I thank God Almighty for this great recognition. I want to say a very big thank you to the selection committee and all staff of SID for the Andrew E. Rice Award for Leadership and Innovation and to you all for your presence on this occasion. How I so wish words could express this level of joy I feel at winning this award. . I’m so honored.
I grew up in a poor town of Sierra Leone-a looming relic of a nation that had been through a decade civil war that killed thousands of people, left many others amputated and plunged the country into acute poverty. I took this adversity as motivation to be a child advocate of Search for Common Grounds, later completed a degree in Information Systems at the University of Sierra Leone and then seek to help people most in need.
In 2009 after realizing that most of the young girls in my community dropped out of school for failing to pass their college-entry exams, I started the Zenith Academy; a safe space that provided home remedial education to more than 150 school dropouts, promoted social interaction among peers, learning through drama and music, and counseling and livelihood skills training. The Academy became a social and safe space where girls felt comfortable to discuss their problems and receive support. This was how my career in International development all started. Thanks to my parents and Frances fortune for seeing me through this all.
I later joined the BRAC International Young Professionals programme for 6-months in Bangladesh. There I worked in different remote areas for over two months and it was here that I was exposed to a critical social issue that is evident in my society but mostly taboo: ‘menstruation’. In these areas I experienced firsthand the difficulty and constraints faced by women and girls in accessing safe sanitary facilities as they mostly used torn clothes-infected with bacteria-as pad. This was the dawn of a new era in my life and after several sleepless nights I realized that this was also predominant in my country and even stopping children from attending schools. Our society holds the belief that menstruation is a disease and that during menstruation young girls are unclean and hence should be forbidden in holy places of worship; this discrimination is unbearable and human rights violation. Why must a natural shedding process that women have no control over, be the source of their shame and molests? This I challenged myself to help redefine and that comes with taking a stern leap in pursuit of change. I could still remember asking my sister why she drew circles on the calendar only to be told….Pascal it’s none of your business, but was surprised when I offered her sanitary pads during her menses.
Returning to Sierra Leone, I worked as the Communications Lead of BRAC. A few months later, my country was hit with the deadly Ebola outbreak which swept off thousands of lives, sunk many families in deeper poverty, closed down schools and exposed many girls at risk of teenage pregnancy and sexual violation. Even though most staff were advised to stay at home for fear of contacting the virus, for me this was not a matter of staying home to be safe, but rendering a hand in combatting the fatal disease. I volunteered as an Emergency Response Coordinator and helped in managing one of the community care centers in a remote part of the country. I still remember a community shocked to see me hold a 6-years old Ebola survivor as a way to tell them that she was safe to be with. It is at that moment that I realized that when we give up ourselves for others, nature works in our favor. I am grateful to BRAC for giving me those early coaching and foundation.
For the past 10 months, I have been part of the Atlas Corps fellowship, an Emerging Global leadership initiative of the States department that empowers youth from developing countries to serve in the US with a host organization for a year and then go back to their communities to implement the key learnings back to their societies. I was the first from Sierra Leone to be accepted into the program and I serve at World Vision as the Knowledge Management Coordinator for the Child Protection and Gender team. Thanks States department, Scott Beale, and all staff of Atlas Corps for this life-changing opportunity. Christine Matthews and Kenneth Nesper thanks so much for hosting me in your lovely house and feeding me with those lovely books and treats.
Through my work at World Vision, I see connections to my early life and the career in serving the most vulnerable. I have been supported by others to achieve my dreams, but for thousands of children in the world this is not the case.
Over 1 billion children a year experience violence—physical, sexual, and emotional violence including abuse and neglect. Violence impacts a child for a lifetime. Children who experience violence are more likely to have poor health over the course of their lifetime and die younger. Violence and exploitation affects a child’s ability to attend school and can reduce their capacity to learn, affecting our collective efforts to improve education. Child marriage and sexual violence impact our investments in maternal and child health and efforts to address maternal and child mortality. And so we must prioritize ending violence against children.
World Vision has joined with the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, UNICEF, Save the Children, ChildFund Alliance, and SOS Children’s Villages to declare that all children should be protected from violence by 2030. Protecting children from violence and exploitation will involve all of us. It requires multi-sectorial strategies, involving governments, civil society, faith and traditional leaders, and communities working together, along with the inclusion of children. We have the tools to protect children from violence and exploitation but it will take all of us working in a new way. We will need to draw on our work in health, livelihoods, economic development, education, child protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene. We will need to work in partnership towards a common goal of a world in which children grow up protected and thriving. We hope you will join us in our shared vision.
I hope this award inspires all of us to look to the younger generation. To the younger generation who feel like the world is going against you, stand up and be resilient. Let this story of my economically-challenged upbringing inspire you that your background or past will never define who you are; only if you dare to be different and to take that giant leap towards being the change for the most vulnerable children. If I can do it, believe me you can even do more.
As it’s only when one generation plants trees that another will get the shade, today I dedicate this award to those who struggle for a world in which all children are protected and thriving. I commit to always being there with you throughout this journey. I hope you all will join me. Thank you.