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Edmonton: Fundraiser for Freetown flood victims

By  | 5 September 2017 at 07:02 | 2479 views

A picnic recently organized by the Sierra Leonean community in Edmonton was as much about having fun as it was about raising funds.

The picnic is an annual event hosted by the Sierra Leone Alberta Association (SLAA) here. It was held at Rundle Park on Saturday September 2, 2017. This year’s event had two sides to it: the picnic itself and a fundraising drive. The fundraiser was in aid of victims of the deadly flood that occurred in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Monday 14 August 2017.

Alberta’s premier Rachel Notley was among dignitaries invited to the event. She could not attend but she sent a message that was delivered by one of the two provincial lawmakers who graced the occasion. The two dignitaries were Denise Woollard and Dr. Bob Turner (photo), both Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of Alberta. They represent the Edmonton-Mill Creek and Edmonton-Whitemud constituencies, respectively.

MLA Woollard conveyed the message from premier Notley, to the Sierra Leonean community members and other invitees. “Alberta is truly blessed to have each and every one of you as proud Albertans. Your hard work, your dreams for your families and your future, and your community leadership are part of what makes Alberta great,” the premier’s statement reads. The message also conveyed words of welcome from the premier.

Woollard acknowledged the input of Sierra Leoneans in the province of Alberta. “For more than 100 years, Alberta has welcomed people who fled war and hardship to start a new life in freedom and safety. And for more than a century, new Albertans from around the world have helped to build a wonderfully diverse society for all of us,” she noted. “The Sierra Leone community has been a welcome addition to this diversity.”

Woollard went on to console community members as she commented on the fundraising efforts for victims of the mudslide and flood that claimed hundreds of lives in Freetown. “We all wish that today could be just a time for well-earned fun but this year, it is so much more. The hearts and prayers of all Albertans are with the victims and families of last month’s mudslides outside Freetown,” she said. “I hope the funds you raise will help to rebuild homes and provide much-needed aid to families who are already dealing with so much trauma.”

In introducing the two MLAs earlier, SLAA president Kemoh Mansaray reflected on the August 14 disaster. “We have had this picnic every year but today we come together with heavy hearts as we feel traumatized even from far away.” Mansaray welcomed the two MLAs as he thanked both of them for taking the time to come.

On a side note, Mansaray deplored the challenges faced by compatriots living in the province. He made specific reference to the systemic racism that community members experience here. “It is difficult for us to be role models to our children. We go to school and get Canadian credentials; only to face stiff competition that is made even worse with racism,” the president said. “How can we expect our children to be motivated by our hard work here, when we have nothing worthwhile to show them afterwards?” he asked amid loud applause.

In responding, Woollard thanked the Sierra Leonean community’s association (SLAA) for working to build awareness of their experiences. She announced a move by the provincial government to work with local communities in combating racism and help build a range of services that would foster mutual respect. “My colleague, Education Minister David Eggen, is heading a province-wide engagement and has already met with more than 60 community organizations. I can make sure you connect with the minister to make your voices heard,” Woollard said. The MLA also announced an ongoing survey that is available online; and meant to get public feedback on racism.

A delegation of Sierra Leoneans living in neighbouring Calgary attended Saturday’s picnic. They came to support the fundraising efforts in Edmonton and to help make SLAA a truly province-wide association. Betty Tenga, president of the Sierra Leone Descendants Association of Calgary, made a short speech in which she called for unity among Sierra Leoneans everywhere. Other members of the delegation were Jose Tenga, Alikali Tarawally (T-Man), Abdul Kamara, Amy Porter, and Khadijatu Janneh-Kamara.

The picnic featured a soccer match that pitched younger Sierra Leoneans against their older compatriots. David Flomo, an invitee from the Liberian community in Edmonton, volunteered to referee the match. Flomo, a social worker and teacher at an Edmonton college, commended SLAA for organizing the game.

“This is a friendly clash of generations and I feel privileged to be holding the whistle, to ensure fair play,” he smiled. “Sport is one excellent way to promote friendships and build good character.”

In a related development the next day, Sunday, the Liberian congregation at a local church hosted a special service to the same end. The Solid Rock International Ministries of Edmonton, during its weekly Sunday worship, held special prayers for victims of the Freetown flood. The service was organized to also help raise funds for survivors. According to SLAA president Kemoh Mansaray, the full report of what has been collected so far will be announced after amounts of all donations and pledges have been compiled.

However, Mansaray acknowledges contributions from various groups within the church. A text message from Mansaray cites: “The church leadership, Men’s group, Women’s group, together with guests including the Sierra Leoneans who attended the service, raised about $17,000 in both cash and pledged donations.” The cash total is estimated at $7, 770 while the pledges amounted to about $9,000.

The SLAA president expressed his gratitude on behalf of Sierra Leoneans. “Thanks to the Liberian community, the leadership of Pastor Glory Blamo, and the Solid Rock Church,” his text message reads. “We will make sure the donations collected - including what we had for the last Ebola (effort) is used for the purposes it is intended; with full transparency and accountability.”

Photo credits: Thomas Conteh