Jane Knight reflects on thirty-seven years of One World Link.
In 2017, on what must have been about my 20th visit to Sierra Leone since 1981, I announced that I would not be returning as I am getting too old.
So, imagine their surprise when I turned up in Bo again at the end of last October! However, I had to go back to say good-bye to to Bishop Koroma whose health had deteriorated so badly in 2018, and he had ended up blind and very fragile.
I am sorry to say that he died 6 weeks after I left. I have lost three of my closest Sierra Leonean friends whom I first met in 1982, and who guided me through the years of establishing our One World Link partnership. Had they lived in this country, I am sure they would have lived much longer.
Going back 37 years after my first visit to Bo brought back many memories. Armed with a few contact names given to me in England from OXFAM and others, I spent 2 weeks asking various individuals if they would be interested in a friendship link between the people of Bo District and Warwick District? Would such a link (based on equality) be possible or desirable? It took 2 more visits in 1982 and 1983 to be confident that the answer was yes. In the early days there was much stopping and starting as people lost interest and communications were limited to snail mail and hand delivered letters via the early visitors, and the progress was small but it was there.
At least the first exchange visits between Bo and Leamington helped to recharge everyone’s batteries and the link started to grow.
Even today, the expectations especially in Bo were and are wide ranging. Doubts about changing the relationship between people in such different worlds, long influenced by donor recipient attitudes wrought by colonialism and charities over the years are slowly being eroded… White people are now being taken on as real friends with trust and love shared by many across the divide. We now have rich and inspiring partnerships between teachers, medical staff, and local government officers and members. From hesitant one to one school links, we have teacher training programmes across many of the primary schools in both Districts, and health worker and local government planning and waste schemes. The latter is reaching out country wide. And then there are the personal engagements and sheer love between all the OWL members.
On a practical level, there have been some dramatic changes, and in other ways nothing has changed. Most dramatic has been the development of mobile phones (by-passing any significant development of land lines). On my first visit to Bo, I had to queue at the post office and wait for the telephone operator to connect all the cables and plugs until ‘Hey Presto’! I heard my husband’s voice crackling down the line from England. Now, not only does everyone (even in the villages) have a phone, but they can call for free and send pictures of everything that is happening, on Whats App.
On my first visit the pound was worth 2 Leones. On this last visit, it was Le10,000.
The challenges of keeping OWL alive despite disappointments and frustrations remain, but our link survived the civil war and Ebola. There is further optimism now because of the political change last year from the Northern dominated APC government to a new President (Maada Bio) from the Southern region (SLPP) party. He has brought optimism that the country will at last, go forward. When I first arrived, the country was being stripped of all its wealth by the dictator, Siaka Stevens. During this last visit, Bo OWL arranged for me to meet the President (the last one I met was President Tejan Kabbah just after the civil war). This was a dramatic end to the experience of arriving in Sierra Leone, knowing no-one, and now leaving with a handshake from the President!
Bishop Koroma – Friend, mentor and patron of One World Link
Fr Patrick Koroma, Bishop of Kenema and one of the original supporters of One World Link, died in November 2018.
Jane Knight met Fr Patrick in 1982, during her second visit to Bo, in the very early stages of setting up the friendship link. He had been ordained for just 4 years. Straightaway, he seemed to appreciate the potential value of the linking idea, and from then onwards, he helped us to think through the issues arising from trying to cross cultures and understand each other, with amazing wisdom and lots of laughter.
He became a parish priest in Bo and was later appointed as the first African Bishop of Kenema where he was tasked with rebuilding the diocese which had suffered some of the worst pounding from the civil war. Later he was confronted with the terrifying outbreak of Ebola. He worked fearlessly with some of our contacts and the local hospital and agencies. He cared for victims even when they died, making sure that everyone had a name attached to their grave, so that they could be found by their relatives and not become anonymous.
Since the beginning of the link he has been an excellent host and friend to many visitors from the UK. In this photograph you see him with members of the One World Link team who worked with Bo City Council in planning for the development of local government services.
After ten years of illness he died in 2018. One World Link has benefitted from his friendship and wisdom and will miss him.
A founder’s farewell and the foundations for a health link
Five visitors from One World Link went to Bo in Sierra Leone.
They were 2 midwives, a health visitor, an OWL founder member, and a young 13 year old – son of the leader, Helena White.
Jane Knight was the first visitor to Bo in 1981, when she invited the people of Bo District to join hands with Warwick District to form a friendship link. Helena is a local midwife who has trained many midwives and birth attendants in various Sierra Leonean clinics and hospitals.
Since 1981, strong school and local government links have been formed with some church, youth, library and individual links coming and going.
The visit established that skills relating to mother and baby survival, and child health care and development, were possible areas where training with partners from Warwick District would be welcome. Anyone interested in joining the team in Warwick District should contact Helena White (firstname.lastname@example.org). Read her report
Meanwhile, young Will White went out and about making football links, from which he may be able to build up the interest of his peers.
