"My advice to aspiring philanthropists is that in getting involved, you are giving your life to help others, so don't relent, be steadfast and courageous, and do it with a loving and peaceful heart."
Andrew Benson Greene Jr., 28, of Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa, trains youth who are affected by war to use information communication technology as a transformative tool in their lives.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Andrew: I train youth who are affected by war to use information communication technology as a transformative tool in their lives. I formed the Child Soldiers Project, which is helping to close the digital gap among youth emerging from wars.
I became aware of the children's fate in Sierra Leone following the conflict in my country which lasted over 10 years. I believe that the use of information technology can achieve something by improving the quality of life of those involved. The internet access provided by iEARN's Child Soldier Project allows many young people in Sierra Leone to come into contact with other young people across the world and exchange ideas about peace issues. Children affected by the war can become ambassadors for peace. This not only promotes learning, but it also improves social justice and inspires a positive exchange. Young victims of war can play a significant role in creating peace in their own villages and towns.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Andrew: The name of the organization is International Education and Resource Network (iEARN), in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Andrew: The beneficiaries of the project are mostly children and youth. For the past seven years, the project has enabled over eight hundred youths affected by war to develop information communication technology skills. Students have also created a multimedia showcase, which has opened an opportunity to the project beneficiaries who have yet to overcome the trauma of the past, while at the same time struggling to cope with unjust social structures. Apart from its humanitarian nature, and the potential benefits to the community, the project's successful implementation has paved the way for more youth to benefit, as it is composed of key elements that ensure capacity building, sustainability and replication. This has drawn attention to the importance of information communication technology literacy and computer skills training in Sierra Leone that could serve as an educational and development model to be emulated by other information communication technology stakeholders and development concerns, including NGOs. It paved the way for establishing more community and school-based information communication technology resource centers by iEARN Sierra Leone in the future.
The self-confidence and esteem is built so they assist in training other youth and build skills to earn rewarding job roles. Youth participate in web-based competitions, and use their skills to navigate important educational resources for their own academic growth, and as a tool to tackle assignments in higher education in the future.
The project teaches youth computer skills as a way to heal the minds of children and youth emerging from wars. This becomes a psychosocial and therapeutic way to use information communication technology as a means of recovery for youth emerging from the most gruesome wars in human history.
Through online interaction, they will be able to constantly exchange ideas. Cultural barriers are broken and friendly ties are created through education of the mind and heart.
What inspired you to get involved?
Andrew: I was born and raised in Sierra Leone where the civil war resulted in the separation of about 12,000 children from their families. Boys and girls were kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers. I could not sit by and watch.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Andrew: Since 1999, I have been a dedicated volunteer educator for the www.iearnsierraleone.org project where I work tirelessly to bring information communication technology and skills development to youth scarred by war. Earlier, I have served as volunteer to a number of organizations such as Peace Links Sierra Leone, Peace Child Sierra Leone, Defence for Children International Sierra Leone, Campaign for Good Governance, Democracy and Human Rights, Sierra Leone, and World Peace Prayer Society Sierra Leone chapter, to name a few. This influenced my effort to form the iEARN branch of Sierra Leone.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Andrew: The best thing about my experience is to see youth who have been scarred by the war leave those horrid memories behind and become productive global citizens through our programs. Peace-building through the use of computers, the internet, and other forms of rehabilitation. Youth can participate in online education, which helps to bridge the digital divide in Sierra Leone and links Sierra Leone children with others around the world to share in online educational projects. Also, identifying the talents among war-affected youths in a variety of art forms such as music and creative writing was very refreshing for me. It enabled them use the internet to share these unique talents. Developing awareness on such sensitive subjects as human rights of children who were used as child soldiers, peace-building campaigns and human rights online, provides a platform for educational debates and research in schools, colleges and universities as well as higher institutions of learning. It takes into cognisance that a subject which has not been in the news much, in the media and in the school curriculum to be considered as a major issue for students of history, anthropology and even contemporary issues.
What is/was the hardest part?
Andrew: The project got off the ground slowly because many people and stakeholders in the community were apprehensive as to how the technology can build life skills and help heal the wounds of youth affected by war. Additionally, working as volunteers and with limited resources created further skepticism about the potential of the project. Due to the fact that former child combatants were involved, some of the experts and supporters in the community were slow footed to come close to the reality of accommodating youth.
What was the biggest surprise?
Andrew: The project soon attracted a lot of international attention and awards. Also, the youth were able to learn very quickly.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Andrew: The project went through a lot of struggles and had modest beginnings, but it soon gained international recognition. There were no computers in our communities and most of the war-affected youth who participated in the beginning stages of the project had to be taken to internet cafes that were not often accessible. Through the compelling stories told by the Sierra Leone children in our project, we received more support.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Andrew: My advice to aspiring philanthropists is that in getting involved, you are giving your life to help others, so don't relent, be steadfast and courageous, and do it with a loving and peaceful heart. Do not let trials and challenges, even though they are sure to come, discourage you.
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