Abraham Paul Sippo
NAME ::: Abraham Paul Sippo COUNTRY ::: Sierra Leone
I am Abraham Paul Sippo. I live in FreeTown at Vilberforce Village. I am 29 years old. I am currently doing my competitive studies. I am a volunteer at YDC.
I was born in the eastern part of Sierra Leone in a town called Jengima. At the age of eleven there was this war. One morning I was on my way to school, and all of a sudden there were gunshots all over the place. We could hear bombs explode from a very far distance. We were told it was some kind of a play with the military, and we also thought it was the fishermen exploding dynamite to catch fish, which was a normal routine for a fisherman to do. But we decided to proceed to school. I was in my village, staying with my grandma. We walked as far as half a mile, and the sound became more and more intense. Then we thought to ourselves: This is not an exercise and it seems that something is happening that is not good. At the same time we saw people coming from the opposite direction, so this was no game. And we realized there were rebels all over the place. At that moment everything about education, what you want to become, came to a standstill.
And we became displaced within our own area. We had to leave, and we found ourselves in the eastern part of Sierra Leone, in Kenimar. Life became difficult. I used to wake up in the morning, get myself ready and go off to school, and after school do my homework if there is any and after that make myself comfortable. But now it’s all changed. We had no food to eat, we had nobody to help us. My uncle was with us and my mother was with me, but unfortunately I lost my father, because the rebels killed him. According to what a neighbor told us he was on his way to rescue us so we could go somewhere safe, but then he came across the rebels and was killed. So I lost my dad at the age of eleven. I never saw him again.
The last time I saw him was the weekend before, and he said Okay my son, you be a good boy. He tried to encourage me and bless me as well. I never knew that that would be the last time. It was a very sad moment when I lost my dad, because without a dad you have no food to eat, so I was really traumatized. And as a kid I can’t figure out where to go or what to do. I was helpless.
We stayed in Kenimar for a few weeks. Then we had to move to Freetown. Here in Freetown we didn’t know anybody, no uncle, no cousin, nobody, because we had spent all over life in the provinces, where I was born and raised and had gone to school. The first place where we found refuge was in a church, God is our Light. We stayed there as refugees for a couple of months. And then one day I saw a man walking and had a chat with my uncle who was then like a father to me. He called my mother and some of the family elders and said that there was a woman who had an orphanage and would like some of the kids to stay with her. So I was fortunate to be one of the kids and I found myself in an orphanage at the age of eleven. There were other children also, but we didn’t speak the same languages, because they came from Liberia. But we were staying together. But the language was a barrier and we didn’t play for very long. But as time went by we got used to it. We learned to accommodate and appreciate each other despite our different backgrounds. And the orphanage was not just easy, because mu mom used to take care of me, wash my clothes and so on, but at the orphanage you had to do it yourself. And you had to be very careful about keeping the mealtimes. If it was past two o’clock you could’t get anything to eat no matter how hungry you were. So life was really getting tough. This was the same for my friends, my brothers and sisters, and at one point we decided we would go back to our parents. We wanted to live with them, to laugh with them, whatever it takes, because they are our parents. But our parents said: Well we love you guys, and we want you to stay at the orphanage, because we have nothing to offer you now. This is not our hometown, and we are we are not qualified to find a job and sponsor you guys. So you have to be courageous and go back to the home. And so back again at the orphanage. And so we realized that there is no turning back. No matter what you do, you parents will not allow you to go back to them. So I had to face that this was life. So we got used to the system, to get up in the morning, to say the prayers, and then ran off to school.
My own passion was to get an education. I wanted to learn to the highest level I could. But the orphanage almost closed, because the woman in charge had no money to pay the rent, and we ha dot move out. I still remember the house, the location and everything. It is the past now, an every time I pass that way, I just smile.
When I finished my secondary school I was still in the orphanage. During this period as a teenager, you have so many impressions coming over you. You see children your age with good shoes, good clothes and good food, and you take a look at yourself, and it bites you in the inside. If you ware the same clothes all the time, especially as a teenager, you will be jealous. You have not so many friends, and I was actually not friendly. Because I didn’t want anybody to reject me. So I just walked with my books, or if not with my books I would find something else to do, or else just go to bed and sleep my time away. I was just to myself in my lonely corner. So I was lonely for a very long time. People asked: Don’t you have friends? And even in school, if I were sitting next to you you would be my friend. But if you were not interested I had no problem with that because I was just afraid to be rejected by anyone. But I came to realize that in this world not everyone will appreciate you or what you are doing, and some will like it, others will not. That’s okay.
