International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteer Ibraham Kamara has a real zest for development. Born and bred in Sierra Leone, the 28-year-old young father has seen his country through war and Ebola. Even though his own schooling has been stilted, he dedicated all his time to taking care of his own learning, studying and working until he was able to finish his diploma and complete an ICS placement.
After his placement, Ibraham has also been a Team Leader and administered the VSO research on Ebola and maternal healthcare. Now ready to start his career in development, Ibraham is actively on the job hunt and enthusiastically tells us his inspiring story.
“I did ICS because I saw it as an opportunity: to volunteer, for a first job, for experience and to learn from young people from the UK. I had just graduated and it’s hard to get a job in Sierra Leone so I wanted to volunteer.
I liked this programme because it wasn’t about giving money to people. It was about helping them to go about their life.
I have faced some of the hardships that Sierra Leoneans go through. My family and I faced the bitter war. I was 10 years old and I remember everything, the attacks that made us move, the killing of my friend’s father. I had to educate myself because my family couldn’t afford to send me to school. I pushed myself because I really liked studying. I would sell firewood and kerosene at night to pay for the education, and passed the exams I needed to move to each next level.
I wanted to go into humanitarian work because of the exposure I would get when working with foreigners and other people. I like working with young people and finding out what is really affecting the community.
With my counterpart, we did a lot of work on sensitising students in schools and on the radio about sex education and health. I learnt about public speaking, writing concept notes and working with people from different cultures. I liked working with VSO; everything was on the record. Corruption is a problem here usually.
I was so committed that I became a sort of ‘alternative staff’ member to help recruit volunteers and encourage young people to go to events after my placement. My dream is to work for another organisation and pursue my education more, as I patched it together myself.
I was also exposed to how men cook in other countries! So now I have learnt to make our traditional dishes like groundnut soup, rice, sardines in paper and also scrambled eggs. People might think you’re gay here if you cook – which would be a bad thing here – but I do it anyway.
VSO asked me to work with them on research during Ebola. I went round the country, doing interviews with pregnant and lactating women to see what was stopping them from going to hospital. I found out that they were scared to catch Ebola in hospital. There were a lot of misunderstandings and misinformation. It was so tough but I really enjoyed it.
Ebola was a terrifying time for Sierra Leone. Our country was devastated. And it affected me. I lost people I knew. The community was afraid. I was worried for my mother because she works in the market where everyone would interact with each other. We lived like prisoners because no one would move from door to door and there was a curfew. The price of water went up.
Quarantined houses were marked out with a red rope around them, barricading them in. I passed a boy sick in the street and heard that he had died by the time I had cycled to the end of my journey.
I lost my job once the volunteers were all sent home. I cried for a week; I didn’t want anyone to go.
A lot of people haven’t come back to the country yet.
The investors and mineral businesses that were improving things are not back yet.
VSO has only just started to come back. Young people are waiting for ICS to return because they know it can help them get a job. I know one guy who, because of his placement, was able to get a scholarship and study abroad. Another girl is now a librarian at the local hospital. Families in host homes and teachers are waiting for ICS to return.
People should come back to Sierra Leone. People are warm and honest. The food is good. It’s peaceful. Everyone wants to share their story. We like strangers!"
ICS volunteers are now back working in Sierra Leone on projects supporting young people to develop the skills to get a better job.
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