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I am up for school. Stand up and be counted!

I am up for school. Stand up and be counted!

It is almost 9 months now since my colleague students and pupils in Sierra Leone have not darkened the walls of the classroom. The reason is because of an academic embargo that was instituted since mid last year to mitigate the risk of the spread of Ebola on the vulnerable student population. In February 2015, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone did announce publicly that all schools will be reopened by end of March 2015. A Steering Committee had been established already to ensure the successful realization of this policy statement. But ironically however, at the genesis of the very deciding month in which this fundamental objective is to be realized, we have witnessed some few distractions setting in on the nation of Sierra Leone. Chief among is the recent decision to expel the Vice President from the ruling APC party.

Certainly, the impact that such a decision might bring on the Ebola campaign could be unknown but what is apparently clear is the fact that such a decision appears to be succeeding in redirecting energies and minds away from the much needed issues at hand which are; the elimination of the Ebola virus and the reopening of schools in the country by end of March 2015. As an international human rights lawyer and moreso a beneficiary of the investments of education, I am embolden to write out this article albeit to make a strong case for an unhindered attention and commitment towards the reopening of schools this month and the ultimate eradication of the Ebola virus in the country. This piece is directed not only to the government authorities but also to parents and colleague students in the Republic of Sierra Leone.

To the political leadership in Sierra Leone

Your Excellency, permit me to write you this admonition in the capacity of your son, an admirer, a patriot and as one of your electorates that voted you twice into office. Without any iota of doubt, a great deal of efforts and leadership has been demonstrated by you and your government towards the fight against the Ebola virus since its outbreak. And admittedly so, a good number of successes have been scored. However, within the last four weeks, it appears as though the government’s focus and energies are becoming misplaced and mis-prioritized. And at a time when sustainable effort and commitment is needed to win the fight against Ebola and ensure the successful reopening of schools, it is suicidal at the very least.

Your Excellency, the people of Sierra Leone believed in your capabilities and potentials and that was why they overwhelmingly voted you twice into office. Your election into presidency made history as you secured votes even in the most contested opposition regions and strongholds. God allowed that to happen for good reasons and you must not fail us now. Our expectations are high and you must deliver on the social contract we have entered with you starting with the reopening of schools this month and the speedy eradication of the Ebola virus in the country. Our close door Ebola neighbours are getting there already. In Liberia for instance, businesses are taking off again, the affected cases have reduced to single digits and we are hearing news of the last of Ebola patients being discharged. Schools have also reopened, the state of public emergency has been lifted up and border sanctions suspended. All these have happened because of unity of purpose, commitment and concerted efforts by the political leadership in the fight against the Ebola disease.

Your Excellency, you will agree with me that Sierra Leone was almost getting there as well but save for the recent distractions we allowed to set in on the nation. It is time for the political leadership to up their game and redirect the nation’s focus back on the Ebola fight. It is time to galvanize the entire nation’s effort towards the attainment of zero infection cases this month and the ultimate realisation of the back to school policy agenda. It is no time to entertain distractions and lose focus on the goal. There is a sacred course at hand and everything else must wait. You must finish the race; deliver on the social contract and end strong on the last two years of your tenure. We want to dance the victory dance, sing you praise songs and talk of your good leadership attributes down history lane.

I am quite sure that you are aware of the myriad of awards which awaits political leaders that help transform their nations, rule well, respect fundamental human rights and adhere to democratic tenets and constitutional injunctions during their tenure of office. The former president of Namibia, Pohamba, has just bagged the 2014 Mo Ibrahim Leadership Awards (5 million dollars) and he is set to be enjoying 200,000 dollars every year for life. It simply came to him because he helped transformed his nation, respected fundamental human rights and upheld democratic values during his leadership term in office. That’s all he did. Nothing extra-ordinary at all.

Just to emphasize and in case your Excellency may not know it, you are one of the potential candidates that is currently being assessed for many leadership awards but only if you can sustain the gains and end your tenure well. You have a golden opportunity in your hands right at this moment. Ebola has brought Sierra Leone on the spotlight and with a successful eradication of the virus and a return of school and effective business operations in the country; this will surely score you high points in the African leadership ratings the world over.

