By a Special Correspondent
On Saturday April 14, 2012, Me Against Poverty, Inc. (MAP) in collaboration with the Yonibana Secondary School (YSS) organized a scholarship award ceremony to honor essay winners from the school. Attendees of this event were MAP board chairman, Beresford Coker, members of the Yonibana school board, YSS administrative staff including school principals, Mr. Joseph S. Conteh (Senior Secondary School) and Mr. Joseph S. Sankoh (Junior Secondary School), local elders of the chiefdom, MAP volunteer Alhassan Lafia Conteh (ICT Technician/Network Administrator), Mr. Elvis Hallowell (Director General, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Cooperation-SLBC), along with the essay winners and their families. The number of guests in attendance was roughly 100 in total. The event proved to be a success and helped promote MAP’s mission of eradicating poverty through education.
As a brief background, a total of 40 students from YSS were selected to participate in the scholarship essay contest, writing on either of these two topics:
1) What will a new Library/Computer Resource Center mean to me as a student and for the Yonibana community?
2) How would a good education help make a better Sierra Leone?
Students selected to write the essays were required to meet the following requirements: have a present grade average of B or better or those who were in dire financial need for school tuition.
Students assembled at the YSS grounds on Saturday, February 25, 2012 to write their competing essays. YSS administrative/leadership staff and MAP volunteer Allan Conteh were on board to monitor the essay writing. These essays were then electronically sent to the MAP board members within the U.S for review and selection. MAP staff were really encouraged to see the students put forth their best effort to win the scholarship. A majority of the essays revealed that the circumstances in the Yonibana community were dismal and there were many disparities that were a direct result of the ten year civil war. However, the essays also revealed that there still remained a strong determination by the younger generation in the community to overcome present obstacles. Additionally, the issue of the lack of education among young girls in the Yonibana community was strongly evident after reading several essays. After reviewing the several essays thoroughly, MAP staff selected 20 of the best essays to receive a scholarship that would cover their school tuition for the upcoming school year. Additionally, two students were highlighted for writing the best essays- Mariatu Bangura and Sullay Bangura. The essay contest was not only to benefit the students and their families, but it also connected the MAP staff here with the Yonibana community and how much the students wanted to succeed.
The scholarship ceremony which took place on YSS grounds was well received by attendees, especially the parents of students. Several parents gave emotional testimonies showing gratitude for the efforts made by MAP. Some even went on to suggest that if not for MAP, they did not know how they would fund their child’s tuition for school. The event began with an opening prayer followed by an introduction of local elders of the chiefdom and officials of the high table. The chairman for the scholarship award ceremony event was none other than SLBC Director General, Mr. Elvis Gbanabom Hallowell, who is a descendant of Yonibana. He was introduced by Dr. M.I. Bangura, who is also a descendant from the Yonibana community and good friend of the chairman. In his remarks,
Mr. Hallowell thanked MAP for its passionate and patriotic act in considering support for the Yonibana community. This is especially because the majority of MAP staff are either first generation born descendants of Yonibana, Sierra Leone or natives of other African countries. Hallowell then expressed strong encouragement for fellow descendants of Yonibana to unite with MAP in achieving their goal to improve education in Yonibana as well as rebuilding the community in hopes of restoring it to its former beauty. For the parents who were present, Mr. Hallowell pleaded with them to push through their circumstances and send their children to school adding that” not sending their children to school is the greatest disservice to the Yonibana community and country as a whole.”
In addressing the scholarship recipients, Hallowell noted that it is only because of his education that he has achieved his present status as Director General of SLBC. Mr. Hallowell is a prime example of how a good education can lead you in the right direction and provide a brighter future. He then challenged the recipients to study hard and that he is looking forward to being their lecturer at the Makeni College within the next couple of years. At the end of his address, Mr. Hallowell lead the way and pledged the sum of Le1, 500, 00.00 ($343.00 USD) to the Me Against Poverty scholarship fund. MAP staff is hopeful that many other prominent descendants of Yonibana will follow his footsteps in the near future.
After the chairman’s concluding remarks, MAP board chairman Beresford Coker followed with a statement on behalf of our entire MAP group. Mr. Coker reiterated the importance of education in pushing the country of Sierra Leone forward. Following his statement were remarks by a member of the Yonibana school board as well as a short statement by one of the scholarship recipients who wrote the best essay. During the ceremony, each of the 20 selected students received a personalized Certificate of Achievement signed by the board. The remaining 20 students also received a certificate just for their effort in writing an essay. It is with hopes that these certificates, while a small token, will serve as a reminder for the students to continue working hard and excelling in school. The program ended with all attendees singing the school song followed by refreshments. MAP staff are eager to continue development efforts with the Yonibana community and look forward to future events that promote education empowerment. The MAP annual fundraiser comes up September 8, 2012.