Photo by Sarah Tesla

Photo by Sarah Tesla

In 1999, while serving as a child soldier in the Sierra Leone Civil War, Santigie Bayo Dumbuya decided to throw down his gun in a war zone of a small village and carry an abandoned 5-year-old girl to a safe haven.  He travelled for two days and two nights, with no food or water, in order to save her life. He was only 15 years old. During this experience Dumbuya had an epiphany, and was thereafter inspired to help his fellow citizens in a different way, and without the use of guns.

 Photo by Sarah Tesla

Photo by Sarah Tesla

Nineteen years later, he continues to change people's lives in two small communities of Sierra Leone, a country on the west coast of Africa. After the war, Dumbuya continued his education, and volunteered for organizations that addressed social issues of nearby communities. This, combined with the life-changing episode 10 years prior, inspired him to start his own non-profit. In 2009 the We Yone Child Foundation (WYCF) was founded in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. The phrase “We Yone” means ‘Our Own Children” in the Creole-based language of Sierra Leone.

 Photo by Sarah Tesla

Photo by Sarah Tesla

WYCF focuses their work in the communities of George Brook and Kroo Bay. Both of which are located in Freetown and experience high rates of poverty. In George Brook, WYCF has two primary schools with more than 700 students combined. In Kroo Bay, nearly 300 pupils attend the organization's primary school. The lessons offered to the children are not limited to the national curriculum. WYCF also provides extra-curricular activities, and support programs for the kids and their families. Family business grants, group therapy sessions, football games and talent shows are some examples of these extra programs.

It is crucial for the organization to ensure that the beneficiaries are properly targeted, and prioritize children who are living in poverty or are at risk of dropping out of school.

WYCF_Football5.jpg
 Photos by Sarah Tesla

Photos by Sarah Tesla

As a result of WYCF's hard work, the communities are more aware of health issues and basic hygiene. The families are able to establish their own businesses or social enterprises and in turn, may support their children’s education.

"From 2009 to present-day WYCF has been the only organization operating in the Upper George Brook community and in Kroo Bay. We are the only organization who has proof of a positive impact in education and family livelihood including health and sanitation support....Without our support children would not have been able to pursue their dreams to achieve their primary and secondary school education," said Dumbuya.

 Photo by Sarah Tesla

Photo by Sarah Tesla

Sarah Tesla, an experienced Canadian documentarian, went to Sierra Leone with PWB.  Having traveled to more than 50 countries in her career, she has learned that people from all parts of the globe share the same desire to provide opportunities for the next generation, with Sierra Leone being no exception. Tesla was particularly inspired by resilience and strength of the Sierra Leoneans.  

 Photo by Sarah Tesla

Photo by Sarah Tesla

"This is a country with such a tumultuous history that includes an 11-year civil war that ended in 2002, a devastating Ebola outbreak which ended in 2015, and countless other political and developmental challenges. I'm not sure I've ever met people who have had such hard lives but continue to persevere despite these obstacles," Tesla said.

Tesla remembers how the children used to call her “Auntie”, which is sign of respect in Sierra Leone. They would touch her skin, asking if her tattoos were real and wanting to know where she was from.

 Photo by Sarah Tesla

Photo by Sarah Tesla

"Curiosity was at the heart of all my interactions with the children.  When it came to the camera some kids were bold and would pose and ask me to 'snap' them, and after they got used to me being around they didn't mind the camera at all", Tesla shared.

"By far the warmth of every person I met was the best part of the experience. Smiles, lots of “hellos”, and simple curiosity meant that I made a lot of friends."

Click here for more information on WYCF, and how you can support their work. 

This article was first published in PWB Magazine #10, on sale now

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