Africa-Canada

Edmonton: Candlelight vigil for Freetown mudslide victims

By  | 21 August 2017 at 04:16 | 1084 views

The Edmonton-based Sierra Leone Association of Alberta (SLAA) had long scheduled a general meeting for Saturday 19 August 2017. The aim was purely routine. It was to update members on SLAA activities and plans, and get their candid feedback. However, there was a late addition to the agenda. The new item turned out to be the biggest motivation to many people who did turn up.

The executive committee decided to set aside a moment of special prayers during the meeting. The purpose was to pay respects to those who died in the August 14, 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone. “We need to mourn as a community, to find ways to comfort survivors, to sympathize with the bereaved, and to give material help that is meaningful and timely,” SLAA president Kemoh Mansaray reasoned.

The prayer session was planned so that it culminated in a candlelight vigil. The hall lights at the venue, Abbottsfield Recreation Centre, were dimmed as candles were handed out to attendees. Then, there was a prolonged moment of silence. Soon the atmosphere became somber as Koranic verses were recited and Christian choruses sung. There was mutual respect; shown by Christians and Muslims worshippers alike.

As the candles were lit, social secretary Martha Sellu started calling on volunteers to come forward and lead prayers. “This is a time of mourning; an emotional time for all of us,” Martha Sellu, announced. “Let us pray earnestly as we think about those who died and those who now need our help and spiritual support.”

Alhaji Bangura led Islamic prayers, paying tribute to the dead. He urged community members to put God first and to give thanks to Allah even in sad circumstances. Alhaji recited verses from the Holy Koran as he prayed. Christian worship was led by Ivan Jackson. He first read from the Holy Bible and then prayed for the victims. People joined in as Ivan sang a familiar Christian song. Two children, Desmond Ngegba and Fatima Kamara, each took the floor to lead prayers. Lamin Bangura and Sidi Bangura were two other adults who also interceded on behalf of victims of the August 14 tragedy.

Saturday’s meeting was attended by a cross-section of community members despite the familial and work-related demands of life here. Among well-wishers from other national communities was Mohamed Njie, treasurer of the Gambian Community in Edmonton. He came specifically to show support, on behalf of his own compatriots.

A book of condolences was opened for sympathizers to express sentiments and send messages to the bereaved. SLAA members were informed that the book will eventually be sent to Sierra Leone, as a memorial that would hopefully comfort the families and friends of those who died.

During earlier deliberations on fundraising, various views were expressed by members. Ideas ranged from levying a fixed amount on each Sierra Leonean household (or adult) in Edmonton, to initiating projects like printing T-Shirts for sale. There were emotional moments as some people recalled unpleasant experiences with similar aid efforts in response to the Ebola crisis. Some people were less cynical and quite a few made cash donations during the meeting.

It all came down to two basic points: how to raise money and/materials and the channel to be used to ensure that the intended people and households do receive the help that the community sends eventually. There was the at least one suggestion about tackling the factors that may have caused or worsened the tragedy. Specific reference to was made to deforestation.

“What we’ve got from this meeting is that people are deeply touched, and they are willing to contribute to help the victims,” one executive member said. In the meantime, the SLAA executive announced plans to have a special fundraising drive. This is to be held during the annual community picnic coming up in September this year.

The meeting had earlier started with a financial report on the celebratory Independence dance earlier this year. Idriss Bundu, the SLAA treasurer, gave a breakdown of expenses and revenue that revealed a financial loss. To this, there were reactions from several members. Some criticized the way the event was organized while others came up with suggestions to ensure a better outcome in future. “We made mistakes and these mistakes were not helped by the poor attendance of the Independence dance itself. However, we take full responsibility and I apologize on behalf of the entire executive committee,” Mansaray responded.

The SLAA leader then reported on more successful projects. He gave details about the historic raising of Sierra Leone’s national flag at Edmonton City Hall and our community participation at both AFRIFEST 2017 and the Servus Heritage Festival. “We thank all those who came to these events; to volunteer or to support our showcasing of Sierra Leonean culture and heritage,” Mansaray said. He cited the Edmonton-based ‘Hunting’ masquerade for special thanks; praising their performance at the Servus Heritage Festival. “Our own Arie Edmonton is fast becoming a Sierra Leonean cultural icon here,” the president said.

Commenting on reactions from the Edmonton community as a whole, Kemoh Mansaray was upbeat. “People and organizations have invariably expressed deep concern about the mudslide tragedy,” he said. The SLAA president disclosed that he was approached by the Radio Division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC Radio).

Mansaray did give an interview which was aired, and the report posted on the CBC website. That post is dated Thursday 17 August, 2017 (www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sierra-leone-mudslide-alberta-refugees).

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