Australia celebrates Sierra Leone Independence in grand style
Sierra Leoneans in New South Wales (NSW) in Australia have once more hit the headlines with another grand-style celebration of their country’s Independence from British colonial rule. For the past few years, those Independence celebrations had only been characterized by pomp and pageantry but, this year, the Sierra Leone Community Council (SLCC) in Sydney, which is the authoritative body representing the various Sierra Leone community organizations in NSW, decided that Sierra Leone at 51 years after Independence should now advance from ceremonial splendor to a more concrete and informative session for this year’s Independence celebrations.
It all began with a community conference on the 26 April 2012, the eve of Sierra Leone’s 51st Independence anniversary. This occasion, which drew a large gathering of Sierra Leoneans and non-Sierra Leoneans at the Auburn Centre for Community, Auburn, was graced by important personalities in the Australian government as well as professors from universities in Sydney and other dignitaries.
Declaring the conference open, Mr. Sonny Edmondson-Cole, the chairman of the SLCC, gave respect to the traditional owners of the land and then spoke about the challenges that the SLCC had surmounted so far and the challenges that lay ahead. He said Sierra Leoneans should at this time put all their differences aside and work towards a common goal – to develop Sierra Leone after a destructive war that has reversed the country’s forward-steps. Mr. Edmondson-Cole paid tribute to the tireless effort of his executive and community leaders for their support in making the Independence celebrations an imposing success.
Mr. Victor Dominello, Minister for Citizenship and Communities and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, in his address at the conference spoke about how good it is for people to celebrate what they believe in and assured Sierra Leoneans in Australia that Australia, which is now their home, is always ready to support them in any progressive moves that they take as long as they remain unified and resilient.
The Member of Parliament for Auburn and Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services, Mrs. Barbara Perry, said in her speech that Sierra Leoneans are such a vibrant and hardworking group of people and that she was always ready to cooperate with them. She encouraged Sierra Leoneans to continue with their effervescent spirit and to foster unity among themselves.
Professor Raja Jayaraman, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Western Sydney, who was the keynote speaker for that first day of the two-day conference, said he was Indian but deep inside he was African. He said he had been to Africa and knew how warm-hearted and persevering the people are. He stressed on the need for unity and love and dilated on the advantages of unity among any community group, especially an emerging community like Sierra Leoneans, in a vast and flourishing country like Australia.
Another eminent speaker at the Independence conference was Professor Margaret Vickers, an Associate Professor with extensive experience in qualitative research at the University of Western Sydney (UWS). She spoke and did a presentation about the pathways that are open to refugees to pursue tertiary education in Australian institutions. She was assisted by Sarah Kallon, a young Sierra Leonean student at UWS, who was collaborating with the Professor to work on a project regarding students from a refugee background.
Mr. Mohamed Dukuly, a project worker at the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), did a power-point presentation on the impact of refugee experience. The presentation took an inter-active turn as it progressed.
Ms. Tia Roko, Executive Officer of the Auburn Diversity Services and chairperson of the Board of Management of Settlement Services International (SSI), closed the day with a brilliant wake-up-call speech about leadership and governance challenges for multicultural communities. She said in a multicultural society, the challenges may be numerous but are always surmountable with determination and belief in oneself.
The second day of the conference was characterized by informative power-point presentations by various leaders of community organisations like Mr. Sajor Bah of the Bantal Pula Association, Mr. Murray Kanneh of Sierra Unite Inc., Mrs. Beatrice Sesay-Barrie of the Sierra Leone Women’s Wanword Association, Dr. Serrie Kamara and Mr. Raymond Bangura of the Refugee Support Group and the Sierra Leone Funeral Committee respectively.
A special mention should be made of Mr. Aiah Thomas, an eloquent and energetic community leader, who came all the way from Queensland State to attend the conference. Mr. Aiah Thomas spoke about the strong need for a Federation of Sierra Leone Community Council in Australia through which various organizations in the various states of Australia would coordinate their efforts and aspirations for available advantages. He said the Federation Council will be a national representative body for all Sierra Leoneans in Australia, irrespective of the area of residence. Various people I spoke to said a federation will be a brilliant venture if handled properly and that, among other things, it will enable Sierra Leoneans to connect with one another inter-state. Through that, Sierra Leoneans will be able to do things in a collective spirit for the betterment of the community and Sierra Leone.
Before the presentations on the second day, Sierra Leone’s new Consul General and Trade Commissioner in Australia, Mr. Aron Wakil, thanked Sierra Leoneans for their effort to adjust and integrate in the Australian society, just as he also did when he came as an immigrant, and urged Sierra Leoneans not to relent in their pursuit of profitable goals for themselves and their country Sierra Leone. Mr. Wakil said the government of Sierra Leone has appointed him to advance the interests of Sierra Leone and its people and that he will do that in two ways: one, by improving, strengthening and elevating the bilateral relations between Australia and Sierra Leone; two, to “prompt, encourage and increase trade and investments in Sierra Leone by Australian individuals and companies,” he said. He went on that Sierra Leone at present has only two Australian companies with major investments and that it is his determination to increase this number. Mr. Aron Wakil thanked Sierra Leoneans in Australia for persistently asking their government for the appointment of a Consul and advised that with unity among all, Sierra Leoneans in Australia will make a bigger positive impact on the lives of the people in Sierra Leone.
Before I conclude this report, I will not forget to mention that the Independence celebrations began with a social function mounted by a vibrant women’s group known as the Canterbury/Bankstown Sierra Leone Women’s Network, which organized a talent and cultural show to depict the colourful culture of Sierra Leone and the fired-up talent of its youth. This programme, which was more or less a prelude to the mammoth celebration organized by the SLCC, took place on 21 April 2012 at Croydon Park.
Before the close of the conference, special mention was made of the Organising Committee of the Sierra Leone Community Council (SLCC) whose efforts and expertise gave the conference the required majesty. That Organising Committee comprised of Messrs Yusufu Kamara, Amadu Bah, George Kpakima, Mrs. Beatrice Sesay-Barrie, and Miss Adama Kamara, whose tireless effort to get funding for the programme was tremendous and appreciable.
The whole programme was proudly funded and supported by the Auburn City Council, Friends of STARTTS, and the Auburn Diversity Services Inc. The SLCC executive and members give those sponsors and supporters maximum respect and hope that the relationship will go from strength to strength. I will not forget to doff my hat with a bag of respect to the erudite MC for the two days of conference, Mr. Edison Yongai, who is also the convener of the Sierra Leone Radio Sydney (SLRS). He surely did a remarkable job.
Well, it is said that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Therefore, after the two days of conference, there was the Independence Dinner and Dance on Saturday 28 April 2012 at the Cabravale Diggers Club in Cabramatta. There were cultural performances, mask dancers, etc. Opinion polls have confirmed that it was one of the most, if not the most, entertaining atmospheres ever experienced by Sierra Leoneans in Sydney for a long time. The executive of the SLCC have confirmed that next year’s Sierra Leone Independence celebrations in Sydney will be a masterpiece, God willing.
By Tony Bee, Sydney, Australia
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