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‘We must invest in young people’

- P.J. Cole tells Commonwealth

March 16, 2015 By Abdul Hasan Fackie      

The National Executive Director of Lifeline Nehemiah Projects Sierra Leone, Mr. Philip Joel Mandewa-Cole, popularly called P.J. Cole, has said that there is every need to address issues of female genital mutilation, child marriage, slavery and child abuse.

Addressing the Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminster Abbey in London in the United Kingdom, Cole maintained that the 53 countries of the Commonwealth must do well to invest in their young people as they are the force that will move their nations towards the transformation that they need.

In recognition of his contribution in the areas of rehabilitation, education, health, and agriculture, and his response to the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease, Cole was recently nominated as a Queen’s Young Leader and will receive his award in London in June this year.

Below is his speech…

Address given by Queen’s Young Leader, Philip Joel Mandewa-Cole at the Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminster Abbey, London, on Monday, 9th March, 2015

It is a great honour for me to be invited to give this address on account of my recent selection as one of the Queens Young Leaders, in a programme to honour Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne.

This afternoon I am going to tell you the remarkable story of how a group of former child soldiers have become community leaders and are rebuilding a nation.

Child Soldiers

When you hear the words ‘child soldiers’, what comes to your mind? What future do you expect for them?

Back in 1996, moved by the plight of child soldiers in Sierra Leone my parents rescued and invited over 800 young people into our lives. All were victims of war.

Pulling them out of the conflict and into our home, I shared clothes, food and my parents with them.

Although they had committed many atrocities, my father had a vision that with the right support, these children would be those who would rebuild the nation in the years to come.

The Transformation

Today a group of these former child soldiers with whom I shared my life are standing shoulder to shoulder with me. Together we are running four schools, a safe home and a vocational training centre. We are working with farmers; running businesses; rebuilding Sierra Leone.

But then Ebola hit. Our friends, neighbours, and colleagues were dying.

The most harrowing experience was taking supplies to a quarantined house and watching a pregnant woman die in front our eyes. Our community was under attack. Our vision to rebuild Sierra Leone was being tested.

Our Action

Faced with the atrocities of this disease our team of former child soldiers started a new fight: to end Ebola. We designed an Ebola education programme which has equipped over 60,000 people with lifesaving knowledge; we have provided support to over 8000 quarantined individuals; and we are part of the National Ebola Response Committee. We began to build an Ebola Clinic and help with this came through Medair and UKAID. Since January, our Clinic has treated over 171 people.

A Young Commonwealth

Today we are here to celebrate ‘A Young Commonwealth’. In the family of Commonwealth nations, 60% of the population is under the age of 30.

As our global population continues to get younger, we are faced with both a great opportunity and a challenge. Hidden violence exists – even in our many peaceful nations. Child marriage, female genital mutilation and slavery are horrors that must be addressed.

Not victims

So what transformed this group of child soldiers into community leaders? It was people like my father who chose to invest. And we have that choice today; to invest in young people.

As the number of Ebola orphans rises, these children could be viewed as victims. But we take a different view. We are increasing our capacity to care for them. And like the former child soldiers who will support and mentor them, we see them as nation builders; young men and women who will be part of the solution.

Hope

I have this hope because: we have a vision for them; we are committed to loving them; and because someone did this for us!

Thank you.