An Evening of Sharing Stories and Dreams in Kimmage Manor — Jim Owens

 

In early March 2020 Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership invited two significant guests from Sierra Leone; Dr Stanela Beckley, Chairperson of The Sierra Leone Teaching Service Commission and Bishop Henry Aruna, recently appointed bishop of Kenema Diocese.  They were the guest speakers at a conference in Maynooth University. The day after the conference 6th March they were willing guests at a great and joyful gathering in the parish Hall at Kimmage Manor, Whitehall Road Dublin 12.   It was more relaxed than the busy conference atmosphere but a significant opportunity to share stories and views, pray together and enjoy good Spiritan hospitality. It was an important opportunity to converse with the two guests from Sierra Leone.

To use a phrase often heard in Sierra Leone, on the ‘compound’ of Kimmage Parish Hall is a residence for many Spiritan Missionaries some of whom enjoyed many years of ministry in Sierra Leone, and many of whom joined the meeting.  Among the other participants were a number of Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary and also many lay people who had connections and interest in Sierra Leone. Also among the many participants was a former volunteer teacher in Sierra Leone in the late 1970s who has since been ordained a Church of Ireland minister.

The afternoon began with the Honorary Consul for Sierra Leone Mr Joe Manning sharing words of warm welcome. Then each of the guests spoke briefly about themselves and some of the responsibilities they face in their respective roles.  A number of other people also shared their stories of Sierra Leone and asked questions.  Dr Stanela gave an outline of the many challenges currently facing schooling in Sierra Leone with particular emphasis on the need for a greater numbers of qualified teachers. The problem is more acute in rural schools especially those a good distance from urban centres.   Bishop Henry spoke about the demands on the diocese of Kenema to support the many schools under Catholic patronage.  Sometimes they have the responsibility without the authority.  There are many government demands and regulations but the financial support is often limited and obtaining recognition and support is quite bureaucratic.

Fr Michael Fillie, a native of Sierra Leone, was among the many contributors who spoke with passion about the needs and dreams of Sierra Leone.

After the conversations the group were invited by Mr Jim Owens to take some time for prayer and reflection. Sr Bridget Lacey MSHR read a gospel passage from Luke 4:16-22. It gives the blueprint for ministry; sharing the good news with poor people, liberty to those in captivity or downtrodden and healing to those bearing illnesses or disability.  In the group present people had and were living out the directives of the reading.

After the prayer Mr Ciaran McGoey and the never-tiring former teachers of Yengema Secondary School presented a cheque to Bishop Henry for the further development of the YSS. It was the result of a great fundraising concert in Longford Cathedral.

Reports on SLIP Education Conference March 2020

The following are reports on the Conference by two of the members of the SLIP committee:

At the outset it is necessary to acknowledge that SLIP was very fortunate in the timing of the conference as it happened before restrictions on travel and movement were put in place because of the Covid-19 virus.  SLIP greatly appreciates that our guests from SL travelled despite the pending threat of the virus, and are very thankful they returned from Ireland safely.

The conference was well attended with many groups represented.  Among the 65 people gathered were academics, activists, policy planners, and 12 NGOs from Ireland and Sierra Leone. The focus of the day was intense study of the issues being faced as Sierra Leone rebuilds its education system.

Among the aims of the day was to inform the participants on the facts and figures of provision and participation in education in Sierra Leone, and also to learn of how the Irish Aid development contribution supports that education policy. This was achieved to a large extent by the detailed and very informative speeches of the keynote speakers.

In addition there were many great ripple effects that contributed to the success of the day, and I highlight 3 significant ones.

Firstly, there was the meeting of the NGOS and other participants who all have a focus and interest in events and developments in Sierra Leone, the poster event enhanced this greatly. It was also a time for Bishop Henry Aruna and Dr. Staneala Beckley to meet informally and discuss relevant and important issues arising in their roles as education providers.

A second ripple effect was the opportunity for the department of international development in Maynooth University to share some experiences of education with representatives of the SL education community. The well qualified and experienced educators from both SL and Ireland allowed for well-informed and focused rich discussion.

