The Young Church in Sierra Leone
The Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone (West Africa) is one of the youngest Orthodox ecclesiastical communities of world wide Orthodoxy. We recently celebrated our five years of existence – in contrast to the nearly two thousand years existence of the Orthodox Church in Greece and North Africa (Egypt). Yet with the grace of God and the assistance of generous donors in Greece (who fund the construction of our buildings) and PK4A in Australia & P4K- USA (which supplies the running costs and charity outreach) we have managed to establish a significant Orthodox Christian presence and witness in these few years.
The Orthodox Christian College of West Africa
Perhaps one of the most beautiful jewels in the crown of Sierra Leonean Orthodoxy is the establishment and operation of an academic institution of advanced education, in the very centre of the capital city Freetown. It is called the “Orthodox Christian College of West Africa.” Already this College has been featured on a national television programme in Sierra Leone and is about to be honoured by an official visit of the President of Sierra Leone. Dr. E.B. Koroma.
The idea of this College began about four years ago. The nation was then beginning to recover from its destructive 11 year civil war. Many young people had missed out on educational opportunities during that turbulent and chaotic time and were now unable to grab any educational opportunities which the peace has provided to post-conflict Sierra Leone because of their poverty. The massive unemployment and economic restraints facing the young people of this nation meant and still means that they simply cannot afford to enter institutions of higher learning.
As a Church organisation we decided to fill that gap by establishing a college of higher learning which would be the most affordable in Sierra Leone. Furthermore we would focus in the beginning in Information Technology and teacher training in order to provide qualified teachers to our own schools.
The Realisation of the Vision and its Sponsor
This vision, was brought to the attention of the then chairman of the St. Cosmas the Aetolian Missionary Alliance (Thessalonica), Mr. George Aslanidis, by my esteemed colleague Dr. Constantine Christomanos (Prof. Emeritus, University of Thessalonica). Mr. Aslanisid wholeheartedly embraced the vision and began generously sponsoring the erection of the College. Its construction was completed by the end of 2011.
However we needed furnishing, computers, books, blackboards, whiteboards, electrical connections, air fans, water supply etc. Paradise Kids 4 Africa (Australia) came to the rescue providing us with a container of supplies and Paradise 4 Kids (USA) with another container of supplies. Most of 2012 was therefore spent in preparatory activities, administrative planning, curriculum planning and the process of receiving official non-recognition, registration and accreditation. Once that was completed we initiated the recruitment of students.
The Academic Programme
As previously mentioned we decided to establish two academic departments as our initial goal:
- The Higher Teacher’s Certificate in Early Childhood Education. This programme intends to train people in the area of pre-school education and in junior primary school instruction. It is a well known fact that most kindergarten teachers in Sierra Leone (indeed in West Africa) are untrained and unqualified to handle the challenging task of educating young children between the ages of about 3 to 6. This tender age span is recognised by experts to be the most crucial stage in human personality development. Yet in most cases the teaching of this age group is left in the hands of untrained people. Consequently by establishing such a programme the Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone is in fact answering and filling a national need.
- The Diploma in Communication and Information Technology: This programme focuses on advanced computer training. It represents an important field of training for young people growing up in developing nations such as Sierra Leone. Knowledge of the world of computers and the world wide internet provides them with an opportunity to be in touch with the rest of world in information technology.
With the help of God and the sponsorship of the St. Cosmas the Aetolian Missionary Alliance in Greece and Paradise Kids 4 Africa in Australia, we have created a facility of international standard. To begin with the location is aesthetically beautiful with the construction of the main building overlooking the city with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean below. It is located on the acropolis of Freetown. Its architectural style is a combination of classical and neo-Greek. We have spacious well – furnished offices for the college administration (thanks to Paradise 4 Kids USA), a large staffroom, kitchen facilities, an up-to-date computer laboratory with the latest model of computers (thanks to PK4A-AU).