Jane Knight, on this, her last visit, was able to see the enormous progress made in all aspects of the 37 years of OWL’s existence. For example 10 years ago, she was involved in the initiation of a waste management programme for Bo, supported by Warwickshire County Council. This small initiative has now grown into a huge programme funded by the British government (DFID) to bring effective waste reduction and management to all the major cities in Sierra Leone including the capital city Freetown. How small acorns can grow!
The highlight of the visit was a meeting with President Maada Bio who was elected last March, and he is already making significant changes to this beautiful country. He has introduced free education for all and has made commitments to improve roads which have been left to the ravages of rainy seasons for years.
When asked whether health would be a priority for him, he responded that education could not be properly implemented without good health for all. He grew up in a village, lost his father when aged 4, had an illiterate mother, but has now several degrees and is an ex Brigadier. Hence his commitment to education as a priority. The President visited Leamington in 2016 and it was a great thrill to see him now in post – such a great triumph for democracy in Sierra Leone.
This first health group visit was very fruitful and Helena and her colleagues, Sarah Galloon, and Katrina Moss, will be happy to recruit other health specialists to join them to contribute with skills and resources.
Jane Knight sadly said goodbye to long standing friends in Bo and hopes that OWL will continue for another 37 years.
OWL will be hosting and sending out planners, more health experts and teachers next year.
Anyone who wishes to become a member or get involved should contact OWL secretary, Alan Moss, at email@example.com
Five hundred children, from 15 schools in Leamington and Warwick, met for a day of celebration and learning, the “Day of the African Child” on 15th June. They gathered in a large marquee and listened to a poem “I am an African Child” and heard about the day in 1976 when school children were killed during protests in South Africa
Each of of the participating schools has a partner school in Bo (Sierra Leone) thourhg One World Link (OWL) which has been promoting friendship & mutual learning between Bo District and Warwick District for 37 years. The school links are maintained through activities such as annual teacher exchanges, children sharing work & projects, pen friendships, school clubs, teacher & children’s friendships & teacher training delivered in Sierra Leone.
The Day of the African Child celebration saw children enjoying a series of contrasting workshops. In two rooms there was quiet as they listened to West African stories told by Sierra Leonean guests. They made plenty of noise in the drumming workshops as they learnt to play rhythms on djembes.
In two other classrooms there was drama as they acted out a cliff-hanger story about a boy stuck in a tree surrounded by crocodiles, a snake and a lion; how could he escape? Nearby there was vigorous dancing and in a marquee there was equally enthusiastic singing. On the field children were enjoying football (the favourite sport in Sierra Leone) and an obstacle race.
There were formal proceedings too. Pupils from each school presented ‘Send My Friend’ children’s rights posters to our MP, Matt Western, calling for schools to be made safe havens for children all over the world. Finally all 500 children joined in the songs they had learnt earlier in the day – what a loud and happy sound to round off the day!
Liz Garrett (OWL Schools’ Co-ordinator) said, “It is unique & incredibly special to have so many Leamington & Warwick primary schools linked with schools in Sierra Leone. Strong bonds & friendships have grown between school communities & it is a joy to see children & teachers from the UK & Africa learn from each other & work together mutually.”
Matt Bown, Headteacher of the host school, St Pauls, commented: “St. Pauls children and staff had a very memorable day. It was a delight to invite so many children, staff and parents from local schools to join us in this celebration. We were blessed with lovely weather and lovely people, the perfect combination to focus our thoughts on the ‘Day of the African Child’ and what it really means.”
One World Link is very grateful for the support for this event received from Warwick District Council Arts Development Strategic Project funds.
John Myers has been an active member of One World Link for many years. He moved to East Sussex 5 years ago but has stayed on as a long distance supporter making occasional visit to OWL events in Leamington and staying in touch with old friends in Bo.
On achieving his 80th birthday he decided to mark his 80 years with a fund raising 80 kilometres walk across East Sussex from Lewes to Rye over 5 days. He chose to support One World Link so that all the people who know him in that connection would have an opportunity to help him raise funds for OWL. He set out on 30th June and arrived in Rye on 4th July and is very grateful to all those who have already shown their support.
His online donation page is open for further donations until 4th October, so whether you know John or not he would be very grateful for any donation you feel moved to make using MyDonate.
Finally, here is a picture of witnesses to his walk as he passed through the Pevensey Marsh!
Three teacher visitors had their first time experience of working
with their partner schools in Bo. Siân Atkins from St. Margaret’s C of E junior twinned with BDSE Messima, Claire Wright from Wellesbourne twinned with RC Model and Tim Bladon from Ferncumbe twinned with UMC Lower In addition Paul Atkins and Tim Hussey visited all the remaining school schools to ascertain how the link was progressing and to highlight any issues. Tim also introduced Bo to the making, eating and racing of pancakes which introduced a hilarious competitive spirit.
Paul also made a visit to the Secondary schools that currently have a connection with One World Link and to see how they felt their relationship was progressing. It appears, at this stage, that there is a more positive response from the Bo end than here in the UK. It is now for discussion how best to develop a programme that is mutually beneficial.
