Sheku Bernard knows too well what life is with and without physical disability. He also knows when to dream, and like Joseph the dreamer in the Bible, how to turn those dreams into reality. At age 4, he took ill. He was unable to recover the use of his legs. “From then, my parents and the community started neglecting me. All my brothers and sisters were sent to school except me. In the morning, my parents would go to the farm, leaving me without food until they all return at night. Nobody cared about my wellbeing. At that age, it was a difficult
and painful experience for me,” he narrated to Hidden Voices Salone in an exclusive interview at his Grafton workshop in the outskirts of Freetown recently.
The father of seven, who was born in a village called Senehun Nes Tucker, in Benduma, had his lucky break in life when his sister, Josephine, travelled with him to Moyamba for him to acquire some skills training.
At Moyamba, Sheku was introduced to a local blacksmith, Mr. Mustapha, who taught him how to make cutlasses, hoes, and knives for residents of the local community. At age 10, according to him; “One night while asleep, I had a dream where I was making a gun. I disclosed this to my boss the next morning, and he asked if I could replicate my dream into reality. My answer was yes.”
A few days later, Mr. Mustapha was surprised when Sheku showed him the local shotgun he had produced. The gun was a hit with the local hunters. He continued with this skill to Kailahun, where he created and repaired shotguns not only for people from the surrounding villages, but also for hunters in neighboring Liberia.
No stranger to dreams, he told Hidden Voices Salone that he had another dream when he was age 17, where it was revealed to him how to become a metal carver, his current profession. “I started using scrap metals to make symbols, knives, chains, bracelets and other forms of decorations until I was displaced as a result of the civil war in the 90s”.
In 1996, Sheku was living as a displaced person at Clay Factory, Kissy in Freetown. In the capital, he witnessed how disabled men and women were treated. “I saw a lot of them begging for their survival, and I stood there watching how people mistreat them for a common coin.”
Enraged, the next day, he went to Grass-field, Kissy to look for a blacksmith shop where he met with Foday Kamara,who gladly accepted him. The rest, they say, is history.
Sheku, who uses local materials from his art, does not see himself as a disabled person though he agrees that living life as one at the beginning was harsh and painful. “There are non-disabled men and women out there in society who admire the work that I do and want to be like me. Society recognizes me as a useful person in the community where I live with my family,” he said.
From the proceeds of his work, he finds it difficult to make ends meet. Taking care of his family, including sending his seven children to school, and sending money for his aged parents in the village is a constant challenge. Sheku, who learned how to read and write from attending adult education classes, says there is currently no huge market for his designs. He does agree though that a few well-to-do people have from time to time asked him to make images of themselves or to decorate their households.
Sheku notes the many challenges he faces every day. They include the high cost and difficulty of acquiring scrap metals and other tools. “I have no tools except the file, pickaxe, saw blade and hammer that I use. To get modern tools is very expensive and you need money or a sponsor to get such tools”.
With the limited workspace that he has, the 48-year-old has been able to provide training and internship for ten persons whom he promises to pass on his knowledge to, with the hope of making them self-reliant. He says all of them are physically challenged, and he hopes to get more onboard when he can secure a bigger workshop.
To his credit, Sheku has made metal carvings of the current president, Julius Maada Bio and his wife, Bill Gates, and many more dignitaries inside and outside of Sierra Leone. For him, the most significant image he has created is that of Jesus Christ on the cross. He has also designed logos, decorative household stuff, bracelets, chains, and knives.
The metal carver promises he will soon be on the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram platforms to begin to showcase his work. For now, his dream is for government or organisations to come up with a scheme that would fund disabled people like him, so that skills already acquired could be passed on to others. He
also pleads with President Bio to give a helping hand to the unemployed youth. Furthermore, Sheku is asking for a centre to be created for the disabled men and women begging for their survival on the streets where he would go to transfer his knowledge and skills to them.
To the disabled, he said, “Do not look at your present condition and think all is lost. Get yourself into something useful that will make society proud of you. There are many skilled trades one could occupy himself with.”
