Canada News

Edmonton: Mariama Sillah laid to rest

5 December 2016 at 03:02 | 1987 views

By Abayomi Charles Roberts, PV General Editor, Edmonton, Canada.

It has been a deeply troubling week for Sierra Leoneans in Edmonton, Canada.

This began after a teenage girl, Mariama Sillah (pictured) was killed in a gruesome accident involving an Edmonton Transit System (ETS) bus. The tragedy occurred early in the evening on Saturday November 26, 2016. The details are too graphic to publish here. Besides, police investigations are not yet complete.

Nevertheless, the ensuing trauma has been such that group counseling sessions have been held for younger children in the community. “Many of our children had problems sleeping; with some saying they are now scared by the mere sight of an ETS bus,” Martha Sellu, a social worker and renowned community member told The Patriotic Vanguard.

Mariama was only 13 years old, and close to her fourteenth birthday, when the bus struck and killed her on that fateful Saturday. She had left home to get some food from the nearby Subway restaurant and she never returned. The girl’s father Sheku Sillah later got the shocking news that her daughter had died on her way back home. Mariama was legally crossing the busy road, along a marked crosswalk that also has traffic lights.

Imam Naseer Ibrahim at the podium

The news spread quickly.

This was because it was the second death involving a transit bus, in less than 60 days. On Thursday October 4, an 83-year-old lady died after being hit by an ETS bus in another part of Edmonton.

Since that Saturday there has been an outpouring of solid support for late Mariama’s parents, Sheku and Kadiatu. Close family members, Mariama’s schoolmates, her friends, the Islamic community, the Sierra Leone Women’s group, and even strangers who could relate to the tragic loss, have all showed support somehow.

Social worker Martha Sellu and kids at funeral reception.

The November 27 edition of The Edmonton Journal newspaper quotes the daughter of Mary Lynch, victim in the other accident. “My entire family – my sister and myself, our husbands and our children – are heartbroken for this (Sillah) family,” Kathryn Ferguson is reported to have said. “We are terribly sad for this family because we know what they will be going through.”

Mariama’s Schoolmates, Teachers, and Principals mourn
The principal of Mariama’s school, Tami Dowler-Coltman, attended both the funeral and the reception that followed. Representatives of the school’s staff and the students came with her on both occasions. During the reception at the Clareview Recreation Centre, Ms. Dowler-Coltman described Mariama as a caring student who was an amazing writer, artist, and dancer. “Her art reflects her view of the world.”

The late Mariama Sillah’s parents, Sheku and Kadiatu Sillah.

Accompanied by Assistant Principal Deb Fedorak, one teacher, and several students (all dressed in black), the principal went up to the front and paid tribute. Then she formally presented a gift to the family.

In her remarks, Principal Dowler-Coltman also shared her impressions of the community’s response to the tragedy. “When we stood or sat together at the mosque; the way people continued to stream through the doors sent a powerful message. We were struck by the loving support of Mariama’s community,” she said.

Mariama’s tearful schoolmates and Principal Tami Dowler-Coltman

Three of the Mariama’s schoolmates also paid tribute to Mariama. At the school grounds of their school, Victoria School of The Arts, both the Canadian and Alberta flags were set at half-mast all through the week following Mariama’s death. “We did this in honour of Mariama,” the principal later confirmed to The Patriotic Vanguard.

The Funeral Service
The funeral service was held at The Al Rashid mosque on Saturday December 3 2016. Prayers were led by Imam Naseer Ibrahim. In his sermon, the Imam expressed sombre, yet inspiring sentiments about the girl and her family. The cleric also attended the funeral reception that immediately followed the burial that same day. Once again Imam Ibrahim used the occasion to urge mourners and sympathizers into leading good lives, the same way Mariama did. “The way people have come out to console and support the family and each other shows that Mariama was a good person” the Imam observed. “I see men crying, people helping the parents, and schoolmates and teachers coming to offer their condolences. It means that this girl had a very good life. All this should send a strong message: behave yourselves and control your manners.”