Then I realized that this was not good for me, and I started to make friends, and I found out that I could be really friendly. And then I began to gather more and more friends. I was really friendly myself. And then there were some moments – if I think of them they are bad memories to me because especially in the orphanage you had to be really tough to live that life. Some of my friends decided to leave. They couldn’t stand the pressure of the hard time. The most difficult moments in the orphanage was for instance, we woke up in the morning and first of all you had to fetch water. There were no running tabs, so we had to go out there in the stream, and bring back the water to the house. You had to make sure the house was tidy before you could leave for school. Therefore you were late. The school started at 7.45 in the morning. And if you were late you would have to leave and come again the next day. And If you continued with that you would be suspended for a week or two. So it was really a challenge. You had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go fetching water, cleaning, get yourself ready and leaving to catch a bus if there is transportation for you. But most of the time we walked to school. And you were away at school the whole day. There would be no lunch for you, and also you would have to walk home after school. If we didn’t want to go, we could just stay at home, we were told, but we wanted to learn and be somebody in the society. And as I said for some of the children it was too difficult, so they chose to leave and take care of themselves. Nobody knows where they were.
Sometimes we got a small amount of money for lunch, but it was not much. If I had time to eat in the morning it was smashed cassava that was dried to a solid kind of food, and then you had to mix it with some water, palm oil and salt. It was too bad for us. And it is not a story, it is what I went through.
You would have to walk bad home at one o’clock when school was over. And you must be at home at two o’clock regardless of the distance or whether there was transportation for you. You just had to obey, because I had to learn to get an education.
At one point I decided to run away. but where should I go. So I said no, no way. It would only be worse. I would just have to cope. Maybe one day things would change. The more hope you had the more pressure kept coming. The more you hoped for a better tomorrow the more pressure you felt. We were 10 children at the orphanage, but only 6 of us were left because we wanted an education. My two sisters, my cousins and me. We sometimes got together and gave some encouragement to each other and said: Guys, this is what we are facing. It’s like our parents are against us because they don’t communicate with us, no phone calls, no visits except for maybe once in a year. So we said, well we have the world in our own hands now. We are facing life from a afferent angle. We used to live with our parents, but now we are living with somebody else. And besides this is an orphanage, and you don’t have what you really want to have.
Especially my two sisters would often cry. the boys were maybe more strong. So we would give them lots of encouragement and say that one day it would change.
So I grew up as an orphan for some time. And I was brilliant at school, and therefore I wanted to get my education faster, so that I could do something for my people. But everything had been scattered by then war so I had to struggle now. We were not the forerunners of the orphanage. We were just there as orphans. At times we would see visitors coming and leave again. We were told that they were supporting us, but we had just a fraction of it, the school fee. It was the women in charge who decided how the money should be used. And the most important was the school fees and not the food. If you had committed a crime, even a small crime like saying something not nice to the daughter of the proprietor, one of the punishments was that you would have nothing to eat for the rest of the day. That was hard, because as a kid you cannot work without food, and at the same time you find it very hard to survive. I didn’t like to beg, but that was the only solution, but I was ashamed to do so. And I got fed up with everybody at home. Moments like that would cause us to weep because we knew that she had done wrong to us, but there was no one to support us, for our parents were not there. And when we told our parents, they just said: Be patient and have courage. So it came to a point when we never said anything to them, because it didn’t help. They just said Be patient, have courage. Actually they were helping us, because if they had come and shouted at the women, we would just have had to leave. As a kid you think your parents are not being fair to you.