Paul made a visit to Kenema to visit bishop Koroma, as his health has been deteriorating recently, in order to send regards from all who know him in the UK. Whilst there, Paul also visited the missionary hospital in Panguma.
All finished the rewarding visit with a short period of rest and recuperation at Bureh beach before returning, their lives changed for the better, to the UK.
On Saturday 13th January 2018 we held our 2016/17 AGM in Pump Room Annex, Leamington Spa. The meeting was attended by 24 members, 6 friends and 4 distinguished guests. The distinguished guests were the Mayor of Leamington Cllr Caroline Evetts and Mr John Evetts and the Chair person of the District Cllr Alan Boad and Cllr Mrs Sarah Boad.
During the short formal part of the meeting Chris King presented the accounts for the year ending March 2017. He explained that during that financial year our bank balance had remained high due to the lag in getting activities restarted after the Ebola outbreak. This year (2017/18) we had already spent some £20,000 on various projects and the bank balance was now £10,000 less.
John Archer, in his Chairman’s review reminded us all of our aims and objectives and briefly outlined all the projects undertaken this year to meet those objectives. He reported that there had been considerable activity both here in the UK and in Bo thanks to the hard work of the main committee and the teachers group. He explained that the details of these activities were to be covered in the presentation that would follow. He thanked both the town council and the district council for their continued support.
Liz Garrett and Sunita Evans from the schools subcommittee presented photographs and a video as part of their review of the group’s activity over the last 12 months. This included a visit by a group of teachers from Warwick to Bo during which all link schools were visited and training workshops held. In June the group organised the very successful Day of the African Child celebration at Lillington primary school which was attended by 500 children who were representatives of all the schools in Warwick who have a link with a school in Bo. Later in June 4 teachers from Bo visited Warwick for 2 weeks. Recently topic work books have been exchanged by all link schools between Warwick and Bo. The group are now planning their next visit to Bo which will take place in February.
In the second presentation Paul Atkins, Mair Evans, Jane Knight and Phil Clarke reviewed their recent visit to Bo which took place at the end of November. They had a very successful visit which included preparation work for the teachers visit in February, a review of all the upgrade work undertaken at the OWL centre, a review of the ongoing waste project and the support given to the Bo children’s hospital following the District Chair person charity appeal last year. They also managed to meet with the Warwick hospital maternity nurses who were in Bo to help with training and to scope future requirements as part of their charity work. Phil Clarke was in Bo to help with the organising and the running of the Urban City Planning workshop run by the Princes Trust who is developing a tool kit for urban city development.
John closed the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and their ongoing support.
Can you imagine 500 primary school children sitting together in complete silence for a full minute? They had just listened to a poem “I am an African Child” and heard about the day in 1976 when schoolchildren were killed during protests in South Africa and they were sitting in silent reflection. The rest of the Day of the African Child was about celebration and learning. It started with a grand parade when pupils from fifteen schools trooped round the field at Lillington Primary School with banners proclaiming their links with schools in Bo, Sierra Leone, as part of the education programme of One World Link.
The children were then divided into groups for a series of contrasting workshops. In two rooms there was quiet as they listened to African stories told by teachers visiting from Bo. They were making plenty of noise in the drumming workshops as they learnt to play rhythms on djembes. In two halls there was drama as they acted out a cliff-hanger story about a boy stuck in a tree surrounded by crocodiles, a snake and a lion; how could he escape? Nearby there was vigorous dancing, and in a marquee there was equally enthusiastic singing. In the field outside children were having races bowling hoops, carrying water or balancing bags on their heads.
There were formal proceedings, too. The visiting teachers had brought letters from the Sierra Leonian children as gifts for their linked schools and received reciprocal gifts to take back with them. Pupils from each school presented petitions to our MP, Matt Western, to pass on to the Prime Minister to press for education for all children, everywhere. Finally all 500 children joined in the songs they had learnt earlier in the day – what a loud and happy sound to round off the day!
The evening was held in order to share news on progress with OWL members and friends. It was hoped that our teacher visitors from Bo would also be able to be in attendance, but, unfortunately, delays in their travel arrangements meant that they did not arrive until the day afterwards! Nevertheless , a good evening was held at the Pump Rooms in Leamington.
We were treated to a presentation by Liz and Sunita on the teacher visit to Bo earlier in the year, including a very impressive video montage that captured the essence of Bo life. We also had a charming demonstration of Sierra Leone children’s playground tricks from some All Saints pupils.
Helena White gave a very interesting illustrated talk on health and maternity issues in Freetown and Bo and updated us on her visit to the Children’s hospital in Bo which we are working with to help improve its facilities.
After a break for refreshments, John Archer set out the current position on working with the Prince’s trust on planning for growth in rapidly urbanising cities, using Bo as a test case for developing systems.
John also explained that Glenn Fleet and Derek Greedy had also recently visited Bo and Makeni to assist with the national roll out of the waste project, following its successful development in Bo.