We have exactly 20 days left towards the deadline you set for the reopening of schools. It is perhaps the right time for effective leadership to be shown more than ever before. Stakeholders must engage on inspection tours to schools and university buildings and make public the disinfection process and cleaning exercise. Lecturers and teachers must be motivated to go back to school and teach. Confidence building and assurance must be given to Parents to send their children to school by end of month. The print and electronic media must be fully utilized to win hearts and minds. Students must be fully engaged to understand that an academic embargo though prudent at the time must now be lifted since the long term implications of not opening schools could be as equal or more damaging in effect than   Ebola itself. Among other things, it will lead to an increase in drop outs, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, violence, crime rate, prostitution and robbery in the society. This message must be made clear and emphasized to all students. The probative value of reopening schools far outweighs the prejudicial effects of allowing students stay at home.

Your Excellency, as I come to a close, let me also emphasize that you have really done well in the fight against the Ebola virus. But equally true is the fact that, there may still be room for improvement. And until Sierra Leone is declared free of Ebola, the struggle continues. No distractions, no wavering and no faltering should be entertained. At the very least, a progressive realisation of the reopening of schools starting with the Universities must be effected this month if a comprehensive approach seems impracticable.

To all the parents in Sierra Leone

My appeal to every parent in Sierra Leone will be centered on the response my mother gave to me recently when I asked her whether she will allow her children to attend school at the end of this month despite the Ebola. This was her response:

‘’I know it is risky but it is a risk that is worth taking because education is critical for their future. After all, it is God that protects. They could as well be infected with the virus even when they stay at home, or go to play around the neighborhood, or go to fetch water in the public tap, or buy food from the market place or go to take private lessons. But I thank God who has always protected them. I will believe God also for their protection in the school’’.

Surprising to hear perhaps, my mother is an illiterate. She never went to school. In her days, education was never a right for girls. It was a luxury that was only reserved for ‘the boys’.  But notwithstanding however, I am always left astonished at her logical response and reasoning. I will therefore premise my appeal to all parents in Sierra Leone in line with my mother’s response.

No doubt, it could be out of a sincere and genuine concern why some of you are hesitant to sending your children to school during this Ebola period. It is understandable. But the question I may want to ask all parents who harbor this fears is this: Why school? Why not another place? Why are you so confident and relaxed when you send the same children to other places such as churches or mosques? or the market place? or to play around in the neighborhood, or fetch water in street taps or even attend private lessons with other children? Why must you only become apprehensive of their safety when the issue of school is being mentioned?

Well, I will suggest to you the reason. You see, the place of school is a place of knowledge, power and light. When these three things are effectively transmitted, an individual will become empowered and transformed along with his society. No nation can ever develop beyond the educational capacity and enlightenment of its citizens. This is why Sierra Leone with all of her natural resources is still being ranked as one of the poorest nations of the world. About 70% of our population still remains illiterate. And until we overcome this scourge, we may still continue to waggle down the abyss. We have a development concern before us and we must all put our hands on deck to change the statuquo. Our actions and resolve must begin in this very month.

Have faith. Believe God. Be positive and send your children to school at the end of March 2015. Remember, education is an empowerment right! Do not be an accomplice to teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, drop – out and criminal activities in the society by pampering your children to sit idly at home. Rise up, dress your children well, teach them the precautions and demand the government to ensure safe schools so that your kids can go to school and learn in a safe academic environment despite the Ebola. This is what parents in Liberia are currently doing irrespective of the Ebola situation. Delaying your children from completing their education on time will actually militate against your longtime retirement interests. By the time you approach your retirement age, they might still be in school and be unable to help you out in return. Time is priceless. Fight for their education now!

To all my fellow students in Sierra Leone

I speak to you as a comrade, brother, friend and colleague in the academic struggle. I am one of you. I am still a student trying to complete my second master of laws degree here in the UK. Some of you know me very well. I left the shores of Sierra Leone for my postgraduate studies before Ebola struck our nation. How I wished I would have completed my programme and be in Sierra Leone at this very moment to talk to you one on one. But all the same, please consider the advice I am giving you today even though I am far away from you guys.