Thirdly, a strong ripple effect has been the continuation of the initial contact made between the Teaching Council in Ireland and the Teaching Service Commission of Sierra Leone.  Already one zoom meeting has taken place and another one is due to take place in early December. It is clear that both organisations have much to share. There is also a willingness on the part of the TC Irl  to consider supporting and offering guidance to TSC of SL in a similar manner to which Scotland supported Ireland when the TC was in its infancy. This on-going link could make a very valuable contribution to strengthening equality of quality educational opportunities for all students in SL.

Geraldine Horgan

 

‘Strengthening Education in Sierra Leone’ was the subject of a major conference jointly organised by the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership (SLIP) and Maynooth University Department of International Development. It took place at Renehan Hall, Maynooth University on Thursday 5th of March 2020.

The event brought together 65 academics, activists, policy planners, and NGOs, from Ireland and Sierra Leone. It was a day of intense study of the issues being faced as Sierra Leone rebuilds its education system, and the decisions required of those who want to grow solidarity with that process.

The NGOs represented were,  Concern Worldwide, Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation, Global Schoolroom, Don Bosco Network, Sight Savers Ireland, Afri-action from Ireland, and Plan International -Ireland,

The Gambia Ireland Volunteers in Education, Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, and  The Liberia Solidarity Group joined Yengema Secondary School Old Boys, and the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership in the reflection.

The day was led by lectures from Dr Staneala Beckley, Chair of the Teaching Service Commission of Sierra Leone, Most Rev Dr Henry Aruna, Bishop of Kenema, Sierra Leone and Ms Carol Hannon, Global Education Policy Specialist at Irish Aid.

The university sector was led by Maynooth University Departments of Education, International Development,  Adult and Community Education, and Applied Social Studies. They were joined by academics and researchers from, Technical University Dublin Blanchardstown, University College Dublin, Athlone Institute of Technology, Dublin City University-St Patrick’s College and the faith based development organisation Misean Cara.

The morning and afternoon sessions were chaired by Dr Seán Farren, former Northern Ireland Minister for Further and Higher Education and later Minister for Finance, and Ms Nora Owen former Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland.

In opening the conference Professor Aidan Mulkeen, Registrar Maynooth University emphasised how much of a priority the topic of the conference is in his own research and professional experience in teacher policy in sub-Sahara Africa. The common themes he has come across in his work are shortage of teachers, poorly qualified teachers, the difficulty of finding teachers to work in remote locations, and the consequences of these for access to good quality education for the most disadvantaged young people in the world.

The speeches of Dr Beckley and Bishop Aruna are available in full, elsewhere on the SLIP website.

The event put us in the presence of key actors in education in Sierra Leone at State and Church level. They presented carefully researched, forward looking ambitions for education in the country. The ‘tragic Salone’ theme of the last thirty years of the work of the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership was finally behind us. We were surrounded by the architecture of Maynooth University which was put there over two centuries ago to enhance its educational project. Its momentum carried through to this day.

Notions of African exceptionalism, if they ever had any credibility, quickly evaporated under the intellectual rigour of the speakers and the participants. The structural and economic building blocks of an educational system are familiar and so are the terms of the challenges to them and the debate about them. This conference could have been about Ireland, Iceland, or India, as well as Sierra Leone.

The display of engagement by Irish NGOs was a very moving element of the day and a dynamic background to the discussion. SLIP has long cherished the ambition that in some public space we would experience the kaleidoscope of these varied commitments and projects. This was the fulfilment of that ambition with all it’s straining to do more, to construct new systems of involvement, and to find new participants.

The three main speakers dealt extensively with the question of equal and inclusive education for girls and young women in Sierra Leone. Since the time of the Ebola epidemic, the exclusion from school of girls who are pregnant has been a headline issue and it was the concern which guided the formulation of the agenda of this conference. The speakers brought us up to date with legislation, practice, and provision on this issue. They identified, too, the structural and ideological adjustments that need to be made in order for the educational process to be a more sympathetic and humanising building place for young women, and men. Dr Beckley suggested that girls’ education has been substituted for gender in education. Reversing that direction would be key to fulfilling the aim of the conference.

