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Sierra Leoneans in United States observe Inter-Faith Service for victims of Covid-19

26 June 2020 at 17:17 | 1626 views


By Umaru Sitta Turay, Acting Press Attaché - USA

It was on Saturday, June 20, 2020 that the solemn and jam-packed event took place on the cyberspace to remember the lives of those Sierra Leoneans that befell victims of COVID-19.

Even when COVID-19 has compelled the people of the world to stay at distance to each other, the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone in Washington DC and the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, New York, jointly brought Sierra Leoneans together in one of its kind and one of the most attended events since the emergence of the Coronavirus in the United States of America. It was done with savvy.

Ambassador Sheku Mesali called the meeting to order and announced the organizers, while thanking the particpants for attending the occasion. Opening prayers were offered by Pastor Judith Saccoh and Imam Teslig, for the Christian and Muslim prayers, respectively.

The virtual occasion was hosted by Deputy Ambassador Sheku Mesali of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington DC and Deputy Ambassador Evangelist Victoria Sulimani of the Sierra Leone Mission to the UN in New York. Admonishing the participants, both hosts respectfully asked attendees to mute their microphones as the event was different from other events because it is to grieve with people that have lost their loved ones. Ostensibly, participants heeded to the call and the event started so quietly that one could feel its solemnity even when it was done in the virtual world.

Imam Abdallah Savage was called upon to carry out Islamic prayers for the victims. During his prayer, he mentioned that some of the victims were members of the Jamaat he is leading as Chief Imam. He called on Sierra Leoneans to believe that the only way to defeat hardship is to believe and worship Allah Subhana wa Tahalla. He continued by informing the gathering that Allah tests human beings always, but it is Allah that also commands mankind to say “Thank You” for whatever happens. He prayed for the bereaved families and the rest of Sierra Leoneans.

Pastor Samuel Ademu-John took over from Imam Savage and expressed how difficult it can be to lose a relative. He narrated his experience relating to the loss of his sister to cancer few years back. During his prayers, he said “ we have just learnt how to use face masks, avoid handshake and keep our distance, which is not our norm…..things that can be shaken will be shaken, it is only the word of God that will not be shaken, so let us worship God”. He concluded by calling everyone to be supportive to the bereaved families.

Immediately after the Prayers, Ambassador Sidique Abou-Bakarr Wai delivered an encouraging speech but also emotional. He stated “These are extra-ordinary times, no doubt, and therefore we must come together to do extra-ordinary things to make a difference. Thus the reason for this Interfaith Prayer Service, which is being jointly organized by our Embassy in DC, our Mission in New York; and of course in collaboration with our Diaspora Community here in North America; with whom we have always worked closely to make sure we bring the two Diplomatic Missions close to our compatriots here in the diaspora”. That time, it became quiet and seem everyone was waiting for the next emotional words that will be meticulously showered and he continued by saying, “On behalf of H.E. President Julius Maada Bio; the government and people of Sierra Leone; please accept our most sincere and heartfelt condolences. We pray for the speedy eradication of this pandemic. We also pray that, as the character of this virus keeps changing, none of our own will fall victim again, not here in America, not in Sierra Leone, not anywhere. Insha Allah. We pray for the sweet repose of their gentle souls and may light perpetual shine upon them”. Starting that point, it became emotional and the virtual meeting felt like a normal gathering. His voice mesmerized almost everyone like the loss of Sierra Leoneans had happened in that moment. He touched everyone and the chat applet of the zoom meeting flooded with responses in agreement with his words.

Deputy Ambassador Victoria Sulimani informed and read the names of the victims that were on record. She said that thirty (30) Sierra Leoneans were victims in the United States as recorded by the two diplomatic missions although at the tail end of the meeting one person was added. The victims included, Abdul Magona, Abdul Kanu, Alhaji Hassan Kamara, Hassan S. Tarawally, Abdul Issa Kuyateh, Abdul Nonkoh Kamara, Aminata Conteh, Ambassador Alex Allieu Badara Mansaray, Foday Abubakarr Mansaray, Allieu Badara Kamara, Sullay Gabisi and others (sorry for the exception). She was literaily crying when some of the family members narrated how they were grieving for their loved ones. She even complained that she would not have loved to be in that Host Seat because of the relation she had with most of the victims. Later she was able to sum up courage and continue to do a marvelous job alongside her Co-host Ambassador Sheku Mesali who also did a spectacular job.

The immaculate part of it all was the intercessory prayer session, which was the reason for the gathering. It started instantly when Ambassador Sulimani announced the religious leaders to take it on. Imams and Pastors were abundantly waiting and noticing that Ambassador Sulimani herself is a Woman of God. She called on Sheik Muhamadu Tejan Cole to lead in the Islamic prayer, which he did fervently. Sheikh Mahamudu Tejan Cole encouraged the congregation to resist evil and see that COVID-19 ias one of those evil that can be beaten with faith. He made a long duwah which made people moved away from their devices believing that they hid their emotions. Many cannot resist but cried.

As if it were to add sympathy and emotions on attendees, the hosts called on relatives of the families to represent the rest and Mr. Mustapha Mansaray was the first. It became quiet again. One could see attendee grabbing their hands close to their faces to suppress their emotions. Mr. Mustapha Mansaray introduced himself as a brother of late Ambassador Foday Mansaray. He thanked specific persons that are helping the bereaved families to grieve but have in mind that it is God’s wish to call home their relatives. He encouraged everyone, especially the bereaved families, to look after each other and not forget to tell the seriousness of COVID-19 to family members back home.

