember as if it were yesterday, my childhood days. Growing up was fun – big time fun that was alas, often blighted by my mum’s many warnings. My mum had a way of warning us not to go near virtually everything under the sun (so it seemed to my siblings and I at that age). Top on our mum’s agenda of warnings or what I should properly call “her never events list” was to never play on the streets outside our compound. My mum used to always warn us never to go near the “street urchins”. “They are bad news and will only spoil your lot in life” she would tell us daily. Of course, I kept my distance. I kept my distance for two reasons: the first reason was that the fear of my mum used to be the beginning of our wisdom and the second reason was that those children actually looked very unkempt in diplomatic language or “dirty” in the everyday street term. Having an obsessive-compulsive personality did not help me at that time.
Suffice it to say that there were days when my curiosity got the better of me and I just wanted to join them and be free irrespective of the restraining factors– they always looked so happy and free despite the “dirt” that I was always secretly jealous of them.
Well, that is what happened one day. I took the risk when my mum was out and went exploring in their world. I made friends with some of them while others looked at me with suspicion – I did not belong there. I learnt many street survival tips from those who accepted me. I heard their stories and began to see their world and mine through their eyes. The scales of stereotypes fell out of my eyes after about a year of my episodic hidden adventures with the street children on the other side of the divide.
I may have been lucky to come to no harm or my mother’s fear may have been exaggerated. However, we will never know now. The lasting impression from those encounters all those years ago became for me, “a lesson on how not to judge books by their covers”. As for my mum, she eventually became a convert after her initial years of stiff resistance.
Join LR this week as we go down to Sierra Leone, one of the richest countries in the world. Did that take you by surprise? Were you expecting to read “a war-torn country?” Is your mind unknowingly already programmed to associate some sort of negative to certain words or concepts when you come across them? Do not feel bad, many of us have been or are guilty. What is important is moving forward with a new mindset. A rebirth of our minds which helps us understand that “We Are All Born Under The Eye Of God” – FOLORUNSHO
- Sierra Leone is one of the richest countries in the world
- She lies along the West African Atlantic coastline, sandwiched between her two neighbours Guinea and Liberia
- Sierra Leone has an enviable tropical climate and very uniquely diverse landscape that spans arid Savannah to dense Rainforest.
- With a population of about 7.5 million people and a rich cultural heritage, the people got their independence from the British on April 27th 1961
- The economy of Sierra Leone is mining dependent. This is no surprise considering the wide array of natural resources underneath her soil.
- Ranked among the 10 largest diamond-producing nations of the world, Sierra Leone also has one of the world’s largest deposits of raw Titanium and Bauxite.
- The third –largest natural harbour in the world is in Sierra Leone.
- Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone has its history closely linked with the resettlement of slaves during the slave trade era.
- Then came the 10-year long war which many remember once the name of the country is mentioned. A war that many cannot find a logical explanation for till date. Yet it left devastation in its wake. It left the country looted with a legacy of poverty, physical and psychological trauma.
- The war left us the irony that is today’s Sierra Leone – a very rich yet poor nation, with a people on a path of national healing, strong and resilient in their determination to make their future greater than their past.
Meet Mallence Bart-Williams
I was born in Cologne Germany a few decades ago, the daughter of a Sierra Leonean father and a German mother. My parents met somewhere in the air between Africa and Europe on the plane. I had very strong African upbringing until I was 14 years old and my father passed on. Growing up in Germany was rather challenging at the time because being treated as an outcast pretty much shaped my earlier years. The only images of Africans in the German media at the time were those of ‘Shaka Zulu’, who along with others were falsely depicted as savages. Refugee homes were burnt down on a regular basis and my experience of being called some of the unkindest names was part of my daily life. Growing up in an environment where I always had to deal with the fact that I was perceived as different from an early age, has made me who I am today – a person who neither fears challenges nor labels others.
Her Philosophy Of “Sharity” Not “Charity”
Today it is evident that only about 20% of each dollar given in charity to African countries actually reaches the proposed endpoint. On the flip side, the CEOs (Chief executive officers) of donor agencies have earnings in the top income brackets. Coming from a career background of Finance and Economics, it becomes apparent when critically analysing the situation, that an entire industry has been developed by organisations who are making money based on marketing the plight of African nations. In my opinion, that is immoral. Furthermore, on closer scrutiny, when one realizes how much the salaries of the employment force working for charity organizations contribute to European or American GDP (Gross Domestic Product) it becomes evident that ending poverty and hunger in African nations is a big conflict of interest. In the United Kingdom alone, millions of people would be out of jobs. Why would anyone really want to end what pays them?
