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Caritas Freetown set to support development collaboration and partnerships in Sierra Leone’s economic revitalization and social advancement

NEW YORK, NY – Caritas Freetown and the Metropolitan Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown in the Republic of Sierra Leone led by His Grace Archbishop Dr. Edward Tamba Charles is poised to expand its partnership in Sierra Leone’s human development efforts through public-private partnership programs collaboration and service integration.

His Grace Dr. Edward Tamba Charles
Metropolitan Archbishop of Freetown

Since his elevation from a senior professorship and rector of St. Paul’s Catholic College and Seminary to Archbishop of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Freetown, His Grace Dr. Edward Tamba Charles not only prioritize the spiritual needs of Catholic and non-Catholic faithful in Sierra Leone, he has also put emphasis on the Church’s support for poverty alleviation; education, workforce development, and training; health care and social assistance, family sustainability,  youth empowerment, community development and transitional assistance for individuals and families experiencing disasters and the loss of employment. 

Over the past years, Caritas Freetown and the Development Office of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Freetown have provided relief assistance and development support to various Sierra Leonean communities directly and/or through partnership and collaboration with other organizations such as the New Jersey, US-based Healey International Relief Foundation (HIRF) which supports poor children and orphans in acquiring education, economic and social support in Sierra Leone.

HIRF Executive Director Ben Parra, Father Konteh, Government Relations Officer Vicki Middleton with U.S. Government’s officials in D.C.

Of late, the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Freetown has been concerned and strategizing about how to help make families and individuals in Sierra Leone food secured and income sustainable as well as in dealing with the needs and desperation of unemployed and unskilled young people who risk their lives to venture into illegal migration to western countries as reported frequently by the international media when young sub-Sahara Africans risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea while seeking to enter Europe through Libya.

Under the leadership and inspiration of Archbishop Dr. Charles, the Reverend Father Peter Alpha Konteh, executive director of Caritas Freetown, vice chairman of Caritas Africa and executive director of the Metropolitan Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown’s Development Office paid a month-long visit to the United States to pursue partnerships and collaborations efforts that would develop and support several initiatives in Sierra Leone.

During his visit, Father Konteh met and held discussions with several institutions and organizations, businesses, families, and individuals regarding job creation, community development, workforce development and training, education, healthcare, and social assistance.

Father Konteh said the goal of his trip and meetings is to pursue the vision that His Grace Archbishop Dr. Charles set forth: Ensuring that the Church is a partner to the larger Sierra Leonean society and its various communities   This means the Church will partner with various communities and institutions including the Sierra Leonean Government to ensure that Sierra Leone is a peaceful, better and harmonious country where everyone is food secured, has access to a job and income and healthcare and where young people can harness their skills through education, training, and workforce development.

While in Washington, D.C., Father Konteh met with some members of the U.S. Congress including Congressman Christopher H. Smith who represents the 20th Congressional district in the state of New Jersey to discuss a variety of development issues including illegal migration and job creation.  

He appealed for U.S. government and organizations’ support to Sierra Leone to facilitate job creation, workforce development, and training as well as support investments in science, engineering, agricultural-food production, and small scale manufacturing.  He said Caritas Freetown is prepared and willing to forge a public-private partnership with the present Government of Sierra Leone led by His Excellency President (Retired General) Julius Maada Bio to expand capital investments and innovation in tourism, workforce development, and training, education, access to healthcare and social assistance as well as early childhood education.

Center: His Excellency Retired General Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone

Since his inauguration as president of Sierra Leone, Retired General Maada Bio has embarked on initiatives that have placed Sierra Leone on the path to social and economic prosperity. His administration is prioritizing technology and ensuring that the country is business-friendly, peaceful, transparent, and accountable.

Father Konteh said under the leadership of His Grace Archbishop Charles, Caritas Freetown has remained a reliable partner to various Sierra Leonean communities in the areas of disaster relief, community development, education, and healthcare. 

 “We want to take this support and vision at the national and more institutionalized level by partnering with various government service delivery institutions to help the most vulnerable people and families of the country,” he added.

Adding, “We are embarking an assessment to establish a Catholic healthcare network to coordinate healthcare and medical services provided and supported by the Church to all Sierra Leonean communities. Thanks to the leadership and vision of His Grace Dr. Charles, the Archbishop.”

Father Konteh visited and met with few Labor Department offices in the United States, including the state of Maryland’s Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics programs.  In Maryland, he held talks with Jones Nhinson Williams regarding innovation as well as business and industry collaboration and how Caritas Freetown could explore new models for collaboration with businesses and industry in Sierra Leone, and with the Sierra Leonean government so as to facilitate job creation and workforce development.

Jones Nhinson Williams
Job creation and institutional development policy professional

Williams, who heads the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Maryland, encouraged Father Konteh to develop a Caritas Freetown Workforce Development and Training Program as a public-private partnership that would work with companies in Sierra Leone and the government of Sierra Leone to develop cutting-edge training program activities that would actively contribute to growing a Sierra Leonean workforce that is knowledgeable about the latest industry trends and new technologies.

With such a program, Williams added, “Caritas Freetown in partnership with the government of Sierra Leone will provide an interconnected set of solutions to meet employers and employment needs. This can include changes to subcultures, changes to attitudes, and changes to people’s potential that help to influence a business’ future success,” he added.

Father Konteh’s meeting with Williams and his team underlined the need to prioritize job creation, training, and workforce development as well as industry innovation. The training will be a short-term learning process for new employees in which they get to know about the key skills required for a job, and will focus on developing skills and knowledge for the currently available jobs in the country. The program will aim to:

1.     Address the demands of businesses in Sierra Leone by focusing intensively on the workforce needs of specific industry sectors over a sustained period.

