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Does it Really Matter?

24 March 2008 at 00:22 | 1493 views

Commentary

By Randolph Gorvie, Winnipeg, Canada.

Does it really matter whether the Sierra Leonean community, a small community among a group of smaller communities in Winnipeg is seen walking and talking as a united entity in this town?

Unity for what purpose? And what is the meaning of a united Sierra Leonean community? I am not attempting to provide answers to any of these questions posited here, but rather to let the reader beaver over these questions and arrive at answers consistent with his or her views about the challenges of community building, with the knowledge that each adult individual has a vital role to play in this process, regardless of one’s level of formal education or social status in the community. I am more interested in the efforts of individuals who are creating a positive image of our community, than in those who talk about unity and behave contrary to their pronounced positions.

I have raised these questions because of unfounded and unhelpful comments I have heard on occasions that “our community is divided” with the underlined message that the Sierra Leonean community in Winnipeg , is not doing enough to optimize its potential to take full advantage of the plethora of economic, educational and social services programs, designed to assist communities, advance into the main stream of Canadian multicultural mosaic as we know it. There may be some truth to this.

It is debatable whether our “community is divided”. Divisions per se are not, after all a bad phenomenon, provided such divisions act as catalysts to force community minded leaders, and indeed every stakeholder, to start thinking seriously about finding avenues to start the thought process of moving away from his or her comfort zones of self induced isolation from the currents of community participation.

Those who are sincerely concerned about the failure of leaders from the centre to provide meaningful and inspiring leadership have the burden of responsibility to engage in the process of community building by whatever means possible. It does not necessarily involve joining an organized group, even though joining an organization, attending meetings and assisting to set a community agenda would help tremendously in the long term.

Having structured organizations as vehicles for community mobilization are important tools for community cohesion, but in my view, they are not always the only route for community progress. Individuals join organizations in order to realize certain tangible or intangible benefits for themselves, their community, and for their families and friends.

In Winnipeg, many community structured organizations, after a few years of existence seem to forget the interests and wishes of their members and continue to operate as if the concerns of their members do not count. Many of these organizations continue to behave as they have always do, expecting different results. Insanity?

Indeed there are certain advantages for a community, any community to have a common platform as its collective voice to the myriad of discussions and debates about the very important political, economic, social issues of the day which may positively impact the lives of individual members of that community.

Our collective voice on such matters is crucial, considering that the majority of our community consists of young people who may need community support and guidance to transition them to face the challenges of a competitive economy. However, as demonstrated later, having a central platform to advance or to advocate the well being of community members, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the success of those who have counted their marbles correctly.

I contend that as a member of this great community in transition, the comments about “divisions” are patently false. To my mind these are philosophical comments meant to divert attention from the inability of our leaders to understand and address the needs of a people yearning for an identity.

There seems to be no empirical evidence to suggest our community is divided, except we define “divisions” in abstract or subjective conditions. In my opinion, the number of organizations sprouting in our community is a sign that people are using their democratic rights and freedoms to come together around issues of importance to their members. And it is a good thing. It may also be an indication people are finally thinking and behaving independently in pursuit of their personal interests, cornerstones of a democratic country. What is divisive about people deciding to pursue their personal goals and objectives outside of structured organizational constraints and discipline?

I hasten to argue that at the individual or family level of community participation, I have seen more sustained activity of support coming from community members. Each time clarion calls have been made by individuals or family members to the community for support on a range of causes, the community has always responded overwhelmingly. Support given to various events by community members has been very successful, ranging from attendance or participation in baby showers to wedding ceremonies.

Personally, I have been a benefactor of the goodwill of the community during a graduation party for my daughter who had just graduated from medical school at the time. The support I got from many people I had previously not met personally was gratifying. Like Michelle Obama, wife of Barak Obama. For the first time in a long time, I was proud to be a member of our community in this town. I believe, there are many out there who have similar stories to tell about the generosity of community members during moments of crisis or jubilation.

There is no utility to accentuate the occasional discord in community relations as raison d’Ítre for the inability of the organized leadership sector to fail to find innovative ways to communicate effectively, or to connect with the its base for desired objectives.

