I had a mixed [educational] background: I did the first part at Albert Academy Secondary School, the popular school in the central of Freetown.At that time I was likemoving out of track, so my parents had to make a big decision to get me into the Baptist Secondary School in Allen Town,which was a very good decision.And from there I proceeded to the Evangelical Collegein Jui [Freetown] for a degree in Development Studies, from where I proceeded to Baylor University in the US where I obtained a Masters Degree in Social Work and International Development.
How did you find your way intothe US?
Well, it’s an interesting journey. And I think it is all about service. I was part of a youth advocacy group in the Western Rural and that advocacy group was really encouraging and motivating young people to be involved in community services and so as a result of that, an organization called‘Global Connection Partnership Network’ discovered me and told me that ‘Hey Paul, we have this program, we think your personality matches the criteria’.
And I applied for the program and got accepted and went to study in the US.That’s how I became a social work professional with a Masters in Social Work and International Development.
What experience have you gathered in the social work profession?
I would like to narrate my experiences prior and after. Prior to having education in social work, I did some part of community service, but by then it was just a practical experience.During my Masters program I realized there was a big difference between community development and social work; wherein development work really focuseson systems, programs and projects, and social work focuses on people. And so it was a great experience for meto know that truth wherein social work is all about the people and it’s just been a great journey while I was doing my Masters programme. I had great opportunity to do my internship which exposed me to global systems, to global conferences, global educators, and after I completed my Masters Degree, I just went back into the social service setting. My first job was to serve as a program coordinator for a non-profit in Arlington, Texas. And now I am home in Sierra Leone practicing social work and also educating young people about social work. It’s just been a great journey to blend theory and practice.
How proud are you to be a social worker?
Social work is in my DNAasI told you earlier on. I think Sierra Leone as a country needs such professionals who have the requisite skills set for them to address the needs of society,and I feel like it’s a great thing to be a social worker, to be involvedwith the process not just to practice it but also to help in training change makers who can go out there at communities and help in building and help in addressing challenges various organizations in this countryare facing.
So, I am really proud to be a social worker and I feel like that is my thing and I look forward to contribute more to social work.
What are the challenges you have faced as a social worker?
One is that social work is very new in Sierra Leone and I feel so sad this profession only dropped in very late at undergraduate level some 5 to 6 years back. Before [now] it was just at diploma level at Milton Margai College. That’s a big challenge.
For me personally it’s confidentiality. We are living in a communal culture wherein issues of sharing community life are pretty much practiced.But within the confines of our professionwe always have been advisedon keeping confidential issues between ourselves and our clients. And I think that’s very hardon me, perhaps because of the age and also the level of social interaction that I have.
Another challenge has to do with technology.It is very easy for other countries wherein you can access the internet so quick, wherein you can learn about other countries’ struggles and challenges.But in this context the internet is slow and challenging and so it’s very difficult to have materials from other contexts.
Another challenge has to do with association and I know you guys –Social Workers Sierra Leone – are doing very good in trying to put that together.But I think it will be good to have a requisite and solid support system so that social workers all over this country can tap from that bowl. [This way] we can serve as support to each other, we can share ideas and we can encourage and motivate each other about the need to grow and expand this profession the almighty has passed into us.
What is your take on the current state of social work in Sierra Leone?
I think from a practical perceptive, Sierra Leone has made a lot of progress.But organizations in this country have come to the conclusion that there is a need to bring social services andtrained professionals onboard.And I can attest to you that when it comes to child protection organizations, they have spaces and places for social workpractitioners to fill. And I think the challenge for Sierra Leone has to do with the academic side.
Practice wise I think we are doing a very big job, but from an academic side I think there is more when it comes to training and continuous education. And also from a research side, we have to see what we can do as social workers to be involved insocial policies research, community development research, and some aspects of social justice research. And I think if we can be able to embrace these other areas, it can be good to enhancing the capacity of our profession to take us to the next level.
Wherewould you want to see social work in the next 5 to 10 years?
My wish is for every college in this country to develop a program on social work education, because when you train the change maker, you are helping to address the needs of society.My second wish is for us to have a solid association wherein social workers from all over the country can identify as long they are Sierra Leoneans, and my third wish is for us to organize a conference on social work education and social development and I mean at annual basis, so that we can connect with those who are doing theory, those who are doing research and those who are doing practice, to sit down around a table of brotherhood and sisterhood and see how we can take this profession into the next level.
Apart from Social Work, what other thing(s) do you like or are engaged in?
The media. I love the media so much. And I follow the media a lot. And this semester I was privileged to teach a class called ‘inter-personal communication’ for first year students at Fourah Bay College. I think the media is a big part of social work because it helps us understand the social needsof the society. And I love sports -a big Arsenal supporter and I follow sports a lot, and the third thing is, I love the art. I love literature –Shakespeare’s literature, as well as African literature- the likes of Chinua Achebe,Wole Soyinka…
In your opinion how is social work relevant to the development of society?
Social work should and must be a foundationin the academic field in Sierra Leone. This is because social workas a profession is the helping profession,because needs and issues other professionsare not able to address or do not have the skills set to address, are the things we address. I always tell my students that we are the professionals that cut across policy makers and those living in poverty and so because we can cut across that bridge,that’s one reason to justify the need for social work education, research and practice in Sierra Leone.
Another thing is that the issues of our day are so much and most of themare connected to social issues.There is therefore a need to train the professionals who are there to effect change at the ‘Micro, Mezzo and Marico’ levels to go out there, get their hands dirty and see howthey can become actively involved in addressing these needs of society.
What inspired you to return home after your studies in the US?
Home is home. Before I left this country, I made a promise that I will come back home and at least commit myself for sometime in building this profession. And I was opportune to have a world class education, world class exposure and at the same time world class content and that is the reason why I am home to see how we all work together in building this profession. One thing that gives me joy is not the money you make or the place where you are! But how you can involve in making people to realize their dreams and this profession is all about the betterment of lives, the betterment of communities and empowering organizations. And for me to get back home, I think it’s a good transition and so I am looking forward to what part I can play and continue to play in enhancing education, research and practice in social work in Sierra Leone.
Would you like to share to us something about your family and your hobbies?
Well, I am from a very loving family. Both parents are alive; my father happens to bea theologian and my mom happens to be a Christian counselor. That tells you social work is a big part of my family make up. They gave birth to three children and I happened to be at the middle. It’s just an amazing family and we always believed and believe in community service, social justice and human rightsand the need for collaboration.
Hobby wise – I love soccer a lot. And I also follow music a lot. For me music is my therapy after a busy time.I love to relax so I follow so much afro beats, R&B…
The video version of this interview will come up soon! Go to www.Social Workers Sierra Leone/FaceBook.com.
Social Workers Sierra Leone:
This is a media platform of the Social Workers Sierra Leone (SWSL) for individuals who have made it to the limelight of the social work profession and who are portraying the social work character in Sierra Leone as a way to recognize, inspire and inform people about the profession.