In 2004, Missoula residents Chris and Jeannie Siegler witnessed the mission of the YMCA being put into practice in a very real way in Sierra Leone. Former Peace Corps volunteers, the Sieglers were back in West Africa on vacation when they stumbled upon a Y in Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown. The Sieglers discovered this Y providing vocational education and training for youths so that they could support themselves and help to rebuild their country, ravaged during 12 years of civil war.
Recognizing the Missoula YMCA could help, Chris Siegler—a Missoula Y board member—brought the cause home.
The Missoula Family YMCA began sending money and supplies to the Sierra Leone YMCA to help support its youth vocational training programs. Through the fundraising efforts of Missoula YMCA, Montanans in 2009 already donated more than $56,000 to the Sierra Leone Y in Freetown. The Missoula Y is hoping to raise another $30,000 to build a Y in the town of Makeni, located about 110 miles east/northeast of coastal Freetown.
“The program is all about empowerment,” Siegler says. “More than 65 percent of the population of Sierra Leone is under 18 years old and many without parents. Most young adults between the ages of 18 to 28 were denied an education during the civil war and the majority of the older generation was killed during the conflict. Now, it’s about helping this whole generation take back control of their lives and their communities.”
The Sierra Leone vocational programs include bookkeeping, economics, English language studies, computer studies, business calculation, office practice, brick laying, agriculture, tailoring and carpentry. Twenty to 30 young adults a year attend the YMCA Technical and Trade Training Center. Once they graduate, the students must either donate money back to the school or train someone else with their skills.
The next stage of fundraising will go to finance a new Sierra Leone YMCA in Makeni as well as to support the Freetown Y’s school with additional staff and updated equipment. The Makeni YMCA received its official YMCA designation in September 2009—with members of the Missoula YMCA International Committee in attendance.
The efforts of Missoula YMCA—joined by YUSA, which comprises donations from Ys all over the U.S.—has helped the Sierra Leone YMCA beyond its vocational school. The Y leaders in Freetown used some of those grant funds to renovate a hostel into a facility that not only provides temporary housing but also generates revenues that then help the Y expand its sports, recreation and employment programs. The Sierra Leone Y now reaches more than 10,000 disadvantaged youths.
“We don’t tell Sierra Leone how to use the donation money,” Siegler says. “Their YMCAs already know and have programs in place with proven results. The Sierra Leone YMCA has done a fantastic job of creating programs that empower young people. We can easily translate their experience into programs we provide for youth at our own YMCA.”
In 2009, Christian Kamara, CEO of the Sierra Leone YMCA, visited Missoula to share the progress the YMCA has made in his country. And in September 2009, International Committee members Chris Siegler and Rick Wishcamper and CEO David Ports traveled to Sierra Leone to see the progress, including the Makeni facility. You can read all about their adventures on their blog at http://missoulaymca.wordpress.com.
The YMCA is one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world, serving more than 45 million people in 120 countries. Because of its size, strength and long history of contribution, the YMCA of the USA is well positioned to make a significant, positive impact on the human condition globally. The YMCA World Service raises awareness of and financial support for the powerful work of the global Y movement. As part of the Y of the USA International Group, YMCA World Service raises and distributes more than $1 million annually to help fund programs that are critical to the development of Ys around the world.