"During the conflict in Sierra Leone and Liberia my family moved seven times, 5 of those times we had to leave everything behind. I was born in Liberia to a Liberian mother and Sierra Leonean father.
War broke out in 1990 when I was 4, forcing us to flee as a family. At the time, my father was in the UK. We escaped on foot to Sierra Leone, having encounters with rebel soldiers along the way. When my feet got tired and swollen, my mother would encourage me by saying, 'We are going to meet your father.' After being separated for over six months, we were finally reunited with him in his home country.
Sierra Leone was yet to experience the conflict, and many were ignorant of our circumstances. Some people made insensitive comments, or asked questions like, 'Do the rebels in Liberia have tails?' Shortly after, the war reached Sierra Leone too. In 1992, I experienced my first coup d’état. When it happened again in 1997, we were forced to escape to Guinea where we lived as refugees for a year. I was 11 years old.
The trip to Guinea was one of the hardest. By the time, we had an even bigger family as we had started taking kids affected by the conflict. We had to flee from Guinea in small batches, and had to pay bribes at every checkpoint to get through. We ran out of money; my mother had to sell property on the way for us to get by. But once we arrived in Guinea, we were met with great generosity and kindness.
We moved back to Sierra Leone in 1998 after the overthrow of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and continued to build a home for ex-child soldiers or those otherwise affected by the civil war. My parents and I had the conviction to help rebuild Sierra Leone.
I came to the UK immediately after losing my father to cancer in 2006. Embraced by a family we developed a close relationship with, I moved here to pursue a leadership training course with LifeLine Network International, and thereafter, university.
Initially, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of what was available to people: health care, education, welfare, and even grocery delivery services. It was also strange that running water and electricity were just taken for granted.
The learning style in the UK stretched me beyond what I was used to. Combining my learning from Sierra Leone with what Lifeline Projects UK were doing with young people, we were able to develop the No Limits Programme. We used our mentoring teachings from our work with child soldiers to help young people in the UK see that there are no limits to what they could achieve in spite of their circumstances.
I effectively have two home countries. I have family, friends and community engagements in both countries. My experience when we were fleeing from conflict is one that lives with me, especially when I hear of others in that situation today, which is why I’ve made it my mission to rebuild Sierra Leone."
PJ is Executive Director of Lifeline Nehemiah Projects and a One Young World Ambassador. This story was provided by i am a migrant's partner, One Young World.