Glenna Mansaray’s speech, (wife of late Alex Allieu Badara Mansaray), was so touching, it could not allow one of the hosts to hold her tears. She started by saying that she is grateful to the organizers. She said “as we are grieving today, more women lost their husbands to COVID-19 than men losing their wives … we feel your support and we thank you. She ended by saying “we want you to know that we are strong and with you grieving with us, we will not let you down”. Those words made the meeting look like the silence in a cemetery after three in the morning. It felt somber and like the solitude darkness of a grave. As she was concluding many cheeks became wet of tears and it was believed to be involuntary.

The next person was Wilhelmina Kamara Allen, the daughter of one of the victims, Late Mr. Allieu Badara Kamara. She represented the bereaved children. She started firm and strong and said, “my father was a strong believer in family and an active community person”. While she was delivering her very concise tribute, she could not hold her emotions any longer and her voice started shaking then she said “there is nothing like the love of parents … loosing a parent is one of the most difficult things for us children, but, we will depend on God and all of you here for our strength. That was the most touching from the children’s representative.

And it was the turn of Ambassador Alie Kabba of Sierra Leone’s special mission to the United Nations. He appeared on the screen as if he were addressing the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of President Brigadier General Rtd. Julius Maada Bio. He was very diplomatic. Below is part of what he delivered:

“Let me once again express on behalf of His Excellency Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the Embassy of Sierra Leone in Washington DC, the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, New York, and the entire Sierra Leonean Diaspora in North America, our sincere condolences and deepest sympathy to the families of our compatriots who have lost loved ones during this era of COVID-19 pandemic. May God grant them eternal rest and may Allah Subuhana Wa Tahala grant them Jaanatul Firdaus.

We stand in solidarity with our compatriots who have lost not only loved ones, but also their source of support and comfort. We are aware that, remittances from our diaspora community here in North America, to our compatriots back home in Sierra Leone, are crucial not only to the individuals but also to our economy. Thus, the loss of jobs here in North America by our citizens, has a serious knock-on effect in our beloved Mama Salone.

It is my prayer, that, as the pandemic eases, our community members will get their livelihood back here and then they will quickly recover from the pains and agony they have gone through. We should also use this opportunity, ladies and gentlemen, to reflect on the impact of the economy of the pandemic on our country in similar ways, with people dying and others losing their jobs.

We would also like to take this opportunity to recognize and express our deepest sympathy to anyone, on this call, who has their loved ones in Sierra Leone during this pandemic. Our beloved Sierra Leone is hard hit by the pandemic. The country’s economic growth projection has been revised downwards to negative growth in a worst-case scenario. To put this into context, Sierra Leone’s GDP was projected to grow by 4.2% this year. The total cost under the worst-case scenario, is an estimated 379.5 million dollars with a financing gap estimated to be 309.4 million dollars.

In view of this, let me call on all Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora to come together, post COVID-19, to assist in whatever shape or form in addressing the socio-economic impact in our country”. At the end of his speech, he encouraged Sierra Leoneans to approach the two diplomatic missions whenever need be as the doors are wide open.

It was time to close the meeting and the task of “Vote of Thanks” bestowed on the Deputy Ambassador, legal affairs, at the Sierra Leone Mission to the United Nations, New York, Dr. Michael Imran Kanu. As a young diplomat, he did not disappoint the congregation at all and he eloquently let out the following speech: “These are extra-ordinary times, no doubt, and therefore we must come together to do extra-ordinary things to make a difference. Thus the reason for this Interfaith Prayer Service, which is being jointly organized by our Embassy in DC, our Mission in New York; and of course in collaboration with our Diaspora Community here in North America; with whom we have always worked closely to make sure we bring the two Diplomatic Missions close to our compatriots here in the diaspora.

We are honored by the presence of bereaved families, and I express our deep condolences and warm words of comfort. We thank the respective speakers, notably our religious and community leaders providing spiritual guidance and succor during these challenging times. I offer our boundless thanks to the representatives of the bereaved families for your courage and reminding us of the humanity of our departed compatriots.

I would like to thank His Excellency Sidique Abou-Bakarr Wai, Ambassador of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United States of America; and His Excellency Dr. Alie Kabba, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations for your leadership of the two Missions here in the United States”.

He expressed thanks to the staffs of both Missions, the Co-moderators, the Planning Committee and the Community Leaders in the Planning Committee that, according to him, provided invaluable assistance to the Staff of both Missions. “Together we have shown the true content of the Sierra Leonean character, which is faith in God – faith in Allah, love for country and the people, underlined by spirit of solidarity” he added.
“I thank you”. He concluded so calmly that one will see how he felt for the bereaved family and his country.

The norm of Sierra Leonean gathering is to start with prayers and end with prayers. Head of Chancery (HOC) Mr. Nallo, of UN Mission New York, took us through the Muslim Prayers and the Head of Chancery at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington DC, Madam Rakie Macarthy, soberly and with devout took the gathering through the Christian prayer.

Unfortunately, at the time of putting this report together, Madam had lost her husband in Nigeria. As if God had spoken to her, she was deep into her prayer that everyone was now not muted the microphones and yelling Amen/Ameen.
We pray that Madam Rakie find solace in God for the loss and that the Soul of her husband rest in perfect peace.