The 2004 Education Act seems to give almost complete control to the Minister for Education over the governorship of schools and this is a disturbing reality for the faith based schools sector. One speaker from the floor said the Act sounded like it was formulated by an army general. It gives lots of responsibility and little authority to the patron body, while leaving it with many of the bills. The promised revision and redrafting of this legislation would help towards greater democracy and inclusiveness in an educational system in which over 50% of schools are Catholic schools.

Irish Aid provides the financial and policy context for much of what happens between Ireland and Sierra Leone. The contribution of Ms Carol Hannon on this subject was very important for the conference. This is the twentieth year of diplomatic relations between the two countries and it is a growing and deepening relationship.

The fact that  a conference on this topic happened in Ireland, and was attended by so many with a serious stake in that country, suggests that Sierra Leone has transitioned to a new development agenda. This is the first time that a clear path ahead has been visible since the outbreak of the civil war there twenty nine years ago yesterday. The relief and excitement of that new prospect gave the conference a landmark status.

Martin Rowan.

 

 

SLIP REPORT 2019 — 2020

Foreword
In January of this year I spent two weeks in Sierra Leone. Calling on a number of Irish missionary schools and projects, I was very conscious that I was meeting the last few of a magnificent Irish involvement in Sierra Leone. Beginning in the 1850’s, they contributed to improved health facilities and education provision in Sierra Leone. Sister Teresa McKeon in Koidu, sixty four years in Sierra Leone, Mary Sweeney in Makeni and our own late patron, Hilary Lyons to name but a few, have made huge contributions to Sierra Leone and have raised the profile of Ireland among its people. Truly we will not see their like again. And that is the challenge for the Irish Embassy in Freetown and also for SLIP, maintaining a distinctive Irish identity and making a difference to the ordinary people on the ground. The Irish Embassy, together with DIFiD and the World Bank, is doing great work with the Ministry of Education in developing and supporting a national education policy. But we also need to maintain the Irish identity in Sierra Leone.
I have been writing the introductions for the annual SLIP report for the past eight years. Looking back over them, I note that optimism and pessimism seem to change places almost annually. Last year the peaceful change of government and the new government’s apparent energy and sense of purpose gave rise to genuine optimism that Sierra Leone was at last about to turn the corner.
Today that corner is some distance away. The APC’s stated intention to make the country ungovernable coupled with the present government’s perceived distance from the ordinary people has given rise to greater political polarisation in the country. The recent disturbances in Makeni, where a seemingly routine administrative decision, was interpreted as a political affront and resulted in serious rioting causing several deaths, was the latest manifestation of the uneasiness in the country. An unstable currency, losing 15% of its value in the first seven months of this year and the increase in the cost of fuels, makes a difficult life intolerable.
In the post Covid World countries will be pre-occupied with matters much closer to home. Germany has already quit Sierra Leone and Liberia. Unless Sierra Leoneans stop voting for tribe and region and put honesty and competence first, other countries may well follow suit.
Joe Manning (Honorary Consul)

Our identity – who we are  • Sierra Leoneans living in Ireland.
• Irish people who have lived and worked in Sierra Leone – missionaries, teachers, public servants, volunteers, medical personnel, staff of NGO’s and development agencies.
• Irish people who have an interest in Sierra Leone.
• Civil society actors in Ireland.
• Media personnel who have visited Sierra Leone.
• Students who have visited Sierra Leone on exchange projects or who have volunteered to help certain projects.

Our Mission – what we do
Advocacy
• We keep issues affecting Sierra Leone to the forefront in Ireland with Government agencies and business people.
• We engage with Irish Aid about development issues in Sierra Leone.
• We advocate on behalf of Sierra Leonean asylum seekers and those living in direct provision.
Sharing knowledge and experience
• We give information to people wishing to travel to Sierra Leone – tourists, aid workers, journalists, volunteers.
• We organise public events for the benefit of the people of Sierra Leone.
• We are a point of contact for the media.
• We give information to Sierra Leoneans in direct provision.
Networking
• We work with other agencies to strengthen our voice.
• We highlight relevant issues on the SLIP website, Facebook and Twitter.
Projects
• We support projects in Sierra Leone.

