NSW north coast schools meet Sierra Leone Youth Group
In December 2003, 16 members of the Sierra Leone Youth Group from Sydney visited the north coast of NSW to share their culture and experiences with school students. The group, ranging from 14 to 25 years of age, are either studying or working in Sydney. After escaping civil war in Sierra Leone many of the group spent time in refugee camps in Africa. They all came to Australia as refugees.
The Sierra Leone Youth Group was hosted by local families who accompanied them to Evans River Community School, Wardell Public School, Wollumbin High School and Murwillumbah Public School. The visits were an overwhelming success with warm welcomes from each of the school communities. The group performed traditional dances and songs, spoke to the students about Sierra Leone, shared their (often distressing) family stories, answered questions, rap danced and sang, and played soccer!
The NSW Department of Education and Training Community Information Officer for the North Coast Region organised the tour.
"I met the group when I was down in Sydney for training, they formed up to maintain their Sierra Leonean culture and I saw an excellent opportunity for our schools to get to know about other cultures," she said.
"It has really done that and it's also been an excellent opportunity for the Sierra Leone students to learn about the north coast".
"They are Australian residents, some have been here for 14 years but they all came from Sierra Leone through the civil war".
"To understand the struggle that some countries go through, that some of our population goes through, just to understand, for some people in this world, that survival is an everyday issue and it's also important that even with survival being an issue they come up smiling every day and make the most of every day".
"They have seen a lot of things that would horrify us here on the north coast."
A 21 year old student member of the group said the visit was educational.
"The school system in Sierra Leone is very different, only the rich kids were allowed to go to school because of the war. Children have missed 10 years of educational life living in camps and just fleeing from death," she said.
"We organised this Sierra Leone youth group to come together three years ago. We wanted to get back into the same communal lifestyle as in Sierra Leone so we decided to organise a cultural group, a sporting group and an educational group".
"Since then we have achieved a lot, we have organised an African-Australian Nation's Cup, it's a soccer competition. We have organised the Day of the African Child, which is celebrated across Africa so we decided to do it here as well and make it a yearly event."
A 20 year old said some of the group had amazing stories to tell.
"It's amazing what these guys have been through. I call these guys my heroes, they have seen these things and they went through it for seven or eight years. The war started in 1991 and finished in 2001".
"Culturally, counselling is not what we do, this youth group is doing something fun, it's like counselling. I think it's important because we need to continue our traditions and our values. We have got such a deep culture and it's so easy to be lost. It gives us a sense of identity".
"It's a two-way thing, first of all schools get to learn a bit about our culture and we get to see a bit of Australia. We were giving autographs, they thought we were superstars, it's amazing!"
One of the Wollumbin High School students commented,
"The visit gave our students the opportunity to broaden our world knowledge in a real way and to gain a greater understanding of the challenges that other people face on a daily basis."
The Sierra Leone Youth Group plans to return to the north coast in 2004.