Education is critical to your future. Among other things, it will bring you empowerment; give your life meaning, colour and significance. In addition, it will give you a voice that cannot be ignored and a place in your society that cannot be denied. Today, even though I hailed from a humble background and an illiterate one too, I have travelled throughout the continents of the world with the exception of Australia because of my academic skills, prowess and proven abilities. Just to name a few records; the United Nations have invited me, the European Union has called for me, the UK Commonwealth and the US Centre for American and International Law have both invited me. My university in the UK where I presently study has nominated me twice to attend specialized world conferences in the USA. I have also being invited to take part in specialized international debates and forums at the British House of Parliament and the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. I have wined and dined together with the Lord Mayors of London and that of New York City. Yes, I have. (ahahaha). I have also represented Africa at the first EU/UN sponsored global classroom discussions on the Millennium Development goals and the post 2015 agenda in Venice, Italy. The list goes on…

Why have I taken pains to tell you all this. It is for one reason only. To motivate you to see the essence of going back to school come the end of this month. School is sweet and education is beneficial. Some of you might say, well Rashid, all that has happened to you is based on God’s favour and divine destiny. I will absolutely agree with you if you maintained this view. But you see, equally correct is the fact that, in-between our today and our God-ordained destinies, is a bridge called PREPARATION. And one of the strong pillars of that bridge is called EDUCATION. If I had not embraced the demands of education, perhaps such opportunities would have eluded me. Or where they did not, I may have ended up embarrassing or disgracing myself at such occasions. It is vital to note that, if you must realize your destiny without limitations and fully maximized your God-giving potentials, you must embrace the demands of education. No serious minded employer or institution in today’s world will hire a liability. Every employer is now looking for some certificate or paper even for the least of job vacancies. This is how serious it has become. So to avoid school is really not an option. I therefore kindly appeal to you all to jump at the opportunity when school reopens by end of March 2015 and be excited to return back to school.

Don’t be happy sitting idly at home in the name of Ebola. Don’t enjoy the situation. As a matter of fact, it is your future that is being eaten into gradually and time once lost can never be regained. I am still angry whenever I think of the three years I lost to education because of the rebel war in Sierra Leone. Perhaps, I would have become a professor in my early 30’s if such time had not being wasted. Some of you are presently victims like me as the war did affect us all. And age is catching on us too. It will therefore be in every student’s best interest to return back to school.

Education and learning can still be made possible despite the Ebola virus in the country. If only you can dress safely, avoid body contacts, adhere to the health protocols and believe God for your protection, I assure you that all will be well with you in school.  As a matter of fact, some of you will agree with me that you are currently going out to many public gatherings and occasions with little fear of Ebola contamination. Why must you get afraid now when it comes to school? Just maintain this same faith and go to school at the end of the month.

Let’s face the truth; educating yourself is actually for the good of yourself and not for anybody else. When I get conference invitations, fly first class on airplanes, eat big lunches, lodge in first class hotels, get applauded and talked about all over the world, whose head gets bigger first? Me! My family and my nation may enjoy subsequently but it is Rashid that will first taste the honey pie. So going to school is actually in a student’s best interest. Off to school guys! Enough of sitting idly at home!

In sum, despite all the admonition I have given above, it is important for me to also make it very clear that possibilities might exist for a few cases to occur within academic environments after the reopening of schools. It is my prayer that such never happens. But if it does happen, I implore every student or parent not to see such occurrence as a source of discouragement to stay their children back home but rather as a fresh stimulus. As Martin Luther King rightly stated, ‘the strength of a man must not be measured in moments of comfort and convenience but rather in moments of challenges and controversy’. Sierra Leoneans must conquer Ebola. You did it during the 11 years old war and I am cock sure you will do it again coz you have the overcomer’s spirit in the inside of you. Stir it up! I am of the firm conviction that where divine intervention has been adequately sought, strong leadership shown, safe schools ensured and collective efforts garnered, the reopening of schools can be successfully and sustainably realized at the end of March 2015. If you believe with me that this can be possible, then join me in this campaign by sharing this message to all and sundry:  #I AM UP FOR SCHOOL. STAND UP AND BE COUNTED#.

By Rashid Justice Dumbuya. 

Rashid is an International human rights lawyer and advocate from the Republic of Sierra Leone. He holds an LLM degree International Human Rights Law and is currently an LLM candidate in Oil and Gas Law and Policy at the University of Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom.

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