Studies:London Metropolitan University
I am passionate about
I am passionate about equipping young people with income generating skills and creating enterprise and programmes which solves causes of poverty in communities. As I have found, young people have so much to give and need to be empowered to do so.
Recently, I had the opportunity to address the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and leaders from around the world at the Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminster Abbey. This year's Commonwealth theme is 'A Young Commonwealth'. The message I gave in my address was clear: we have a huge responsibility to invest in young people, and this is something I could not be more passionate about.
I was a child when the brutal civil war blighted Sierra Leone. My parents were so moved by the plight of child soldiers that they rescued and invited over 800 child soldiers into our lives. All were victims of war, pulled out of the conflict and into our home, I shared my clothes, food and parents with them. These children had done some horrendous things during the war. Many people were afraid of them, and some pitied them. My father, the late Richard Cole, saw them differently - he had a vision that with the right support, these children would become the people to rebuild Sierra Leone in the years to come.
This is now a reality. Thanks to my father's different perspective, a group of these former child soldiers are now community leaders in Sierra Leone. They work with me as we continue his vision through Lifeline Nehemiah Projects. Together we run four schools, a safe home for vulnerable children and a vocational training centre. We are working with farmers, running businesses and doing everything we can to bring economic and social restoration to Sierra Leone. It was the vision and commitment of my father and those who worked with him that transformed so many child soldiers into community leaders. We need to make that choice everyday - to invest in young people, seeing them as leaders now and in the future.
When I accepted the role of Executive Director of LNP, I did so understanding that it would be a long-term commitment. There was a lot of hard work involved in restructuring the work that had disintegrated since my father passed away. But I am so proud to now stand alongside the guys that grew up in the home that my family established during the war. 80% of the Senior Management Team are ex-child soldiers.
We currently operate a home for vulnerable children and young people, 4 schools, a vocational technical skills training programme. We are working with farmers to increase crops yield and quality, helping rural small-holders to move out of poverty caused by subsistence farming, whilst facilitating meaningful community development. We are also using this to get young people involved in farming, and stem the flow of urbanisation by providing job options in the sector. We continue to operate three social enterprises focused on providing employment and resources to the non-profit work of the organisation with view to long-term sustainability.
I work to make sure that the values we operate by as an organisation are present in all our decision making processes, our legacy and every way in which we interact with our stakeholders at a local, national and international level. These are: Serving the community, Teamwork, Excellence, Accountability, Don’t turn a blind eye, and Integrity.
We have seen some remarkable improvements in the lives of our beneficiaries. Take one example, Aminata, aged 25.
Previously, Aminata worked as a hawker, earning only 40,000 Leones a month. She was accepted onto the Building and Construction vocational training. As part of the training we helped Aminata secure a placement with a Construction Company, which turned into a permanent position. Aminata is now employed and earns 550,000 Leones, monthly. She says “I’m much better, not having to sleep with a man to get money. I save money and have a future. I’m now independent"