But I kept pressing on and went through all these challenges. And if I didn’t have shoes to go to school I would just wear plastic sandals until the sole of the sandal wears out. You see other kids in good shoes. And even if you want to join them you feel discouraged, because not all of them will understand what you are going through. Some will mock you, some will laugh at you. And so you just have to advice yourself: Stay out of the way. So normally I just go out. No good shoes, no lunch, just go out. Or just bump my head on the desk and have a little nap until the lunchtime is over. And if a teacher found me in the classroom I would just say, I’m not feeling so good. Because I’m afraid to tell him I have no lunch and I stay at an orphanage. Afraid of being rejected for what you are as a teenager.
But then I had a focus. To get myself to the highest level of education. So I keep on going. And then finally we finished secondary school, from 6th level. And then the woman called us one day and said: Guys, I’ve done my best. At least you’ve completed your school. I believe you can get a job. Or you can be a teacher at my school. And I said to myself, if I’m here, and I’ve gone through a lot because I need education, and at 6th level I have to quit learning, it’s like I’ve done nothing good to myself. And the woman said, Okay so you just leave my house, I have no place for you. And then we said, it’s not supposed to be done like this, because we came her not by ourselves, so if we have to leave, it should be our uncle who shall sign out. And then for a whole week she would cook, and she would not give us anything to eat. We will have to find it for ourselves. We go to a friend’s house and eat if there is any food. Ask someone, I need this or that, whatever you have please give it to me. And that’s how we survived that week. And we learned that you can survive without people there to help you. That’s what I learned. There is always another way out.
Then we said to her: we are sorry, apologize. And then she said: Okay, you can start to teach next week. And we agreed, because we don’t want to leave. We had no money to rent our own place, we have no job to sustain yourself, and we can’t go out into the street because there were police raids at night. If you were caught, you would be put into jail and be accused of being robbers.
So we stayed. but my aim and my dream was to go to college. I did very well at my exams, but I had no money. You cannot go to college without money. Even if I had someone to pay my fee for the whole year it would be very difficult for me to go because I need transportation, I need to have all the requirements, food and so on. So I started working at the school as an assistant teacher. I was teaching class 2, 5 and 6. I was teaching them for 3-4 years. And then one day the husband of then woman in charge came. He had a friend who had a radio station, and he said: I know you are good at communications. Basically that’s what I’m good at. And he would remove me from the school, and I said Wow. This is what I was looking for all this while, because well, I was enjoying teaching, but it wasn’t my passion. My passion is communication, computers, electronics. That’s what I’m good at. So okay, now I think I’m going towards my direction.
So I had to leave the school, and I was a volunteer at the radio station. I did that because I was hoping for better opportunities. Waiting for anything that could bring me further on.
I was there 24 hours a day. I was the one who switched on the radio in the morning at 5 o’clock, and I was also responsible to shut down the radio at 12 midnight. And I said if I had to leave the office at 12 midnight and find my way home some miles away, it would be difficult for me, so I decided to stay where the radio station was.
My aim is going to the university, and I’ve not yet been there. Let me be patient a little bit more. One funny thing about the radio station is that whenever I was on the air I had a series of calls. People was really appreciating what I was doing. And that somehow would bring some kind of life into me. So the radio became a part of me. Me and the radio, it was my baby, it was my girlfriend, my parents, it was everything to me. The radio was my home. Though I’m not being paid, I’m only a volunteer. But I will still keep on working.
It was really good with the radio. I was really having fun, friends. And I had a radio program every friday. I called it “The local gospel hour.” I played different African gospel music. Music from all over Africa. And people really liked my program. So I was there for a few years. Still no university education. But people thought I’d been to the university. I said no it’s just capacity building. I build on myself, read books. Just to keep myself updated. So whatever I come across, I do not find it very difficult.
I told my boss one day that I want to go to college. And he said Oh yes, that’s fine, go get the form. And I filled in the form and he helped me. I said I need money to pay the university fee, and I need you to help me. He said okay, but first I must go to England. But from there I’ll let you know what I’ll do. So he went to England and he came back, but he said nothing about it until the period of registration was over. And I missed another year. So that’s it. Life is not fair to me. Or let’s say it’s just challenging. My boss is not what I thought. He is not caring for whoever is working with him. So I said Okay, your are my boss, and I’d better be thinking some way else because I cannot stay here for long. You had the opportunity to help me, but you didn’t. I don’t know why, but I just have to rethink again.
