For Lend A Hand Society (LAHS),
I was 10 years old when we officially met, dragged into your offices by my friend Joyce, after many weeks of urging me to come with her. I’d visited frequently, most times on my way home from school, appreciating the chance to quench my thirst from your taps. I would see young people all around, some with the same mission as me; others for completely different purposes. I knew what you were there for, but nothing prepared me for what I got when I eventually got to be a part of you. Today, I remember that sunny Friday and thank God for my decision to put down the novel I was engrossed in and walk down the dusty paths to you.
‘Introduce yourself’, they said.
I stared at the floor, wondering what to say. I was nervous. I was shy. I willed the ground to open up and swallow me so I would be saved from the evident embarrassment. I wished they would skip my turn, but the people around me were ready to wait all evening. Eventually, I did it, in a string of incoherent phrases and words. That day, I realised that within your walls, the shy girl in me had to give way to a bold, confident and outspoken young woman. It was difficult and I vowed never to return, but I did… every weekend after that, for many years.
The journey began and still continues. At age ten, when my mates played and built miniature mud houses on the long-awaited weekends, I came over to you. Through you, I met some of the most dynamic and hardworking young people our country has been blessed with. We worked as a team and as the months went past, I got out of my cocoon, accepting my strong wings and taking flight in the beautiful, yet challenging world of advocacy and civil activism. The change wasn’t automatic, for it took series of training, workshops and guidance from a host of mentors. The result has been amazing; for me, for my colleagues, for the people we’ve served and for the world.
Today, I join the rest of the world to celebrate World Aids Day. After years of calling for a fight against the epidemic, we have finally resolved to clinch to HOPE, as we strive to meet the Zero objective: zero new infection, zero discrimination and zero deaths. I took a moment to dwell on the journey I took with you, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and reaching out to people who would, otherwise, not gain access to the needed information. My colleagues and I went through endless training, mastering the subject and being the willing faces of the fight against it. For years, our anniversary themes were HIV-related, prompting some people to believe ours was an organisation created solely for this. We mounted stages, made TV appearances, hosted and were invited to many radio shows, and wrote countless articles on HIV/AIDS. I daresay our work did not go in vain, for today, we have seen a decrease in the new infection rates especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, which stood as the most-hit region. These advocacy programs and sensitisation campaigns did not just ensure the dissemination of relevant information and support to People Living With HIV/AIDS; it built me and turned me into the outspoken and brave woman I am today.Time flew past and with each year, my passion grew stronger. It was a great feeling to discover my potential outside the classroom and use it to make positive changes in my community.
I meet people and when the subject of education comes up in our discussions, my field of study is usually met with a lot of criticism. I believe I can never exhaust this topic as it is not the first time I’m blogging about it, even if partly. ‘Why did you go into journalism and not another productive and safe field?’. That’s a question I’ve had to answer a million times. Growing up, I’ve fantasized about being everything: teacher, doctor, engineer, nurse, minister, historian, writer, and the list goes on without end. With you,I was exposed to the media. Every Saturday, I would join a few other colleagues at Radio One FM for the LAHS show. There, I presented the news, read out stories, performed poems, shared jokes, did interviews etc. At the time, it was on the grounds of our work and the fun and excitement that came with being at the radio. I lived for the moments when a classmate, friend, family member, neighbour or stranger would send compliments on the brilliance of our shows. Eventually, we would move to TV, organising and participating in the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting. Fast forward to my Junior Secondary School days and I was writing articles for your two magazines: Extinguish It( HIV/AIDS-related) and Rhythm of The Young (the LAHS official magazine). Today, I attend a journalism school and am building a career in all these three areas. I loved what I did then and the constant practice at the time gave me the confidence I needed to make this journey. Thanks to you, I followed my heart and am now going professional through the exposure I got from you.
My dear LAHS, you did not just give me skills and knowledge. You gave me a new vision of life, guiding me with your triangular mandate of attitude building, culture appreciation and sponsorship. Your five principles still live in me and I believe your mission and vision have been attained, looking at the young men and women that have passed through you. You also gave me a family and the memories made with them all are uncountable. With them, there was never a dull moment, as we learnt to let loose and work hard while playing hard. To many, that was what set us apart from others in our field of work. We are all in different parts of the world today, but can still count on one another for support and help in whatever we do. You made us believe in one another and taught us to respect and appreciate what we were, despite our differences and deficiencies. I also remember those who were with us and are no more. Their legacies live on and we will forever remember them as the true soldiers of change in our country. Few lessons are more valuable than that, and I count myself lucky to have been a part of you.
You may not currently operate with the vigor and recognition of years past, but I daresay that this is only at the group level. Your babies have grown and are changing the world in their little ways. You have built true advocates and activists who are not distracted by the desire for the fame, glory and acknowledgement that we notice around us. You have produced determined young people who leave their marks wherever they go and are a source of inspiration to millions. You have created willing change makers, for we were taught to ‘never say never’. You, LAHS, have given The Gambia and the world, leaders who do not bask in the shadows of empty rhetoric, but identify problems and ACT towards solving them. These ‘Lenders of Hands’ say Pragmatism not Theorems, a motto we are proud to uphold in our daily living.
I could go on with the stories to show how meaningful you were and still are, but I would run out of space on the web. You are one of the things I’m grateful for. Today, I thank those 2 teachers and 9 students who had the foresight to create you, mainly to help their gifted colleagues who could not make it through school due to financial difficulties. LAHS grew into something bigger than just an entity for sponsorship. It built great people, young and old, who are role models around the world.
That first Friday changed my life completely. I stand up to talk and people listen. I write and people read. I act and people are inspired and motivated. I walk around and people, younger and older, look up to me as their inspiration. It is possible because of the glory of God and because you made me realise who I am, what I’m worth and what I can do. This is for the organisation as well as the people who were/are a part of it. I am one proud member of Lend A Hand Society!