Either time really flies or I’m a slacker. I can’t believe the last time I put one of these out was in 2009. Geez. Well, I have a few lined up and I promise to release them before this time next year. This offering throws the spotlight on someone who has been a constant support to VSL and one of our forumites who passed through VSL en route to Sierra Leone.
What struck me about the interview was just how modest Yeniva is being. In under three years since being in Sierra Leone, she set up EXCEL which is an after school education programme for kids. Seven of those kids were accepted into the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, other students are in Russia, Ukraine. She got married and has a beautiful daughter. She is a key driver and organiser of Poetry nights which unleashed some hidden literary talents in Sierra Leone. She is one of the founding members of Ma dengn Association, organisers of the Ma dengn Beach Festival in Sierra Leone. She not only brought the “Green, White and Blue” Ball to Sierra Leone but also MCs numerous events including the popular Haiti Appeal concert in Freetown were funds were raised for Haitian victims of the earthquake. As if that’s not enough she has recently been appointed the Executive Secretary of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations. Phew! I’m exhausted just typing that.
For someone who was born in the US and never lived in Sierra Leone (only coming back and forth for the holidays) before relocating, she hasn’t done too bad!
When did you move back to Sierra Leone? How long where you out of the country?
I moved to Sierra Leone in October 2007. I was born and raised in California but I’m a “Daughter of the Dust” both of my parents were born and raised in SL. I have been coming here all of my life.
Why did you decide to relocate to Sierra Leone?
For so many years I had a love affair with Sierra Leone. After restless returns back to the US, I kept connected through the NGO I started, family and following social networks like VSL but I realized that was just not enough. I had to make a conscious decision to be A PART of the change I dream for Sierra Leone or stand by and hope the dream manifests. I chose to come home.
Did family and friends try to discourage you from returning home?
Family and friends have been the most supportive of my relocation although they did raise concerns about how tough Sierra Leone can be on an everyday basis. Things like finding suitable work, no electricity and culture shock were at the forefront of concerns.
How and what steps did you take to prepare your move/relocation to Sierra Leone?
First I prepared my mind for a different life. This is NOT America. No matter how much you would like to compare the two they are just worlds apart. So I first prepared my mind for my journey and change of lifestyle. Next, I prepared to ship my belongings and those things I would want, need and miss.
If you are in full time employment, did you find a job before moving?
No, I did not find a job before moving.
What is your profession? Have you been get the most out of your educational qualifications achieved abroad?
I am an educator I hold a Masters Degree in Education. I would say I have yes I have been able to get great use of my qualifications as I established The EXCEL Education Center as well as serve as a education consultant on curriculum development and teacher training. More encouraging are the opportunities available to explore other talents and passions outside of just my profession.
If you own/run a business/organization, did you move to establish your business? How did you go about setting up the business and how did you find the experience? What type of business do you have? How can folks get in contact?
This is a long one. I am the Executive Director of The EXCEL Education Program www.excelscholars.org
What culture changes did you experience after your move? What surprised you the most about life here?
The sense of time is what surprised me the most. The fact that I was so used to having things right at my finger tips, electricity, internet etc. In the US we are always moving so fast and things get done quickly. Every minute of the day is accounted for. I was surprised at how people take their time and how there is really no rush. It can be quite frustrating at times but it also helps you to slow down and enjoy the things that life has to offer.
Have you adjusted to the Sierra Leonean lifestyle or are you still living like you did abroad?
I am truly adjusted its just something you have to do or you won’t make it. Not adjusting is the mistake that people make and their life here is not sustainable so they get frustrated and turn back. There are certain things that are part of the quality of life, necessity while other things are desires or fluff.
How have you handled the infrastructure limitations, including electricity, water, sanitation, etc.?
Whew! well it is what it is. Things like electricity supply have made quite an improvement however there is still a ways to go. Infrastructure is key to development and investment and Sierra Leone is making steps in the right direction.
What’s the best thing about returning home?
The best thing about returning home is being a part of the renaissance of Sierra Leone. It’s about being able to contribute to a new Sierra Leone on my terms.
Do you think living abroad--education, work experience, culture-- have enabled you to contribute to the development of Sierra Leone
There is no doubt that the sacrifice my parents made in giving us the opportunity to experience abroad has contributed to who I am as a person. The way I communicate, interact is different. I see life the through a different lenses through a different experience.
If you are in Salone with your family, why did you decide to bring your children? How have your children adjusted to the new lifestyle and culture?
While in Sierra Leone I developed my family. I am now married to an amazing husband who is supportive and allows me to explore and express my love for Sierra Leone. I also have a beautiful and smart daughter who is 2yrs old and her main struggle is whether to speak Krio or English LOL
Will you return to the country where you relocated from?
Sure for visits, conference and professional development. But I’m home now.
What is your long-term vision or hope for Sierra Leone?
To see Sierra Leone gain its rightful place as the diamond of Africa. This is possible through good governance, education, leadership, investment, development and wealth creation. These things are the cornerstone to creating the New Sierra Leone and shedding the negative images of the past.
If you were asked to encourage others to return home, what would you do/advice? Any regrets?
My advice is to come home and do your part. The Diaspora has a key role in the development of Sierra Leone. Be ready for the road ahead. Have an idea about what you want to do but be open to applying your qualifications in un-conventional ways. ( Ex : an educator who moonlights as an event organizer/ marketing and PR) Be humble and ready to open your eyes, listen, learn and live. Crawl before you run and don’t expect to hit the finish line without a bit to sweat and don’t be afraid to celebrate your natural brilliance.