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Meet Canada’s Honorary Consul in Sierra Leone

27 February 2008 at 06:55 | 1433 views

Many Sierra Leoneans living in Canada do not know that their adopted country has a consul in Sierra Leone. We at the Vanguard did not know either until recently. So we contacted the charming lady who is doing this great work in Freetown on behalf of the Canadian government. Here she is:

Patriotic Vanguard: Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Frances Fortune: I was born in Burlington, Ontario, many moons ago now. I attended Lawrie Smith Primary School which has now been bulldozed for more houses and then I went to Nelson High School up to grade 13. That tells you how old I am!

I attended Queen’s University and studied sciences receiving a BSc with a major in Geology. From there I worked for a while and then joined CUSO which eventually posted me as a science teacher to Kabala in Koinadugu district to teach science at a small and struggling secondary school called Loma Secondary School which I did for two years. I have been in West Africa ever since.

I am married to a Sierra Leonean, Cyril Fortune, who hails from Senehun Kamajei chiefdom, Moyamba district and we have two children. Jandeh is my daughter and she is nine years old, Michael is 14 years old.

PV: When and how did you become our consul in Sierra Leone and how do you find the position?

FF: As I stated above I have lived in Sierra Leone for almost 24 years now. All during the war we were there except for 1997 when we took refuge in Liberia for 1 1/2 years. I have worked in varied places across the West Africa sub-region enjoying Guinea, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia and of course Sierra Leone.

I have worked for a variety of organisations on development and peace issues in Sierra Leone for many years and developed a reputation as an active and progressive person. I became the consul for Sierra Leone last year and find the position very interesting. The main focus is to support the welfare of Canadians who are visiting or resident in Sierra Leone. I like to do this because I do like helping people. You may know that it is a part time function and my full time job, the one that pays me, is as Africa Director for Search for Common Ground. We have a project in Sierra Leone that most people know by the name of Talking DRum Studio. Check out www.talkingdrumstudio.org to see and hear what we do.

PV: What are your normal duties?

FF: The main functions of an honorary consul is to represent Canada to the government of Sierra Leone and to support Canadians who are resident or visiting Sierra Leone. There is a registered list of Canadians Abroad on line (www.voyage.gc.ca) where any Canadian travelling to Sierra Leone or living there should join. This ROCA is sent to me quarterly to check how many Canadians are in Sierra Leone and if everyone is doing ok. These are the main functions.

PV: What challenges do you face in this position?

FF: The main challenge is that since Canada has representation now in Sierra Leone everyone thinks it is for visas. So I get an enormous number of requests to help for visas. I would love to help; however immigration for Canada which deals with visas has nothing to do with me and it’s in Ghana. I also face embarrassment with people who go to Ghana to get visas and have to wait 2 or 3 weeks and then don’t get the visa. I find this indeed very painful. However the only advice I have is ensure that ALL your paperwork is in order but I have no say over visas.

PV: What does the Canadian government expect from you?

FF: The Canadian government expects I will represent them satisfactorily ensuring respect and dignity. They want to know what is happening in Sierra Leone in terms of the positive developments towards peace and stability. They would like to be sure that their citizens, both Canadians living in Sierra Leone and travelling there feel safe and well supported. As well, they would like to make trade contacts and encourage responsible business bewteen Sierra Leone and Canada.

PV: What should Sierra Leoneans and Canadians do to make your job easier?

FF: Canadians should register on the web site for travelling oversees so that the Canadian government knows they are in Sierra Leone. Then its easier to help.

Sierra Leoneans should read the web site for the visa applicaitons — and read all of it. Also Sierra Leoneans have to understand the cost and difficulties of getting visas since you have to go to Ghana.

Overall I think that Sierra Leoneans and Canadians should try and do business and generate more wealth for both parties in their countries.

PV: How many Canadians are living and working in Sierra Leone? What kind of work do they normally do?

FF: There are about 40 Canadians living in Sierra Leone. Quite a number are working for the Special Court and there are also people from the Canadian forces working with IMATT in training the SL army. Otherwise there are some Canadians working in the development sector, a couple of people in the mining sector and some who are married with their spouses living in Sierra Leone.

PV: Many Sierra Leoneans face difficulties in having their loved ones join them in Canada. What do you think is responsible for this?

FF: I think that the process for application of the visa takes time and patience. I think that one has to ensure all your paperwork is in order and correct and use the on line system to check where the paper work is at any given time. I think you have to be patient and ensure you manage expectations of your family around this issue. You need to manage a six year process.

PV:What can be done to resolve the problem?

FF: Be patient.

PV: What advice do you have for Sierra Leoneans and Canadians travelling to Sierra Leone?

FF: Come and enjoy.

Editor’s Note: PV and Afri-Can magazine are collaborating with Talking Drum studio to bring audio news from Sierra Leone to our readers soon.

Photo: Frances Fortune(centre) and a friend in Freetown.

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