Joseph Kaifala is a Human Rights activist, a Rastafarian, a votary of ahimsa and speaks six languages. Born in Sierra Leone, Joseph grew up in two civil wars and a refugee camp. His life was consumed by tragedy and all the consequences of war and poverty. His way out was through education which led him all over the world. Now back in Sierra Leone, he is realising his true potential and contributing towards making the world a better place having founded the Jeneba Project.
The Jeneba Project sets out to provide the fundamental human right of free education to the children of Sierra Leone. It introduces concepts of democracy, peace theories and human rights to inspire and mould the future generation of African leaders.
Joseph tells us in his own words about his personal motivation behind the project, the challenges he’s faced and his hopes for the future.
What was your personal motivation behind Jeneba?
I founded the Jeneba Project after realizing how little it requires to make a difference in the lives of others. We sometimes refrain from helping others because we do not believe that our own individual efforts can scratch the surfaces of some of the problems around the world.
When I realised that instead of focusing on saving the world, I could direct my efforts towards helping individuals and small communities, I became relentless in rendering assistance through whatever means I could afford.
I have been motivated by the realization that education can truly empower individuals to become agents of change in their own communities, and having come to that conclusion, I decided it was better to devote my efforts towards providing educational opportunities for the children of Sierra Leone as the most effective tool of development.
I hope that as our individual beneficiaries multiply, they can together initiate ripples that produce a ferment of change for the good of their communities. I am also motivated by the educational opportunities I have been given in the United States, which have permitted me to provide effective assistance to my people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
What was the toughest challenge you faced starting Jeneba?
One of the toughest challenges we faced starting the Jeneba Project was the difficulty of fundraising. The provision of free fundamental education in a developing country, even though it is clearly a universal human right, is not a great selling point to donors who are more interested in short term gratification.
When you build a secondary school, it takes a long time before you can count your graduates. Education is not a short-term process and many donors did not want to commit to investing in infrastructure. There was also the obstacle of corruption on the ground and we had to make several adjustments in order to ensure that our limited funds were reaching those in greater need.
Has there been a particular success story that stands out for you so far?
Our major success story is the completion of a secondary school in a place that previously had none through successful partnership with the community. We initially built a library at a local junior high school and parents approached us with the idea to build a secondary school so their children don’t have to leave the area for school.
We fundraised in the U.S. and built the school in 2009, which now serves as one of the largest high schools in the region. The school has been so attractive to students that the community recently had to raise their own funds to build more classrooms.
At the time, scholarships for girls also assisted many parents to keep their daughters in school without worry about school fees. These petty triumphs keep us believing that we can all make positive impacts on the lives of others in need.
What is your ultimate goal with Jeneba?
Our ultimate goal is to complete the construction of a new co-ed secondary school where children can learn in comfortable facilities without school fees. The Jeneba project believes that free education at the fundamental stages is a human right and our aim is to build a school where children simply have to focus on their studies.
The objective of this project is to educate young people beyond formal academic requirements by introducing concepts of democracy, peace theories, and human rights through interactive community service, project-based learning, and other forms of creative approach to learning, thereby fostering ideals of citizenship.
We combine this work with advocacy for African leaders to fulfil their international treaty obligations to provide free fundamental education for children and protect them against human rights violations.
If you could witness one thing in your lifetime what would it be?
One thing I would love to witness in my lifetime is the full realization of commitments to free and quality fundamental education for children all over the world, especially Africa. Without building fabrics such as universal education for the young, we can never get closer to the ultimate goal, which is world peace.
I truly believe in Nelson Mandela’s statement that the issues that agitate humanity today call for trained minds and those who are deficient in this respect are crippled because they do no possess the tools and equipment necessary for success and victory in the service of country and people.
Joseph is a truly inspiring individual. We wish him and his team the best success with the Jeneba Project and look forward to keeping up-to-date with the school’s progress.