Sierra Leone still has a long way to catch up with the world's best cricket teams from India, New Zealand, South Africa, England, and Australia; but for Emmanuel Pessima, CEO of the Kent Cricket Club (KCC), the nation can be a force to be reckoned with in a not too distant future.
His love for cricket started at age 2 when his dad was enlisted into the Sierra Leone Police, and the family moved to the barracks at Kingtom in the west end of the city of Freetown. "Growing up at Kingtom with your house less than 40 meters from the cricket grounds and seeing your friends playing the game was a big inspiration," he told Hidden Voices in an exclusive interview. He said as kids, "We used to play with coconut sticks as our bats and pawpaw sticks as our stumps."
Like the history of the game, which could be traced back to 1898 when a British Artillery Regiment introduced it to the country, Kingtom has a rich history of cricket. Sierra Leone started playing international tournament, according to the website of the Sierra Leone Cricket Association (SLCA), "in 1935 with the Gambia who were later joined by Nigeria and Ghana as an inter-colonial tournament."
Founded in October 2011, KCC was fashioned as a grassroots team “to harness the power of cricket to give young people hope and in helping them overcome the challenges they faced as a result of war," Pessima emphasized. On a regular day, players of the club, both male and female in the junior category would gather at
the Kingtom Police field or the Prince of Wales School Grounds for practice sessions.
Organized in a round-robin two-legged league, the KCC male youth team is one of 11 teams at the current national cricket competition running from January to December. At the top of that league, according to Pessima, is the Asian Lions Cricket Club whose players are mostly drawn from India and Pakistan communities in Sierra Leone.
With over twenty years’ experience playing cricket, Emmanuel Pessima is also a trained and qualified coach. He used to help with the coaching of young and aspiring cricketers in his community. These days, that task has been passed on to his elder brother, Joseph who is the head coach of KCC. "He has done exceptionally well working with other local coaches to improve the club's performance and developing more cricketers by introducing the game to more boys and girls," Pessima says of his brother. Joseph is also a cricket coach employed by the Sierra Leone Cricket Association to develop the game in Kono, Kenema, and Kailahun.
Naming Ibrahim Omar Sesay, former captain of the country's senior national cricket team and South Africa's Graeme Smith as his role models, Pessima who has played as a top-order batsman says, "Sierra Leone’s cricket is at its infancy stage with a huge potential to develop further in the coming years." The SLCA’s website describes cricket as the most successful sport in Sierra Leone, and that it has won many laurels for the country.
Himself a National team player, Pessima has represented the country at the U-15, U-17, and U-19 levels before making it to the senior national team. "I was part of the famous Sierra Leone U19 team that performed exceedingly well at the 2009 ICC U19 world cup qualifier in Zambia," he disclosed to Hidden Voices Salone.
Talking about how KCC gets equipment to keep the male and female cricketers in frame for the game in a country that is football dominated, the CEO disclosed that they received donations from organizations and individuals from England, Australia, and the USA. "We've been able to share this equipment with other local clubs, schools, and communities to ensure that everyone has the needed gear to increase participation in the game."
Notwithstanding, he catalogues the lack of adequate grounds for local and international cricket games as a limitation on the number of matches the country can host. This, he says, serves as a deterrent to the development of the game. "Alongside this, within the women's game; parents allowing their girl child to play cricket is a challenge," he further adds.
Pessima noted though that the Cricket Association is working assiduously to take cricket to more girl schools in the country. “To support this, KCC recently donated equipment to some of the schools,’’ he stressed.
He also disclosed to Hidden Voices that the absence of support in the area of food, drinks, and transportation for some of the kids coming from impoverished homes is another massive challenge. "Some of the kids come to play on empty stomachs because their parents could not afford to provide food for them, but for the love of the game, they still come to play," he said.
Pessima believes that with the strides the Kent Cricket Club has made in popularizing the sport in different communities and schools across the country, there is a silver lining in the sky for Sierra Leone’s cricket. He hopes that someday soon, "Sierra Leone will be competing at the top levels of the game and thus play in the ICC World Cup not only in the U19 level but in the Men and Women's World Cups. I also hope to see the game of cricket played in every school and community in the country.”