2.     Address the needs of workers by creating formal career paths to good jobs, reducing barriers to employment, and sustaining or growing middle-class jobs. 

3.     Encourage mobility for Sierra Leone’s most hard-to-serve job seekers through job readiness training which may include reading and math preparation, occupational skills development, literacy advancement, practical-hands on learning, transportation, and childcare components.

Father Konteh also met with Capacitybay, a workforce development nonprofit organization in the state of Maryland to develop a partnership for workforce training in information technology for interested Sierra Leoneans, especially young people.

Capacitybay www.capacitybay.org is a workforce development exchange with a vision not only to prepare and create information technology jobs and careers for people in transition and poverty but to facilitate economic and social opportunities for them and their families.  Over the past years, the organization has been building the capacity of U.S. Veterans seeking civilian career opportunities, transitioning service members, New Americans, immigrants, refugees as well as others living in areas of substantial unemployment and technology deprived communities such as sub-Sahara Africa and other parts of the world.

Through the potential partnership, Capacitybay and Caritas Freetown will initiate a pilot project by January 2020 to begin training young Sierra Leoneans in Linux engineering, big data, Amazon AWS, and various computer applications.  The training will be conducted through an eLearning process.   All the trainees will need is are laptop computers and access to the internet, and they will be able to participate in the training from anywhere, including their homes.  The objective is to produce certified graduates who will have the skills, abilities, and competence to secure employment internationally and locally as well as work with major corporations while living in Sierra Leone. Upon completion of the training, completers will sit an internationally recognized and acceptable exam for Linux and other IT certifications, ensuring that they would be job-ready and marketable anywhere in the world.

TechSpires’ CEO Smart Nwachukwu

Father Konteh also had potential partnership discussions with other U.S. based organizations including TechSpires www.techspires.org, a workforce Development & IT Solutions organization.  TechSpires trains and promotes professional growth among unemployed and unskilled young adults, mainly high school students.  It is a potential affiliate and offshoot of K-12, a virtual learning academy and free online school throughout the United States. 

K12 Inc. is a for-profit education company that sells online schooling and curricula. K12 is also an education management organization that provides online education designed as an alternative to traditional “brick and mortar” education for public school students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Unlike K-12, TechSpires seeks to prepare high school students for international and national exams as well as college admissions worldwide while also providing online education in all subjects to students from primary to secondary school levels.  Caritas Freetown and TechSpires will partner and collaborate in launching the program in Sierra Leone by early 2020.

Father Konteh also had discussions regarding the establishment of an Increasing Access to Healthcare Project in Sierra Leone. The project will bring about 25 physicians and 25 allied healthcare professionals to Sierra Leone through a partnership between Caritas Freetown and Capacitybay Healthcare Initiative [www.capabayhealth.org] as well as the Capabay Healthcare Staffing Agency based in Nigeria.

Dr. Umetinahme Juliet Iguoba, MD
Medical Director, CBHI

The doctors and allied healthcare professionals (clinical social workers, therapists, and others) will be assigned to various hospitals and clinics throughout Sierra Leonean as well as with some community public health centers as a way of supplementing physician shortages in the country as well as increase the ratio of doctor to patients.  

Apart from providing medical care and related services, the physicians will also help provide hands-on training to local health professionals and community health workers in the country.   The project will seek out the provision of medical equipment and material to local healthcare centers and is expected to establish a partnership with the Sierra Leonean government as a public-private partnership.

At the end of September this year, Father Konteh is also expecting a delegation in Sierra Leone from Capacitybay Healthcare initiative (CBHI) [www.capacitybayhealth.org] The delegation will be headed by Dr. Umetinahme Juliet Iguoba, a Nigerian female physician who serves the organization as a medical director.  

While in Sierra Leone, Dr. Iguoba and team are expected to meet with His Grace Archbishop Dr. Edward Tamba Charles, representatives of the soon to be Catholic health network, officials of the Ministry of Health and some medical institutions and senior officials and representatives from the Office of the President of Sierra Leone.  Others include officials of the Mano River Union Secretariat, UNICEF and WHO, and UNDP.

Father Konteh also held a partnership discussion with the Global Agricultural Development Consulting Group based in Virginia to assist small scale Sierra Leonean farmers with methods and technical support in agricultural-food production.  Through this partnership, Caritas Freetown will also collaborate with the Ministry of Agriculture in Sierra Leone to encourage, train and support families and young Sierra Leoneans become agricultural entrepreneurs and innovators so that consumers in Sierra Leone and abroad can reap the benefits from advance food production capabilities.

According to Father Konteh, agriculture plays a valuable role in our everyday lives by not only providing Sierra Leoneans with food but also by maintaining a strong economy. He said the proposed Caritas Freetown Agriculture Capacity building project would help farmers to become extremely efficient and take advantage of newer technologies. As a result, they will be able to produce a wider variety of crops and produce them more efficiently.

Father Konteh also met and held discussions in Washington, D.C. with Ms. Michele Sumilas Managing Director – Bread for the World, Genevieve Mougey, Senior Associate for Roman Catholic Engagement, and Dr. Terry Rees Executive Director of the Order of St. John Paul II (the Order).   

The Order is a canonically recognized lay association of the Catholic faithful that provides technical, financial, and construction support for infrastructure improvements in the poorest communities throughout the world. The organization is presently focused on interventions on the African continent.  They have chosen Sierra Leone in West Africa, as their first hub on the African continent, but it will not be our last. Their programs are designed to be transferrable to other areas.

Father Konteh who concluded his visit with a Eucharistic celebration at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church, leaves for Freetown, Sierra Leone on Thursday, September 5 and is expected to arrive by Saturday, September 8, 2019.

Map of Africa – Sierra Leone is located in West Africa
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Ben Mabande

Ben Mabande is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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