Introduction
The annual Report for 2019 to 2020 relates to the activities of the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership from the Independence Celebration in June 2019 until June 2020. The committee meet monthly and continue their work and research in the area of education, particularly teacher training, school governance and issues affecting girls and women. They endeavour to increase Irish Government awareness of issues in Sierra Leone or affecting Sierra Leoneans in Ireland. They advocate on behalf of Sierra Leone asylum seekers. They meet Irish Aid and maintain contact with the Irish Embassy in Freetown.

SLIP committee
Elizabeth Smith (Chairperson), Martin Rowan (Hon. Secretary), Liam McGlynn, Ibrahim Bah (Hon. Treasurer), Jim Owens (PRO), Geraldine Horgan (Webmaster), Joe Manning (Hon. Consul), Joseph Bockaire, Sean Farren, Eddie Finnegan, Frank Roden, Tony Robinson.
The committee meet monthly and their work is voluntary.
We thank the members of the committee who have devoted their time and effort in furthering the interests of Sierra Leone and her people.
We are grateful to all the members of SLIP who have supported SLIP events throughout the year and for their financial support through membership and donations.

Review of Activities 2019 — 2020
Sierra Leone Independence Day Celebration June 2019
With due respect to the two great religious celebrations of Easter and Ramadan our Independence celebration got pushed to a mid-Summer evening of 21st June, in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin.
It was an evening where we had a number of exciting and quite contrasting presentations.
Sr. Hilary Lyons MSHR gave a heartfelt review of her experiences in Sierra Leone from her first ‘tour of service’ beginning in 1953 after a 10 day ship journey. Her commitment to working in Sierra Leone continued for another amazing 42 years. In her presentation she was very honest about all she learned during her years in Sierra Leone and also all the unlearning she had to do. As the years rolled by, her appreciation and admiration of the people she served with her healthcare skills grew ever deeper. She challenged herself on the best ways to address the many pressing health needs, moving from the hospital based care to the need to develop better services in the community. She became more aware of the importance and urgency for greater preventative health care practises in order to reduce the need for curative medicine. Sr. Hilary supported and urged people to always seek ways to improve health practices in a culturally acceptable manner. Part of the community programme was further training with some village based midwives. As one can expect Hilary declared ‘I came to love these older women for their strength, their wisdom and their humour’. Hilary never hesitated to challenge others especially those in authority in demanding the best service possible for people in greatest need. As always she shared graciously, and her wisdom and wit drawn from her 95 years of generous living was very well received by all present.
Ms Bernie Moran was equally delighted and enthusiastic about her experience of Sierra Leone. Bernie is the CEO of the Credit union branch in Roscommon. She is also active in the Irish League of Credit Union Foundation (ILCU).The foundation aims to alleviate poverty in developing countries by supporting credit unions and their representative bodies through the provision of financial and technical assistance. Bernie and two colleagues visited Sierra Leone for two weeks in a structure coaching programme, to assist and build bonds with some local Credit Unions in Sierra Leone. While her stay there was short she interacted with many people both in Freetown and in the Kailihun area. She found the 8 hour trip to Kailiahun a significant learning experience. It was her first trip to Africa and she was in awe of the people and how they coped with their many challenges. There are over 28 credit Union offices in Sierra Leone and the numbers are growing. It is clear that the support they provide is opening up opportunities for many communities in Sierra Leone.
Austin Kennan, the recently appointed Concern Director in Sierra Leone, also spoke to the gathering. He has been a supportive member of SLIP over the years and promised to continue these links into the future.
Mr Ciaran McGoey spoke briefly of the needs of Yengema Secondary School and a forthcoming fundraising concert with Liam Lawton.
The success of the evening depends on the help of many people. It is unfair to name any particular member of the SLIP committee but each added to the success and enjoyment of the evening.
As always the evening provided a great opportunity for people to meet and catch up on the news and developments in the ever deepening links between Ireland and Sierra Leone.