Our library with its beautiful wooden bookshelves has an acquisition of some 120,000 volumes of books (organised by PK4A=AU from a donation from many Universities in Australia). Let us bear in mind that an equivalent college library in Sierra Leone would hold at most about 4,000 books. Consequently thanks to the work of PK4A-AU our College can boast of possessing one of the largest stocks of books for any library in West Africa. In addition the College also possesses two large lecture rooms capable of accommodating some 100+ students with modern seating facilities. One of our lecture rooms is equipped for media style presentations. It is important to add that thanks to PK4A-AU the college has constant running water and electricity – this is considered a luxury in this part of the world.
With the help of God we have managed to acquire a very well qualified group of international and local lecturers in both of our academic departments. Indeed some of our lecturers have studied in some of the finest and most prestigious academic institutions in the world – Harvard University (USA), Columbia, University (USA), Brown University (USA), Princeton University (USA), Princeton Seminary (USA), Heidelberg University (Germany), Exeter University (UK), Sydney University (Australia), Melbourne University (Australia), Monash University (Australia), Thessalonica University (Greece) etc. Most of the lecturers in the teacher training programme are Greek Orthodox scholars from Greece and Australia. Indeed our College’s teacher training programme can boast of possessing one of the most distinguished group of scholars in the nation if not the region of West Africa.
Yet despite these extraordinary facilities and academic credentials by a deliberate non-profit policy we are remain the most affordable institution of advanced education in Sierra Leone. Thanks be to God!
Our computer studies programme commenced in December 2012 and our teacher training programme began in January of 2013. Our initial student intake is currently around 60 students. Of course, we know that as the college’s reputation spreads this number will multiply rapidly. Given our present facilities we could manage a maximum of about 250 students.
For many of our students this college represents a unique opportunity to obtain an academic qualification and thus a job without having to pay large and expensive fees. Consequently our college offers a chance for an international standard of education at a most affordable rate – hence bringing hope in the heart of our students. It gives them a chance to dream good dreams about their future despite their present poverty.
For many of our students this is their only chance which life has provided as a ladder to climb out of the culture of poverty. For example we are training in computer technology two present members of our Waterloo disabled community as well as a former member. Without our College’s assistance they would never have been able to have access to advanced tertiary education. Indeed, recently I received a letter from one of our students who categorically stated that if for any reason she was denied the opportunity to continue her studies at the college the only alternative she could foresee for her future would be suicide!
As an Orthodox Christian ecclesiastical community we realise that without the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ it would be impossible to succeed in our missionary and educational endeavours. That is why we encourage the need for worship, prayer and doxology. Towards that goal we are presently in the process of completing the College Chapel – Sts. Constantine and Helen. It is located on the same compound as the College and once completed will hold daily services during class days. As in the case of the College the construction of this beautiful chapel is the result of the generous donation of the St. Cosmas the Aetolian Missionary Alliance of Thessalonica.
Consequently we not only provide the opportunity to the youth of Sierra Leone to acquire affordable advanced education but even more importantly an opportunity to give thanks to God.
The Future Vision
If the Orthodox Church of Sierra Leone is to further grow at the rate at which it is presently growing a lot will rely on the quality of our priests, catechists and chanters. If priests and catechists are not well trained nor possess an appropriate character and moral formation then they cannot be effective in the process of televangelism, doctrinal, liturgical and sacramental instruction. That is why I am humbly requesting our international friends to assist us in building a Theological School / Seminary around the area where our Chapel is located. It will need to consist of accommodation for students and staff as well lecture room and library facilities. It will also serve as the administrative headquarters of the Archdiocesan District of Sierra Leone.
The Rector, Vice Rector, Registrar, Staff and Students of the Orthodox Christian College of West Africa express a most sincere vote of gratitude to Mr. George Aslanidis and the entire current board of the St. Cosmas the Aetolian Missionary Alliance as well as the entire committee structure and volunteer workers of Paradise Kids 4 Africa throughout Australia and Pardise 4 Kids in the USA, for making this dream come true. Thank you for giving young West Africans the opportunity for advanced education. May Christ amply bless you.
+ (Archimandrite) Themistocles Adamopoulos