Here is another article I wrote for COTN. It is about a teenage boy called Samuel who I will always appreciate because he was the one who told me what I should and shouldn't uproot when I worked on my friend Andy's African father's farm in Senahum. He was the one who carried my bag for me as we ran home from the farm in the rain. And it was him who found himself playing translator when we ran in to Ngolala and discovered a dying Mary Lahai. I will never forget the scared look on his face as, wet and cold, he immesaurably helped us by being our Mende mouths and ears. It was the first time I had even met him! I also really appreciate him because he's hilarious!
It was not until I interviewed him that I fully understood his story and the gravity of what he has already faced in his young life.
Dressed in a “Life’s a Beach” T-shirt from a holiday he never took to Hawaii, Samuel Howard punches the air with excitement as the DJ skips to the next track. This is "The M68," a youth club run by COTN in Sierra Leone, and the teens are tearing up the dance floor. Samuel does a ridiculous dance around an M68 leader, singing loudly, with his bum sticking in the air.
A real slapstick comedian, Samuel loves to enjoy himself and make others laugh, although this young man who dreams of being an accountant is keen to assure that he also knows how to work hard. “Sometimes when I go to school there are some boys who like to talk. I don’t like talking when I am in class. At lunch or after school I can play with my friends but in class I am serious."
But it is this time after school, when clowning around with his friends, playing soccer, singing, dancing and also spending time with God that Samuel finds freedom. “I feel happy,” he says. “That will help me not to remember long what has happened to me.”
Samuel was born in Gbangbatok, a village about thirty miles from COTN’s ministry site at Ngolala. When the war broke out, his father fought with the Civil Defense Forces known as Kamajors. These fighters sought to protect themselves through traditional spiritual means, for example by drinking a "medicine" which would make them invincible. There were certain conditions however that if not adhered to could see this protection fail. That is how Samuel’s mother explained his father’s death in the fighting.
Samuel was alone with his mother during the war, although his younger sister Jenneh was born later. He remembers travelling from place to place a lot and one particular incident when rebels unexpectedly entered the village of Mokanji where he was staying. “But it is God”, he says. “They never saw us and we escaped.”
After the war, with his father dead and his mother struggling to take care of two children, Samuel’s uncle stepped in. He explains, “My uncle came and took me from my mother’s hand. He took me to Freetown.” Though he did not know it at the time, that would be last time Samuel would see his mother.
Samuel would live in Freetown until he was twelve, at which point his uncle decided to send him back to Gbangbatok. “He said that he was tired, because he did not have enough money to take care of his children and me.” It was when he arrived back in his home village that an aunt would break the news that his mother had died some time before. This relative was caring for Jenneh and it was she that told Samuel about COTN and the school they had at Ngolala.
On being enrolled in the Village Partnership Program Samuel would be able to attend school and successfully pass from primary to secondary level education, although with no-one to look after him he had to strike out on his own.
Today, Samuel works hard and is a good cook and these attributes have seen him secure board and lodging with a couple of different COTN staff members. When Rev. Michael Sonsiama took over as Head Teacher of COTN’s Ngolala Primary School he needed help around the house and so asked Samuel to stay with him.
The impact the church has had on Samuel has been profound. His father’s traditional beliefs saw Samuel sworn in to the dark spirituality of his village’s secret society as a child. “When I came to COTN they prayed for me," says Samuel. "I changed my life and became a Christian. That is a big change that COTN has made in my life.”
And though he has had to struggle so much, Samuel has never forgotten his little sister. He says, “If they give me anything here I go there and help her too. Like those books they give us [supplied every term to children enrolled in the Village Partnership Program], I go there and help her too because she is my smaller sister.”
This article can also be found at www.cotni.org and there you will see this little note at the end of the article - Samuel is enrolled in our Village Partnership Program but does not yet have a sponsor. If you are interested in sponsoring Samuel ($32/month), please contact Tami Johnson, our Sierra Leone Sponsorship Coordinator, at 360-698-7227 or tamijohnson@COTNI.org.