– Feb 09, 2012
War Child’s supporters are vital to our success. Across Canada, we are reliant on them to spread the word, organize events and fundraise in support of our work in war ravaged communities across the world. For the past three years we have had the pleasure of working with a remarkable man, Saa Andrew Gbongbor, whose own personal connection to War Child runs deeper than most.
Saa Andrew immigrated to Canada in 2004 from Sierra Leone. His firsthand experience living with war inspired him to study human rights at St. Thomas University. As a member of many different community groups committed to raising awareness about international issues, Saa Andrew has become an advocate for social change and is a rising leader in his community. War Child is incredibly proud of all that he has accomplished.
In celebration of International Development Week, I wanted to profile Saa Andrew’s amazing story and introduce his annual War Child event, Battle of the Arts to all of our supporters.
Many people know now about Sierra Leone because of the horrific civil war that displaced thousands of people. What are your memories of Sierra Leone before conflict?
My life in Sierra Leone was very normal and stable. I was with my father, while attending primary school. My mother was a community health nurse, working in another village. Everything was fine, and I had never thought of leaving the country. I had never even seen a soldier before, until the day my town was attacked by rebels - soldiers and rebels were all around.
Many of War Child’s programs work with communities living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Here in Canada people have a hard time imagining what daily life in one of these camps is like, could you share what life was like living in an IDP camp?
It is not a good moment to find yourself living a refugee camp. Firstly, you never have the opportunity to eat the kind of food you want. You have no choice but to eat what is available to you. Our diet consisted of bulgur wheat, corn meal and beans. In the refugee camp, there were no homes; we had to sleep under tents given to us by the United Nations. There were over 12 people in a tent and not much privacy. My life in the refugee camp was not the best and I pray that I will never have to live in those conditions again.
Your motivation and drive is incredible. Not only are you an amazing advocate and fundraiser for War Child but you find the time to take on new projects while facing the challenges of settling in to a new country and culture. What were some of the biggest challenges you have faced moving to Canada?
Some of the biggest challenges I faced upon my arrival in Canada was acclimatizing to the weather, sudden change of environment, culture shock, making new friends and finding answers to all of the questions people would ask about my home town. Learning English was also difficult; in order to communicate with other people I have to speak English almost all of the time. There are only two other Sierra Leonean families in my city (Fredericton) and all the other Africans I have met are from other parts of Africa and cannot understand my traditional language. These things continue to be a challenge for me, but I try to overcome them on a daily basis, and with a smile.
Why was going to university important to you? Why did you choose to study human rights?
Going to University was very important to me because I wanted to improve my "self being". I wanted to make use of the opportunities I had to make myself a better and more informed person. I majored in Human Rights and minored in World History. I find these fields of study useful to me in particular because they relate directly to my life struggle and story. I had always wanted to learn about other cultures and learning about Human Rights has helped me do that. I also want to use my studies to help bring awareness around the world, especially to war torn nations, where human rights is not put into practice and in countries where it is abused.
Why did you choose to support War Child?
I decided to support War Child because, I see myself as a child of war. I did not have the chance to enjoy the beauty of my country. In Sierra Leone, there has always been war on many different levels, even before I was born. Terrible things happened in front of me during the ten years of the recent civil war. It is because of these reasons that I wanted to help fundraise and bring as much awareness as I can to promote War Child. My being in Canada is by the grace of God, so I always want to help War Child meet its goals around the world in war torn nations.
How does your love of music help your advocacy work?
My love for music is the main source of my strength. I consider myself a global citizen; a social activist for peace and change. I use my traditional music playing skills to pass on my message – in addition to public speaking, in my community and anywhere else I am needed! I have used my traditional music skills to sing and perform socially conscious tunes. My goal is to inspire change while working with artists from other cultures. I have great love for the arts.
Tell War Child supporters about your project Battle of the Arts, what is your plan for 2012?
"Battle of the Arts" (BOTA) is a dynamic show that I started back in Fredericton in 2010. It’s a show that gives youth the opportunity to showcase their talent on stage in front of an audience. The talents showcased can be from all types of genres and backgrounds but should be something that will help develop the artist, help raise awareness for the cause and put a smile on the face of a War Child. In 2010 I organized Battle of the Arts in Fredericton only. Last year, in 2011, we went all over the province of New Brunswick. I have big plans for 2012; my plan is to take the BOTA across the Maritimes and give youth the opportunity to shine, share their talent to our jury panel and promote War Child’s mission across the East Coast. Our long time vision is to take Battle of the Arts Canada wide, and help promote and raise awareness for War Child.
International development is a subject that is really important to you, why should Canadian care about it?
I want Canada to care about International Development Week because it’s nice to recognize those organizations and individuals who are making a difference all around the world. Canada should care about International Development Week for one simple reason; the world is watching us closely, Canada is a cosmopolitan country. Canada should make International Development week more special and should take it seriously, especially because Canada is one of the top nations in the world.
To learn more about Saa Andrew’s project, Battle of the Arts, visit this website http://www.battleoftherarts.ca.
I was born in Sierra Leone and now live in Edmonton AB, Canada. I just want to say thank you so much for such an amazing story. This stroy brought tears to my eyes, knowing that MY people are still suffering but yet have a positive attitude towards life. Thank for this wonderful story :)
I am impressed. If all this is happening in real world and real life and time, in Uganda, then we are by all accounts, on our way to seriously addressing some of the most critical issues bedeviling sub-regions of Northern Uganda, which was devastated by more than a decade of war and civil strive, leaving many in human need and want.
Continued community education and essential skills training,supported by legal advocacy and action, is an important step forward, towards eradicating such evil in society, in hopes of empowering rural communities, for a more tolerant, cohesive, inclusive, democratic, peaceful, just and fair society.
Such is a surmountable task for one group to accomplice, on their own. Every effort War Child is making in that direction, should be supported by all those who care for the communities living in the sub-regions of Northern Uganda.They should pitch in. whatever support they can garner. So, what sort of sacrifices are you willing to make, to successfully accomplice this noble task? To improve conditions of living and change people's lives for the better! What action can you take now?
Wow, that really sucks. Poor Charles, it must be hard to here that your sister got raped. Luckely he had the training he needed.
Everyday we get closer to a solution!
This is a wonderful initiative, many thanks to those who have done the work to bring this day about!
Well music has always been a relaxing and enjoyable medium to relax in this phase of life. It is the only way by which people of different qualification come together to make something that targets the amusement of the public. So here is the example of something happening for everyone.
Sound Recording Studio
People who live luxuriously at rich counties do not care about the environment or generation of waste. Eventhough the awareness programs are conducted, they wouldn't follow the rules properly. But people in the undeveloped countries use less amount of energy and recycle as much as possible. Due to inadequate facilities, people follow the simple way of life and they save lot of natural resources. Small things can achieve big targets.
Perhaps the time has arrived for more peace talk and less war talk
When will the auction begin on August 8th? What is the link to it?