Martha Mbayo, president of the Sierra Leone Women’s Association with former community president Abdul Kareem Kamara beside her.

The Parents of Mariama
Several other people spoke at the reception, anchored by former community president Abdul Kareem Kamara. The grieving mother Kadiatu Sillah shared loving memories of her daughter; describing her as a precious gift gone too soon. “Mariama was like a handbag to my us,” she said. Kadiatu was describing the close bond she and her husband had with their little girl - similar to the way someone would carry a favourite handbag around. “Words cannot express how much we miss our daughter, but we know she is in the good hands of the Lord,” she said tearfully.
With her husband by her side at the podium, Kadiatu thanked sympathizers for their condolences and all the support. “We were not expecting this; but now we know we have a family here,” referring to this city, to which they moved from Toronto only a few years ago. “This Edmonton is a wonderful community,” she said, as her husband hugged her.

Martha Mbayo, president of the Sierra Leone Women’s Association in Edmonton, also made a statement as she struggled with emotions. Mat-Mat, as the women’s leader is fondly called, expressed the grief shared by the entire community. She however, assured the bereaved parents that they are not alone...

Condolences even in Cold weather
A day before Saturday’s funeral, there was a special ceremony organized by the Sierra Leone community. It took place at the very site of the accident. Braving sub-zero temperatures, people came out on Friday December 2 to hold a candlelight vigil. It was exactly seven days to the day Mariama passed away. She died in the evening hours, and organizers planned the vigil so that it was going on just about that time, a week later.

The organizers suggested that people wear purple-coloured clothes. This was a tough sell because it is quite cold now and cold-weather clothes are typically dark in colour; hardly purple. To get around this, many people anticipated the weather - and improvised. They wore purple sweaters instead. Some of the sweaters had comforting words printed on the back. Also, local TV stations announced the vigil in their prime time news bulletins, just as newspapers reported the vigil ahead of the event.

One Edmonton businesswoman made a unique contribution toward the success of the vigil. Janice Pollicks offered the services of her company, Heaven in Alberta Catering. Janice brought her food truck and served hot beverages and light snacks for free.
There was also a video of December 2 vigil, produced for free – by courtesy of SamJay Prod. Samuel Mensah, the producer, is a young and promising entrepreneur in the community. “I wanted to use my line of work to help the family and the community; and I’m humbled that people like it.” Samuel told The Patriotic Vanguard. “I just wished it the video was about a happier occasion.”

Online Fund-Raising in Mariama’ memory
The tragedy led to the start of a memorial fund in Mariama’s name. Soon after Mariama died, one community member Zainab Kamara launched the campaign online; with a target of $10,000 dollars. “As I speak to you, we have exactly $8,451 in donations,” she told The Patriotic Vanguard. “This online approach was to make it easier for anybody in Edmonton or anywhere, to help the parents meet the funeral expenses,” Zainab said. “I am confident that we will make the target amount and still have some money left for the parents.” Zainab and her younger sister Fatmata are related to Kadiatu Sillah by marriage. Fatmata was one of the younger speakers at the reception. She took the podium to pay her respects not only as a relative but as a close friend too.

Celebrating Mariama’s Life
Yet another speaker at the reception was community president Kemoh Mansaray. Though he had been quite busy coordinating various tasks, Kemoh took the time to remind everyone to spend more quality time with loved ones. “This is especially important for parents who become too focused on work, and leave little time to bond with their children,” he said.

Kemoh has been liaising with the police as they investigate Mariama’s death. His executive team also played a key role, helping with the funeral arrangements. “This is the reason we have a community association,” he pointed out. “In such a difficult period, we can help and support the grieving parents so they have more time, energy, and spiritual strength to grieve and receive sympathizers,” Kemoh said.

The closing prayers were led by Sheikh Alhaji Bangura, who also made a brief but profound closing statement. “I am sure Mariama is happy that we’re celebrating her life.

Here is a video clip on the late Mariama Sillah by Edmonton videographer Samjay: