First school opens in bishop's home village

Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu helped usher in the first primary school in his home village.

The $43,000 project includes three classrooms, an office, two four-compartment toilets and a water well that will provide safe drinking water for the community. The Sierra Leone Conference’s Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development program provided the funds to build the Sayllu village school.

Long before the adults came for the April 18 dedication service, a large, excited group of children and teenagers dressed in their best attire crowded around the school, which sits on a small hill about half a kilometer from the village. They were there to witness the dedication of the school they hoped to attend soon.

The adults were as excited as the children because they realized that the occasion was historic since The United Methodist Church primary school was going to bring education to their doorsteps. Before, children would have to travel and stay in far-away communities with extended family or guardians they didn’t know to attend school. Some girls ended up getting pregnant, Yambasu said.

He said he was among the lucky ones: His elder brother who lived in town took him away from the village and cared for his primary education.

The dedication was an emotional moment for Yambasu who had invited all of his staff to witness the occasion.

“I am particularly glad today because I have often spoken about Sayllu, my village ... There was always a huge cost in sending one’s child from the remote village that Sayllu was to be educated elsewhere. Guardians in cities like Bo often exploited parents who would send their children to stay with them and attend school. I only made it because of the grace of God,” he said.

Yambasu shared his story of growing up poor in Africa when he addressed the 2016 General Conference during morning worship in Portland, Oregon. He said he feels very humbled about his background and has often encouraged others who feel socially deprived to believe in the power of God.

Victor Masssaquoi, chairman of the Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development board, pledged to provide the funds for 20 children to attend the school when it opens in September, which is the beginning of the school year in Sierra Leone. He prayed that the many children now growing up in the village will attend the new school and become ministers and bishops in the future.

Sayllu has a growing population of about 1,000, with children accounting for more than one third of that number. The rugged motorway to Sayllu was constructed in 2017. Before that, residents and visitors to the village would have to walk a minimum of seven miles from the nearest village.

“It was only in April last year that the first vehicle ever arrived in Sayllu. (The) Rev Aske of Norway was the first white man to reach Sayllu. And the children were holding his hand, rubbing it and looking back into their palm to see if any marks would be left from the white man’s touch. All because they’d never seen or felt the touch of a white man before,” Yambasu told his staff before the dedication.

The conference’s education secretary, Leonard Ben Gbloh, said he was thankful that the bishop always remembered his roots and the needs of his community.

He encouraged parents to send their children to be educated in the new school instead of sending them to work on farms. He said the children would become prominent people in the country if they went to school and became educated. That, he said, would make the bishop a happy and fulfilled man.

Yambasu agreed, telling the crowd that the opportunity is in their hands.

“We are appealing to you to send your children to this school. They, unlike our brothers in the past who would have to walk for long distances, will be attending school here in the village. In those days, we used to carry goods on our heads from this village for long distances to sell in faraway places. That will no longer be the case for your children. There is a motorway here and there is a school here in the village,” he said.

“The opportunity is right here. This opportunity is in your hands. … When you have an educated person in your village, they bring respect, pride and dignity to the community.”

Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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