Sierra Leone has always been a country close to my heart. When I was about 4, I met a man called Richard Cole. He was from Sierra Leone and became a family friend. I was able to learn a lot from him, and for that I am truly grateful. During the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991-2002) Richard opened a home for orphaned children who had been recruited as soldiers by the rebel soldiers, known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). On many occasions, Richard literally went and rescued boys from the control of RUF. Richard raised these boys like his own children. Many of these boys had been taught to maim and murder by the rebels. One of the boys had even murdered Richard's own grandparents, but Richard demonstrated to them the importance of love, forgiveness and acceptance. These boys have now grown into men, and I've had the opportunity to get to know and become friends with many of them. I find them to be a great source of inspiration.
Sadly, Richard Cole passed away in 2006, but his legacy lives on. One of my closest friends, PJ Cole, is Richard's son, and he now leads the work that Richard has started, heading up a charity called LifeLine Nehemiah Projects. His management team is made up of the 4 original boy soldiers that were brought into the home. As well as the boys home, LifeLine Nehemiah Projects heads up a school with 750 students, delivers training programmes to over 1000 young men, and operates several sustainable social enterprises.
Over the last few months, as the outbreak of Ebola has hit Sierra Leone hard, as well as other West African countries, the situation facing many people is plainly harrowing. Over 4000 people have died from Ebola in West Africa, with more than 1 million people being quarantined. I was talking to PJ about it yesterday, and he said that Ebola feels like a second war, against an invincible enemy. The fact that so many people have died in such a short space of time is hard to fathom. I don't even have 4000 followers on Twitter (#1stWorldProblems follow me @itsNickBrewer). The numbers have become so large that in the end they almost lose meaning. However, PJ also says that it's not all doom and gloom, and I am pleased to see that my friends who were once engaged in the Sierra Leone Civil War by fighting and taking life, attacking and damaging Sierra Leone, are now the ones fighting Ebola, defending and preserving life. These are people that I have seen grow up, and it's inspiring to see how things come full circle. Boys that once had no hope, who would have been written off by many, are now men leading the fight against this disease that threatens to cripple their nation.
A couple of months back I wrote a spoken word piece for i-D Magazine, where I discussed how I am sometimes guilty of being too caught up in my own problems. I suggested that maybe I should learn from my friends in Sierra Leone. There is a sample at the end of the poem taken from an interview with Richard Cole. You can check it out here:
There are often times that I find myself obsessing over things that don't really matter, not to say that these things aren't important on some level - but they don't really matter. Even when I write lyrics, my default is 'the personal' and 'the introspective', my highs and lows, relationships, purpose and the aforementioned #1stWorldProblems. None of the above is bad per say, but lately I'm finding myself challenged, to do more.
So what can I do? Ever since I've heard about the Ebola outbreak I've felt pretty helpless and I don't think I'm alone on that. You hear about so many disasters in the world, and sometimes I just think there is nothing I can do to change them. It can be easy to say 'Ah, that's bad' and then go back into my little bubble, and in that moment just before I return to introspection the greatest threat to my humanity is posed - am I actually going to do anything?
I have found that there are practical ways in which we can help. As little as £80 can pay for a full time volunteer to help educate the public about how to protect themselves from contracting the Ebola disease. LifeLine Nehemiah Projects currently has a team of 24 volunteers doing this, but they are only able to put on training in the evenings, as they have to work during the day to financially support their families. So far, they have been able to work with and train 3000 people. But there is a demand from over 50,000 people needing the volunteers' help. Without full time staff they will not be able to meet the demand. So I'm going to be donating the profit from my next headline show to LifeLine Nehemiah Projects in Sierra Leone.
I can't bring about a cure to Ebola. I don't have much to offer. I'm not a doctor. I'm not a millionaire. But I don't have to just stand by and watch. I could give from what I have. I'd encourage you to think, what do you have to give?
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