Sr. Hilary Lyons and Binto Diolla

 

Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting was held in Belgrave Square, Rathmines on 19th October 2019.

The following officers were elected/re-elected:

Chairperson: Elizabeth Smith
Treasurer: Ibrahim Bah
Secretary: Martin Rowan
PRO: Jim Owens
The Report and accounts for 2018-2019 were presented and accepted.
It was agreed that at each Committee meeting a section of the Charities Governance Code would be read and discussed in order to fulfil our obligation to adhere to the Code.

SLIP Reflection Day
The AGM was followed by a SLIP Reflection Day which was facilitated by Kai Matturi. The purpose of the activity was to review the work of SLIP and plan for it’s long term future. The meeting began with the identification of some of the achievements of SLIP over the years. This led to reflection under the following headings:
 Who SLIP is?
 What Slip does?
 How SLIP operates?
 With whom does SLIP relate?
The final section of the meeting discussed the Future for SLIP and endeavoured to answer the questions:
 Where are we now?
 What is driving change?
 What are the strategic issues affecting SLIP?
The day was very beneficial and focussed the thoughts of the committee and members of Slip on what needs to be done to assist the development of Sierra Leone.

Strengthening Education in Sierra Leone Seminar
SLIP in partnership with Maynooth University Department of International Development hosted the seminar which was held on the 5th March 2020 in the Renehan Hall, Maynooth University. The title of the seminar was “Building an Equal and Inclusive Education for Girls and Young Women in Sierra Leone”.
The first session dealt with the “Role of State and Faith-based Institutions in Education in Sierra Leone”. The session was chaired by Dr. Sean Farren, former Northern Ireland Minister for Further Higher Education. The Introduction and Address was delivered by Dr. Staneala Beckley, Chair of Sierra Leone Teaching Service Commission. The title was “Capacity issues and possibilities for delivery of the GOSL plans for education, in particular the pivotal role of teachers and the teaching profession”. She described the plans that the new Government of Sierra Leone have for the development of education. One of the issues was the lack of qualified teachers, particularly in rural areas and the need for more CPD courses being available. Dr. Beckley also outlined how schools and in particular girls were affected by the various problems that have occurred in Sierra Leone, such as Civil war and Ebola. In many cases this led to the closure of schools. There are also cultural problems where young girls are forced into marriage and do not finish Secondary School.
This was followed by The Most Reverend Dr. Henry Aruna, Bishop of Kenema Diocese, Sierra Leone whose talk was titled “Opportunities and Challenges in exercising responsibility for the Catholic School network in context of Government’s new emphasis on education, in particular education of women and girls.”. He emphasised the need of quality school education as a high percentage of the population is illiterate. The percentage of the female population in this situation is higher than that of males.
There followed a question and answer session which was interesting and informative.
The second session began with former Minister for Justice and Equality, Norah Owen as chair and was delivered by Ms. Carol Hannon, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The title of her address was “Policy Considerations and Priorities of Irish Aid in Sierra Leone.
This was followed by Posters from NGOs. Irish League of Credit Union Foundation, Sightsavers, Concern, Trocaire, Plan Ireland, Liberia Solidarity Group, Global Schoolroom and Don Bosco Fambul. Each group gave a short presentation of their work.
The day was concluded by the chair of Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership, Ms. Elizabeth Smith.
A follow on from the Seminar was that Ms. Geraldine Horgan from SLIP has set up communication between Dr. Beckley and the Irish Teaching Council with a view to assisting The Sierra Leone Teaching Commission.

