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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Energising Sierra Leone's youth
By Lansana Fofana
BBC Africa Live, Freetown

The Firestone community in Freetown is surprisingly a drug-free and crime-free area. Surprisingly, because it was long reputed to be a haven for drop-outs and criminals.

Beach in Freetown
Many young Sierra Leoneans are unemployed
Armed robbery, street violence and mugging were all once synonymous with Firestone, which sits in the crowded east end of Sierra Leone's capital city.

The rebel invasion of Freetown in 1999 started on this side of town.

Much was destroyed and roads are still rough, infrastructure almost non-existent.

Thousands of people in this area may go for weeks without electricity and running water.

"It is time for young people to take over, since the older generation has failed us", says Sulaiman "Suntus" Kamara who runs a youth organisation in Firestone district.

Youthful military

Suntus, at 46, still looks much like the youths he serves.

"We have had to take the tough decision of transforming our youths from the bad guys to the good guys," he says.

Infrastructure is poor in a crowded Freetown
Slender and articulate, Suntus is transforming his marginalised and depressed community.

"The goals speak of the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger as well as environmental sustainability.

"But look at our deprived and neglected community. These goals are purely idealistic," Suntus laments.

It was back in 1992 that Suntus' enthusiasm was first sparked by the youthful military take-over of the civilian administration by a 26-year old army officer, Valentine Strasser.

At that time, "I organised the youths to clean markets and cemeteries. This apparently got them involved in community development activities."

Youth energy

Ten years on, the firestone community has moved a long way. There is now a primary school.

The drug ghetto has been transformed into a skills training centre, including tailoring, carpentry and building skills.

If Africa was to achieve just half of those goals by 2015 it would be a great start
Nicholas Ngugi, Kenyan living in USA

Suntus himself has worked as a youth activist for more than a decade, but he believes Sierra Leone may not easily achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing poverty and disease because of the lack of sincerity and commitment on the part of political leaders.

For him, the priorities in the community are clean and safe drinking water, reducing child mortality rates, offering universal primary education as well as other basic infrastructure.

In 2002 Suntus contested a seat for the national parliament together with his Young Peoples Party (YPP) and lost. He returned to development projects. He maintains "all is not lost for the younger generation."

"We still have a bright future and that is why I am galvanising the youths both politically and socially in time for the 2007 general and presidential elections."

"The government talks a lot about youth problems. They see how idle the youth are, that they are jobless, scattered in ghettos and waiting for a break-up in society. But this is why we must trap their energies. It is the only way."


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