Earlier this year I got back from 3 months volunteering with Ycare International in Sierra Leone. I’d been to Africa before, but not the part I felt was possibly home to my ancestors. I was finally in the ‘Motherland’ and I was excited.
I’d visited Accompong, the Maroon village in St Elizabeth, Jamaica (where my family is from) just 2 years before and really started to look into the history of my country. I also knew that some 600 Jamaican Maroons had eventually been moved to Sierra Leone (or returned but that’s another story) so I was well aware of the link between myself, slavery and the country I was about to call home for 3 months. Great, I thought. I’d be able to connect with my Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters and find out more. Wrong.
My task in Sierra Leone? Mentor Ebola survivors, but I also set myself a personal task of learning more about African history, something we don’t learn over here in school. The only problem was, in Sierra Leone, I was ‘white’. We weren’t ‘brothers and sisters’ connected by history, I was ‘superior and a saviour’. They couldn’t comprehend that my brown skin, afro hair, effortless understanding of Krio and being from ‘Jamerica’ (how they say Jamaica) meant that I was black. In their eyes, I was from England which meant I was white and I was silly for feeling insulted by that, it was ‘fact’.
Now, not all of Africa, Sierra Leone, or even Kenema have the same level of education, world knowledge, opportunity or desire to seek truth and learn about history like we do and that’s why representation matters.
Representation matters both at home and abroad. We need to break the ‘volunteering isn’t for us’ stereotype and show up to help those who are less fortunate.
There’s more to life than ‘the endz’ and your friends. Volunteering is a life changing opportunity and I’d recommend it to every young person who is able to do it. It doesn’t have to be in Sierra Leone or even West Africa. It could be anywhere.
Just be the change you wish to see in the world xo