Today on GoAbroad, we feature a guest post from Charlie Habershon, the director and co-founder of The Collective, a not-for-profit organization placing and supporting talented and enthusiastic volunteers in challenging projects around Sierra Leone. As well as sharing his own experience in Sierra Leone, Charlie discusses how The Collective offers volunteers a meaningful way to foster valuable partnerships for the development of Sierra Leone.
In 2006, as a young university student, I traveled to Sierra Leone on a journey that would have a profound influence on my future.
Sierra Leone, or 'Sweet Salone' as it is known to locals, is not somewhere on most travelers’ radars. In fact, it is usually met with raised eyebrows, looks of concern and questions like: ‘Is it safe?’ and ‘Is there not a war on?’
When I touched down, it certainly was not danger that I was met with. In fact, it was the welcome that I received from everyone that really stayed with me. The country is still recovering from a brutal civil war. But as they say in Sierra Leone ‘The war gon gon, peace don come’. No one wants a repeat of the fighting that occurred and it was the people’s ability for forgiveness that was so striking. Everyone you talk to was in some way affected by the war, some even suffered at the hands of their neighbor and yet now they live side by side ready to move on and assist with the development of the country.
It was not only the people that left me with a lasting impact. Sierra Leone has a wealth of beautiful beaches that rival anywhere in the world, pristine and uncrowded. The country also has vast rainforests and a huge array of wildlife including chimpanzees, pigmy hippo and exotic birds. Not to mention the fact I could wander through the city center with minimum hassle-- sadly a rarity in many capital cities.
The trip really got me thinking about people’s perceptions of the country. It was a place that I felt everyone should visit. I was interested in raising the country's profile and challenging its stereotype of a country still fraught with danger. This was combined with a desire to help the development of the country. By bringing skilled volunteers to the country, I felt that I could achieve these two aims.
With these aims in mind I set up The Collective – Sierra Leone, a not-for-profit volunteer organization working with the people of Sierra Leone. My long-term aim, as mentioned, is to bring more people to the country, to see for themselves its beauty and to understand its history and promising future.
I have been lucky to find two partners in the Craig Bellamy Foundation and Street Child of Sierra Leone. Together we provide project management opportunities for volunteers either looking to get into International Development or wanting to gain transferable skills that will prepare them for the workplace.
An example of one of our placements is that of consultant for the Craig Bellamy League in Sierra Leone. In the past three years the under-12 and under-14 soccer league has seen solid growth. It is unique in its set-up; points are not just gained for results but also for school attendance, fair play and participation in community projects. Like much of Africa, young people in Sierra Leone live and breathe soccer, and the league is utilizing this passion for the development of the country.
Volunteers are responsible for taking a lead on the development of the team’s PR and marketing strategy, supporting and training local staff as well as establishing networks to identify potential partnership opportunities. There is also chance to train with the team and travel to games on weekends against other volunteers teams, a real life ‘fantasy soccer’. Placements are three months long and volunteers live with other graduates and have opportunities to travel around the country.
The Collective is always on the lookout for talented and enthusiastic volunteers who want to be pushed in their roles, personally develop and make a measurable impact in their community. If you want to visit this unique destination and fit the description above then this could be the placement for you!
Check out all the ways you can volunteer in Sierra Leone on GoAbroad.com!