posted by Sarah Geller
When I first laid eyes on Kroo Bay, the largest slum in Sierra Leone, I could have easily mistaken it for a common landfill site. The thousands of small shanty houses are nearly camouflaged by the seemingly endless heaps of garbage, encroaching into the sea where there was once a fishing town. There are thousands of children here, most of whom are living primarily on their own, scouring the heaps of trash for plastic bags they can sell on the street, abandoned by drug-addicted parents or orphaned by the devastating civil war.
I came to Kroo Bay because it is the childhood home of Mohamed Kamara, senior artistic administrator and batik instructor for Arts Education International. Mohamed recalls growing up in Kroo Bay. “Oh I suffered so much. My parents left me to go work and I had to stay with an old lady who couldn’t look after me or give me what I needed. I had to beg for food and try to find my own way.”
As we navigate the maze of garbage heaps and puddles of sewage, Mohamed is in good spirits. It seems like everyone knows him. “Med-a-KRACK!” an old woman shouts, calling Mohamed by his nickname. He hugs her as she kisses him on his cheek, then quickly turns to greet a group of young men he grew up with. “Every time I come here the people who knew me when I was a young boy cannot believe their eyes. They even cry! Who can think that this small bobo begging for food would someday be working for an international organization? Teaching art to so many children?” I smile, happy to see him so proud.
Mohamed and I walking through Kroo Bay
When we see a group of children no older than 6, ankle-deep in sewage and searching for the piece of discarded treasure that may bring them their next meal, Mohamed shakes his head. “Oh,” he sighs, “I can see myself in these children.”
We stop to greet the high chief, Alimamy Kabempa, to discuss our plans for a new arts outreach and vocational training program in Kroo Bay. He tells us he would be happy to offer the community center for our workshops, and is eager for us to help the hundreds of abandoned children in his township. Our programs, slated to begin in December 2011, will provide training in practical arts including batik fabric-dyeing, t-shirt and sign printing, embroidery, crochet and beadwork. We will also provide drama workshops that focus on child rights education, HIV and AIDS awareness, and peaceful conflict resolution. Additionally, we will offer workshops in contemporary and traditional music and dance, facilitating student internships at renowned Freetown recording studios including Forensics Records, and placing students with professional dance troupes.
Meeting at the Kroo Bay Juvenile Remand Center
Our next stop is the Kroo Bay Juvenile Remand Facility where we will offer a satellite vocational training program for juvenile offenders. Many of the children at the Kroo Bay Juvenile Remand facility commit petty crimes and are intentionally caught by local police officers simply for the assurance of shelter and food that the remand center provides. Under these circumstances, the rate of recidivism is incredibly high. Our program will not only provide emotional rehabilitation and community reconciliation through the arts, but will also provide vocational training and career and educational opportunities for children for whom no other opportunities for economic advancement exist. By facilitating mentorships and providing access to marketable skills, we will not only treat but prevent the desperation and destitution that leads to juvenile crime and recidivism in Kroo Bay, Sierra Leone.
To donate toward our new initiative in Kroo Bay, visit www.artseducationinternational.org/donate
Executive Director Sarah Geller with AEI artist Mohamed Thullah in Kroo Bay