Geraldine Horgan (SLIP), Bishop Henry Aruna and Dr. Staneala Beckley

 

SLIP Committee members with Bishop Aruna and Dr. Beckley

 

A Historic Gathering in Kimmage Manor

A great and joyful gathering took place in the parish Hall at Kimmage Manor on Friday 6th March 2020, just weeks before the unprecedented ‘Coronavirus lock down’.
The previous day there was a well-run and effective conference in Maynooth University. The Kimmage Gathering, also organised by SLIP members, was a more relaxed but no less significant opportunity to share stories and views, pray together and enjoy good Spiritan hospitality.
It was an important opportunity to converse with the two guests who travelled from Sierra Leone, Dr Stanela Beckley and Bishop Henry Aruna.
People travelled from many parts of Ireland from Cork to Derry. As well as many Spiritan missionaries there were some Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary and also many lay people who had connections and interest in Sierra Leone. After welcome and introductions both guests spoke a little about themselves and some of the tasks they face in their respective roles. Some of the people present shared their stories of Sierra Leone and answered questions. Dr Stanela give an outline of the many challenges facing schooling in Sierra Leone with particular emphasis on the need for greater numbers of qualified teachers. The problem is more acute in rural schools especially those a good distance from urban centres. Bishop Aruna spoke about the demands on the diocese to support the many schools under Catholic patronage. Sometimes they have the responsibility without the authority. There are many government demands and regulations but the financial support is often limited and obtaining recognition and support is quite bureaucratic.
Fr Michael Fillie was among the many contributors who spoke, sharing his passion about the needs and dreams of Sierra Leone.
After the conversations the group took some time for prayer and reflection. Sr Bridget Lacey MSHR read a gospel passage from Luke 4:16-22. It gives the blueprint for ministry; sharing the good news with poor people, liberty to those in captivity or downtrodden and healing to those bearing illnesses or disability. In the group present people have been and are living out the challenges of this reading.
After the prayer Mr Ciaran McGoey and the never-tiring former teachers of Yengema Secondary School presented a cheque to Bishop Aruna for the further development of the YSS. It was the result of a great fundraising concert in Longford Cathedral.
Martin Rowan gave a warm vote of thanks to the two guests and to all the people who attended and participated in the afternoon event.
An article on the event with an interview with Bishop Henry was prepared by journalist Ms Rosie McGrath and published in the Irish Catholic.
Many people spoke of their delight in meeting the two guests and were most thankful to the SLIP committee for organising a memorable afternoon of sharing and solidarity.

There have been connections between Ireland and Sierra Leone for over 150 years. Irish missionaries and volunteers have done incredible work in education and health. Now, sadly a number of these tireless workers are finishing their time in Sierra Leone but we must not lose the connection between the two countries. The SLIP Seminar indicated how a number of Irish groups are still working in Sierra Leone. SLIP is currently playing a role is assisting those Sierra Leoneans who live in direct provision in Ireland. The advocacy role of SLIP is vital to these refugees.

Sr. Hilary Lyons R.I.P.
Sr Hilary Lyons was the President of the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership from 2001 ‘til her death in January. This role was one of many chapters in her nearly seventy years of physical and intellectual engagement with Sierra Leone. The nature of that engagement preoccupied her during her forty years in hospital surgery and public health there, and she stayed with the questions it raised to the very end of her life. She was devoted to decolonising the framework of Catholic Missionary and medical intervention.
For us in SLIP she was an adored authority figure who graced our assemblies and lobbying events with her wisdom and humour. The aura that accompanied her opened many doors for SLIP’s efforts to deepen public policy links between Ireland and Sierra Leone.
She interrogated the missionary and medical models in which she was trained. Though “we did not ask” was a regret she often voiced, her own ear was finely tuned to the faith and practice of the Mende people amongst whom she worked. She respected that faith deeply. She was a welcome confidánt at its inner circles and she never stopped exploring the significance of its clashes with her own mindset and medical priorities. She read deeply and widely. She loved the Wisdom literature, creation theology, and the work of the Mayo theologians, especially scripture scholar Seán Freyne.
Through her ninety six years she modelled the kind of reflective and affectionate solidarity with Sierra Leone which SLIP works to inspire and sustain. She left us with work to do on ourselves and on our mission.
Martin Rowan

 

 

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