It’s a country that is the size of South Carolina. It has beaches with sunsets that will melt your heart. It also has some of the highest rainfalls in the world, and it barely survived a brutal 11-year civil war that was ignited by the blood diamond crisis. The post- war facts about Sierra Leone are not easy to digest. Sierra Leone is a country that is the second lowest ranked country on the Human Development Index, has the lowest life expectancy at under 45 years of age, ranks last in healthcare globally, and the average GDP is a mere $400, which makes it the 7th poorest country. Due to the horrendous civil war, it has minimal infrastructure (if any in many regions), 1/3 of the population has been displaced into slums, and tens of thousands of children are recovering from having been abducted and forced into battle.
Despite encountering countless tragedies, the people of Sierra Leone are filled with resilience and genuine hope. With peace in their country, if there is one thing the people of this country can agree on, it’s that they are ready to take their optimistic attitudes and appreciation for peace and use them proactively and resourcefully to transform their struggling communities into thriving, sustainable regions. It was this unrelenting positive nature that also captured producer Tiffany Persons’s and filmmaker Rebecca Chaiklin's attention when they traveled through Sierra Leone in 2006 filming separate documentary's. From the school children who were determined and excited to attend school despite the lack of running water or even a roof over their classrooms to the adults who wanted nothing more than an opportunity to work and establish a better life for themselves and their families, Tiffany and Rebeca knew that there was something truly special about the people and communities that they were meeting.
This is their story. This is our mission..
“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible."
"In 2006, I was in Sierra Leone filming a documentary. I lived in the rural diamond mining village of Kono for three months. Diamond miners earn $1.33 US dollars and a cup of rice - totally insufficient for them to care for themselves and their families. The village’s school, known as the Muddy Lotus School, was a dilapidated and a roofless building that housed 416 students. Torrential rains were pouring into the classrooms, there were nowhere near enough seats for all the students, and then there was the fact that some students hadn’t eaten in over two days. Yet these children were fully engaged in their teacher’s lessons, their hands outstretched in eager anticipation of being called upon. I had never in my life seen a thirst for knowledge like this or this joy for simply being alive.
So I raised US$6,000 and completely rehabilitated the school (based on the needs given to me by the teachers and the village chief) with a new roof, cemented floors, iron doors, all new benches, and fresh paint for all interiors and exteriors. At the end, we had a school. The men, women and children of the village spilled into the streets laughing, singing, and dancing in gratitude. It was quite simply the best day of my life. And in that very moment, I decided to dedicate my life to making sure that every child in that village received an education. I founded the non-profit organization Shine on Sierra Leone. Since it’s inception, we’ve expanded to more than building schools and are actively behind computer and adult literacy programs, two comprehensive educational programs, a groundbreaking microcredit lending program, the Birthright Healthcare program, and a unique sustainable development and building program using the innovative earthbag method. Shine on Sierra Leone has done all of this thanks to the contributions and time of citizens around the world and sponsors. We are truly an example of paying it forward and how just one kind act begets more kind and productive acts.
Although many may have a scarred impression of Sierra Leone, I see the true Sierra Leone. I think of beautiful beaches, wonderful warm people, and an incredible generation of young people that believe in peace and a new bright future. Which is why Shine On Sierra Leone exists…because we believe that these young people deserve the support and opportunity to rebuild their lives, their country, and the world. We’re hoping you’ll join us on this incredible adventure and see just how spectacular Sierra Leone and our world can be…”