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Where We Work  >  International  >  Sierra Leone

Stories from the Field

2005 Dedication of SLYAP Youth Centre

2008 SLYAP Update

2010 “Notes from the Road”

2010 Fieldwork in Sierra Leone Slide Show

2010 SLYAP Trip Report

2012 Needs Assessment and Program Development of SLYAP

2012  Links to Conviction of Charles Taylor in New York Times and at Boston.com.

Sierra Leone Youth Advocate Program (SLYAP)

Empowering Youths to be the Rulers of Their Destiny

YAP’s sister agency in Sierra Leone is doing innovative work to re-build a country, educate and inspire full political participation by all the citizens of Sierra Leone, amplify the voice of youth in Sierra Leone and develop youth leaders to lead Sierra Leone into a bright future after a brutal civil war.  In 1991, the war in Liberia spilled over to Sierra Leone where conflicts erupted between Revolutionary United Front (RUF) soldiers and Sierra Leone government forces. From 1991 to 2002, war atrocities included the extensive use of child soldiers by both sides, forced amputations and sexual violence towards children in a war that did not distinguish combatant from civilian but randomly inflicted brutality and severe human rights abuses. 

Long-time supporter of SLYAP and YAP Deputy CEO Minette Bauer recounts “Sanusi Kargbo came to the United States and settled in New Jersey as a result of the civil war in Sierra Leone.  He had been taken hostage by the RUF during one of their first assaults on citizens.  A bus had been commandeered by the rebels while he was commuting home to visit his parents.  All hostages escaped and, in order to elude their captors, agreed to singularly find ways to get back to their families.  Before escaping, Sanusi was cut with a knife by the rebels and thus marked as part of the RUF which he was not.  After a few days of foraging for work and food, Sanusi was noticed by a shop owner who helped Sanusi communicate with and return to his family.  Sanusi’s parents feared for Sanusi’s safety in Sierra Leone if he were to stay with the RUF scar and sent him to the US to stay with relatives or family friends until the war was over and it was safe to return home.  While here, Sanusi worked with the New Brunswick YAP Program and was befriended by Dr. Alex Sutton (YAP Vice President of Education and Consultation).  It was Dr. Sutton who brought the idea of program support by employees to (YAP Founder) Tom Jeffers.  With the war drawing to a close, Sanusi returned to Sierra Leone and began the hard work of life after a civil war.

In March 2000, the Sierra Leone Youth Advocate Program (SLYAP) was developed for Sierra Leone youth who were determined to be the most devastated members of the ongoing Sierra Leone Conflict. SLYAP has provided mentoring, counseling, education and grassroots support to these youth to enable them to regain control of their lives and to empower them to become productive contributors to Sierra Leone's bright future - a future that the youth will create.

The original program enrolled 420 youth and operated mainly out of Freetown Refugee Camp and the Mile 91 province. Mile 91 gets its name from the fact that it is exactly 91 miles away from Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. Mile 91 is vital in bridging the rest of the country to Freetown. Due to its strategic location at the crossroads of Sierra Leone, the Mile 91 community was frequently attacked by rebels during the civil war who burned homes and killed residents indiscriminately.  Sanusi and his team noted that although there was a great need at Mile 91, no one was working there.  The SLYAP team began helping orphaned children locate relatives who had survived the war, assisted in the re-unification process and re-building the community.  For the next two years, Advocates worked to bring poor and orphaned children back to the care of their family members by providing them with basic humanitarian needs, mentorship, and support.

By 2001, the Freetown Refugee Camp had been closed and children had returned to families or to the streets. A school was developed at Mile 91 and various collectives were established to help parents to reestablish themselves through farming, cloth making, etc. In January 2005, Tom Jeffers traveled to Sierra Leone with Minette Bauer for the dedication of the new Thomas L. Jeffers Youth Center named in Jeffers' honor.  With the continued support of the YAP Board of Directors,leadership, and staff, SLYAP has grown as one of YAP’s two international sister agencies.  Individual contributions, YAP program fundraisers and YAP staff going “The Extra Mile” with a weekly payroll deduction towards support of SLYAP demonstrate the vested interest the YAP community has in the growth and sustainable development of SLYAP.

Recently, SLYAP services have expanded to address public health issues, sexual violence towards girls and women, the psychological effects of sustained trauma, and the need to create jobs and economic opportunities for its young.  Encouraging youth to use their voices to participate and guide the rebirth of Sierra Leone is emphasized by the SLYAP team.  Before the 2007 presidential elections, the SLYAP team held town meetings to assist residents in registering to vote and urging citizens to participate in the democratic process.  In 2010, the SLYAP team welcomed Monmouth University School of Social Work Community and International Development student Ashley Terleski to do field work and conduct youth focus groups in Freetown and Mile 91. Taking a holistic approach in its programming, SLYAP has a congruent mission to YAP’s own as it works to build healthy kids, families, communities and a nation.