Naturally, I do not believe in the conventional form of charity. Charity merely creates inferiority and dependency. I believe that empowerment by providing an individual with the right tools to make changes to their lives will enable positive long-lasting change. Instead, I propose “Sharity” by putting our creative abilities to work and exchange the output for a fair fee – not one-sided hand-outs or hand-downs that often times, masks exploitation.
My dual heritage as German-Sierra Leonean, my educational background and having lived in multiple countries across the world has opened my mind to see beyond the stereotypes and seek practical solutions to the prevailing problems in our world. I perceive the reason I am who I am, is to serve as a bridge between cultures – enhancing a world, where we “truly share”.
Her Work Turning Out Live Diamonds And FOLORUNSHO
In 2008, I had a life-enhancing encounter when I visited Sierra Leone. In Freetown, in a gutter under a bridge, there loomed one of the worst “aftermath” the war had left in its wake. A place called LION BASE, where the night robbers and gangsters lived.
I was continuously urged to keep away from the spot and the people there for my own safety. However, my curiosity got the better of me and an interaction with the youths of LION BASE began.
I encountered a group of young men who had been thrown a raw deal by life. They were scarred in many ways. Surprisingly we formed a rapport. We forged a friendship that was based on mutual respect and trust. They were a group grossly misunderstood by the same society that had bred them. Many of them had been orphaned, on the streets since they were 3 or 5 years of age, without any form of formal education. These were the rough diamonds of Sierra Leone.
Like diamond gemstones, the heat and pressures of life in the streets of a post-war country turned them into the hardest substance and made them more resilient and stronger than one could ever imagine. I realized I could give them direction; help them channel their creative skills and energies whilst serving as the bridge between them and the world. I refused to go down the “Charity” route and hand down donations. Rather we invoked “Sharity” and FOLORUNSHO was born. We started by making sneakers in collaboration with a German street-wear brand and from the proceeds they were able to pay for an education and daily life.
How the proceeds from the 1st sneaker collaboration between FOLORUNSHO and K1X in 2011, enabled the boys to hire a private teacher that taught them how to read and write is documented on our website and in the book we published titled LION BASE. In November 2011 twenty-one boys, aged 14-22, moved from LION BASE into my apartment in Freetown. Soon after we rented an additional space from the proceeds of the sneaker sales. After more than 6 months of private tuition fifteen of the boys started to go to school; Patrick and A Fame graduated from school in 2012 and thereafter, attended college.
As a result, the boys began to discuss their future instead of merely focusing on day-to-day survival. The consequences of their personal growth are many but most importantly they won a battle against social and environmental exclusion.
Our jewellery line “I’M POSSIBLE” clearly portrays the message that sustains what we believe in: nothing is impossible.
On A Parting Note….
I encourage those of us reading this out there, to believe in ourselves no matter what anybody else says. Whenever you find that people strongly object to what you believe in or a project you work on, then know that you are most likely on the right track.
In the wake of the Ebola Epidemic FOLORUNSHO, began to work with more orphaned children. We cannot change our world alone but we are keen to keep stimulating the change of hearts across continents and to continue promoting the concept of “Sharity”.
The Loretta Reveals team thought it our own contribution in the wake of “Sharity” to bring you this feature article of this woman and her team who together are blazing a trail of change across continents.
How can they be tuning out “live diamonds” and yet people do not get to hear of their hard work? We need to spread the word and share the concept. Share and spread it until it comes back to you – do your bit for “Sharity”.
At this point, we employ us all to spare a moment of thought for Sierra Leone following the latest mudslide that happened in the country. Furthermore, our hearts go out to Benue state in Nigeria and Huston Texas, in the United States in the wake of the flooding they suffered. We empathise with all those who have suffered from the effect of one natural disaster or the other – even those not profiled in the news. We believe in their resilience and the shared strength that lies within their core which will enable “sharity” prevail.
Listen to the TED Talk given by Mallence Bart-Williams below and you will see how much passion she has for what she believes in. Remember, in life, we should never “judge books by their covers” and we should always accept that our shared humanity unites us; are we not all after all, “born under the eye of God?” – FOLORUNSHO.
**Banner Images courtesy of Tedx Berlin and the Afropolitan Life** All images and videos used with the permission of Mallence Bart-Williams and FOLORUNSHO Team.