Happy Holidays Fellow Echoers!
Two years ago, my brilliant friend Marcos Moldes, an instructor and diversity educator at Simon Fraser University, showed me an incredible TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie called "The Danger of the Single Story." (click to play video) Upon arriving to Europe, Adichie recalls her struggle with being expected to reproduce a single narrative of life in Africa. She was chastised by professors who claimed her writing was not "authentically African" as if narratives that spoke of anything other than African poverty were somehow invalid.
I was guilty of carrying a "single story" when I first arrived in Africa. Still in the midst of my undergraduate degree, I entered Sierra Leone aware of the country's post-conflict history and expecting to find a dis-empowered and impoverished population in need of my help as a Westerner. I now recognize how arrogant my assumptions were. My thinking was constantly challenged while in Sierra Leone. I realized how my view of charity and development was ultimately patronizing. I also came to deeply respect the passion, ingenuity, and incredible resourcefulness of the local people who became my friends and colleagues in our work abroad. Rather than fulfilling the expectation of the single story of Africa, these individuals were working to rebuild their communities far before I - or many other international organizations - ever arrived in Sierra Leone.
Of all those I met abroad, Esther Kanu served challenge my single-story-thinking most clearly. During the Blood Diamond war that tore Sierra Leone apart, most international organizations left the country. In the midst of the conflict, Esther Kanu founded the Women in Action Development Project, a vocational school which remained open whenever possible in the midst of war. She had no international support at the time and relied on colleagues and friends to serve as teachers supporting those who are most affected by war and poverty: women.
Esther's story was what I wanted to tell when I returned from Africa; a story of empowerment and hope. Furthermore, I openly share how her efforts humbled me, a would-be rescuer from the West, to recognize the incredible initiatives that were already occurring abroad. I often tried summarizing this paradigm shift but I lacked the eloquence until seeing Adichie's talk which inspired our slogan: "Telling a Different Story of Africa."
Today, Esther's challenges are different. There is no longer a war in Sierra Leone, however Women in Action has been battling increasing rent charges from a landlord that took over their building in 2013. In 2014, your donations helped secure the school into 2016, but we know that eventually the project will have to be relocated as a sustainable solution. We are currently helping to raise $7000 which would cover the first year of rent on a new school building. Furthermore, Esther is working to purchase a plot of farmland that she is planning to use as an income generating project for Women in Action in the future.
Lastly, Esther was recently sponsored to travel to the US. While she was in North America, she mailed us a USB key with photos and videos of the school over the last two years. Often it is difficult for Esther to send new media online from Sierra Leone because of poor internet connections so the mailed USB key is a welcomed opportunity to share more of the amazing work you are helping to support. I have posted some of the new photos on the Esther's Echo Facebook Page as well as some in the post below.
This Holiday Season, please consider supporting Esther's Echo as we "Tell a Different Story of Africa." Even if a donation is not possible, we appreciate you helping to spread the word and tell the story to friends and through social media. From our team to you and your family, we wish you the Happiest of Holidays!
Matthew Cimone, Co-Founder