So one day I decided to leave. And for the whole day the radio was down. People were calling to find out what was wrong. And my step father, that is the husband of the school mistress asked me to stay. He said: This job is what you do best, and you find yourself very comfortable doing it, so go on. So I said, Okay for the sake of others who are benefitting from the radio. I’ll do it for them. So I initiated a plan to generate incomes to finance the radio, because that was a very big problem, just to finance the radio. My boss is the kind of man who does things at his own will, and he will not discuss what he is doing, just say: Well I’m the boss, I make the decisions
So I thought: Boss or no boss, I’m going to initiate this program. I’ll ask people to help with a liter of fuel, because during this period electricity was very difficult, not like now. There were no national electricity work. So you ran the station strictly on generators. And I was managing the station. But our expenditure was higher than our income. So I put in the little money I had spared for my college fee into the radio. He said Well I cannot pay you back, but you’ve done what you had to do. And so from then on I had the confidence that I could manage the station.
During this period there was a big obstacle. He refused to pay the rent. He owned the landlord 2 years of rent, 7000 $. I don’t know if he was able to pay, but he refused to pay. Then one day people came in and started throwing out our stuff. It was good that I was there at that moment. So I packed up the radio equipment and everything. Since that day I have never been to that radio. I was tempted to join another radio, but I decided to keep away from radio for now, because I want to go to university. I need to do something with myself.
So I went to the maritime academy in Ghana. I stayed one year there, because I was being sponsored. And back again in Freetown. And since then then life has been challenging, but I thank God that he has given me the opportunities I’ve had.
What is most important to you?
The most important thing is going to the university to have my masters, regardless of the time or age. That’s my dream for the future.
What has influenced you the most in your life?
Well, there are a lot of things that has influenced me. One is working with organizations, caring for people, street children or less privileged. Coming from my background I know what it means to find yourself in situations like that, and so it is really good for me working with that. It inspires me to o more in life. And I believe one day I will have to start on my own and do great things for the less privileged with the help of God.
What has been an important turning point in your life?
One day I was really depressed. I had no job, no means to find a job or create one for myself. And then I came to my uncle. I said I wanted to do the same as him, whatever that was. He is a carpenter. And he said okay you can join me. And then he said Wait a minute, you do computers? I said Yes. He said Well I have a friend, called mr. Man. I’ll take you to him. And so he did, and he told mr. Man all about me. And mr. Man said, He is welcome, he can come whenever he feel like it. And I was happy. I didn’t come here expecting a job. I had gone for interviews. And I knew that sitting at home doing nothing is not good for me. So at that moment it was like my scattered dream was coming back in place. Because this is what I want to do in life. So when mr. Man said, You are welcome, I thought Wow, now I’m back on track again. And since that day, except when I’m not so well, I’m at YDC, so that was a turning point in my life.
What makes you happy?
Many things make me feel happy. But the most important thing is if I’ve done something wrong to you and you’re able to face me with it and say: Hey, what you did was wrong. I do not like it. That makes me happy because I know you’re not hiding anything from me. You’re being real to me. That makes me very very happy. In stead of pretending. I don’t like pretensions. I like being who I am. Not what you take me for or want me to be.
What are you personally proud of?
My dreams make me proud. Going to the university, having the best education, having my own family and taking care of them, helping others. That makes me feel good.
What I’ve done in computing, I’m really proud of that. And I hope to do more. I’m also proud because I’m helping a WDC as a volunteer. It sounds great to me. In life you give, you don’t just be a taker. So I’m giving, and I’m proud of that.
What have been the biggest struggles in your life?
The biggest struggle has been my education. At times you come so close, and then the opportunities just escapes. you don’t know how it happens, it just happens. This has been one of the greatest battles of my life, and I’m still fighting it, and I’ll not stop fighting, as I know I’m a wheeler. And a wheeler doesn’t lose courage.
What would you change in your life, if you could change something?
I would change my way of thinking. I should stop thinking negatively and be positive. If I’m positive, then I’ll find my way out. If I*m negative, then I’ll be dragging myself back again. And it will affect others.
What do you wish for your own future?
I wish a very good future for myself. A very successful future. An outstanding future. With my own family, with the kids running around. Yes I wish a happy future for myself.