Undoubtedly we should be concerned about the absence of dialogue between the centre and the periphery. However, the situation is not very critical vis a vis community capacity building. As a community activist for many years in this town, it is not my intention to marginalize the existence and the role of strong community based organizational structures. My argument is that in the absence of a strong, disciplined and responsive central organization, the universe should continue to unfold as it should.

For the advocates of strong umbrella organizations including this writer, we should ask the following questions when things are not going right to assist us find solutions and respond to the needs of the community members. Again I emphasize that things not going right does not necessarily mean a community is divided, bearing in mind there are many of the conflicting forces at play on any given day. What is my role in this? What can I change about my own attitude or behaviour to bring the community with me?

Tips to make Good Group Decisions, Volume 1, states that “In principle, when things are not right, a natural instinct is to want someone else to do something different.....” It continues: “ It is easy to think that my problem would be solved if only you would change”. It concludes by observing that “Sometimes laws or other people’s attitudes or behaviors need to change, but it is often easier and more effective to change my own attitudes or behaviors’. Surely there is a valuable advice for our leaders.

As I go around our community, I am becoming alive to all the wonderful experiments and progressive developments going on in people’s personal situations: as they steadily continue to cope successfully with new challenges living in a hostile climatic environment or in grappling with adjustment hurdles in a new socio-economic and cultural environment. I see success stories; I see gigantic strides some are making in very short order. I see a very successful community in the long run and I see a community fully employed as we gallop to a maturing enterprise.

Is therefore advisable it’s time we started recognizing some of the baby step contributions our community is making to the economic, educational and socio-cultural development of the province of Manitoba, Canada.

Arguably this is more important than abstract discussions about pseudo “divisions” in our ranks. It is time to celebrate. On the entrepreneurial front, we have two successful small business operators: 40 Acres - Fashion For The World owned and managed by Lans and Vivian Omarr. Lans is a hard nosed business personality and is also the Executive Director of 40 Acres Productions, a fledgling promotions company in Winnipeg’s black company, perhaps the first of its kind in the African community.

Lucky Star International, the other Sierra Leonean owned company is owned and managed by Mohamed Sesay, a very astute and savvy business man. Mohamed, a community activist, is the vice president of the Sierra Nationals Association of Manitoba (SALNAM). Other known practicing or aspiring small business operators include Martin and Theresa Dauda, Edmund Aruna and a few others. Included in the mix is a group of hardworking women who are thriving in the underground economy selling every thing from dried fish, palm oil to tola and everything in between to a captive market. These are our success stories.

On the technological front are notables like Mohamed Jah and Muckson Sesay are distinguished professionals in the computer world. Two fine gentlemen who are always willing to assist Sierra Leoneans to solve their computer related problems. Both are also community activists. Muckson has spearheaded SALNAM’s flagship computer and scholarship programs. Jah has served as SALNAM’s Secretary General and for the TEGLOMA movement in Manitoba. Sylvanus Otterbein, a teacher by training and a former journalist is making waves in Manitoba’s school system. He has been making speeches to schools, always promoting our community and our country. Of course we have Dr. Yatta Kanu, a distinguished professor in the faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

I am not promoting anybody above other hardworking community members for I am not in the habit of promoting class distinctions needlessly. I am merely trying to argue my point that even though our community stands to gain immensely if we are “united”, yet I believe that we do not have to wait for this illusive “unity” to be in place before the community finds its place in contributions to the all round development of our province.

As the citations show, there are individuals, who through their individual actions are putting Sierra Leone on the map. These individuals and countless others are not waiting for everybody to join the same political party. What is important is for all of us to use the Harambee philosophy of pulling together whether we are members of the Golden Conclave, Sierra Stars, and SALNAM. NDP, PC or the Liberal Party of Canada.

Muckson, in a recent conversation reminded me that Sierra Leoneans in Manitoba should adjust to the reality that we are now living in a competitive society in the sense that the success of any organization is not automatic. Success has to be earned the old fashioned way: you have to earn it. Again I pose the question: Does It really matter?

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