I am an 18 year old and I’m from Llanrumney, Cardiff.
< this was a typical day of the week for me before realising what I was doing to myself.
I have been volunteering for The SAFE Foundation for four months since they took me away on a voluntary trip to Sierra Leone in Africa and that’s where the magic happened and my life officially started!
Life before SAFE
Growing up I was far from an angel, I got into a lot of trouble with the police, I was constantly getting kicked out of school for all sorts of stupid things from fighting and arguing with teachers to smoking and smashing things up.
And in all fairness I wasn’t much better at home. Arguments with my mother turned into a regular routine of stress and worry, I felt that I didn’t belong anywhere. I moved around from different family members houses but it always ended up the same as it started “my fault”. My bond with my father stopped for a very long time due to matters I would rather not write about, but it had a massive impact on my behaviour. I went through a phase of being even worse than I already was. The fighting got worse, I was constantly under the influence of drugs and alcohol, the anger came out in all sorts of forms and no matter how hard I tried to stop it nothing ever changed. For a few years I was set on joining the army until my hopes were crushed when they refused me due to my anger problems. I didn’t really have anything to fall back onto, no back-up plan, no second choice. Most of my teachers hated me, with a passion which is totally understandable because looking back I was hardly someone you’d think could have a heart, or have emotions. But maybe if they would have given me the chance to just explain then things could have been better. At the beginning of my final year in High School the school had finally given up on all hope and kicked me out, but my teachers gave me the opportunity to go back and sit my GCSEs. I’m quite an intelligent girl and for the first few years of high school i was predicted amazing grades, but when I got kicked out most of the teachers told me I would fail. I wanted to prove them wrong and I knew that if I set my mind to it I could do it. So that’s what I did I set my mind on it and stayed in constantly revising. I came out with 5 GCSEs, first aid qualifications and my ASDAN BRONZE AWARD, which shocked many people, including myself. While my exams were on the horizon I moved into an all girls hostel which wasn’t too bad at first but then I got kicked out the month after I lost my great-grandmother as I never went there for two weeks. My head was all over the place, we were so close and when I lost her it was like losing a limb. Having to go from seeing someone every single day of your life to knowing you’re never going to see that person again. I went through a pretty bad time and lost all motivation, I didn’t want to be alive if she couldn’t watch me succeed what was the point? I tried to take my life by overdosing on a stupid amount of tablets which I am not even sure I feel comfortable talking about but it happened. I am still not over it to this day but I have since learnt how to control my feelings and it’s healthy to be upset sometimes because nobody can be strong all the time. I started getting better emotionally so I started to look for a job and WOW the amount of jobs I applied for was ridiculous but every employer was looking for people who already had ‘proper’ qualifications, not a school leaver with 5 GCSEs. It got to the point where I just gave up on looking. Until one day one of the PCSOs Samantha Johnson told me about these interviews for a trip to Africa. Me? Africa? Don’t be so stupid things like that don’t happen to people like me. But I went to the interview, with nerves almost as big as the butterflies going crazy in my stomach and a few hours later “BAM”.. A phone-call.. “Chanty, you’re coming to Africa” I was left speechless, it all felt like one big dream and I was waiting to get awoken.
Madness In Africa
We had six weeks of training prior to the trip, which helped loads! Not just for experience but also for knowledge, I learnt a lot about the issues that are going on all over the world right now. Every single day until the day we were actually leaving I prepared myself for the worst, I told myself it was all a joke and I wasn’t going to Africa really it was all going to be a joke. I was so nervous, my suitcases were packed three weeks before we even went!
The night before I couldn’t sleep and then we had to wait all day and night because the coach wasn’t coming until midnight, I couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t stop speaking, I must have smoked at least 40 fags that day, I really didn’t know what to do with myself.
We finally got on the plane and being stuck in between TWO Lucy’s that are both scared of flying? Lucy Dicko was squeezing my hand until my veins were popping out and on the other side Lucy Evo was telling me we were going to die.. I could see it being a long journey! We had a few stops during the journey to Freetown which made it seem even longer but when we finally arrived all of the travelling was worth it, I stepped off the plane and felt like I had just stood on a blazing fire the heat was beyond! There were people everywhere and all I could hear was “Porto, Porto” (means white person in Creole). But the Africans were absolutely amazing, they were answering all of the questions we had the same as we answered there’s.
The Lodge we were staying in was much better than I had been expecting, but I just couldn’t get to grips with the things we had already seen, we had only been in the country an hour and on the car journey to the lodge I saw some crazy things.. Children walking round with no shoes on, people fighting casually in the streets and the roads are unexplainable people were driving like they were in a rally every two minutes I would find myself covering my face because I thought we were going to crash! The workers at the lodge were great, like an addition to our little family. They were very serious about their work and I couldn’t believe how hard they were working for such little money. Smart A one of the guys that worked there was working just to pay for his mothers rent so that she would have a stable home for herself and her other children yet Mr Smart A had to spend the rest of his wages on a room where he slept, it was so small that he just about fitted in there himself. The lifestyle of most of the people in the country was a culture shock, I didn’t think I was going to last. The only thing keeping me going was the smiles on their faces and the appreciation they had for us trying to help their community. Especially in the school where we were teaching some of the stories that the children were telling us were horrific, it was so emotional. I have a little brother who’s Nine, Jaden and an Eleven year old sister, Macy. And the children we were teaching were around their age I couldn’t stop thinking about them. What if one of them went through this day to day? What if one of them got sexually assaulted regularly? IT WOULDN’T HAPPEN! But in Africa the children had to go on with that as if it was normal because they didn’t know any different it was devastating.
Everyday was a different adventure. I learnt something new every five minutes, I saw something horrific every single minute. But the most amazing thing that every new person I met owned was.. a smile! Everyone was smiling, they were so happy to see us. They all live in the deep end of poverty but are the most happiest people I have ever met. The culture was brilliant! The children even had me dancing, lets just say I deleted the videos! But the atmosphere was great, Even though I was an emotional wreck they made me happy, my smile was glued to my face. I just wanted to squeeze everyone of them, they were so cute and funny! I started to get bonds with everyone but I got really attached to two of them. Mo-hammed who was the cutest little toddler I have ever met in my whole entire life, he was always clung to me, making me laugh, if he wasn’t sat on my lap he was sat on my shoulders we were constantly together and also Ibrahim Y Sesay who turned 14 while we were out there, I could write a book about how amazing that boy was, he had dreams, real dreams. He supported his father as he can’t really walk too far due to an illness, he lost his mother at a very young age but is so strong minded, I was inspired the moment I met him. He has a sensitive side but honestly what a character he was constantly joking around with us and teaching us new things. I was dreading the day I had to say goodbye to these beauties.
Every night after a long day we had a De-brief and spoke about our thoughts and emotions, which was a good thing to do because the days were quite intense so it was nice to get some emotion out.
We also had downtime which was absolutely amazing because we went to a few different places, the landscapes were epic! The views looked like professionally made paintings. We went to a festival which was wicked, we danced our little toes off all night. I celebrated my 18th birthday out in Africa, which made me hold this adventure even closer to my heart. But it did make me realise how much I was starting to miss people. I started to see the small things I had always taken for granted, they had always been right in front of me but I never really seemed to pay enough attention to how important they were.
I wake up everyday with the ability to live life. I wake up everyday with eyes to see the beautiful things I have. I wake up with ears to hear the words of my friends and family. I wake up with the ability to walk and run. I wake up with working arms to hold things close to me. I wake up with a voice, to get my opinion across and be heard. I wake up with rights. I have clean running water. I have clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. I wake up to food, love, beauty and life.
How did I ever have the right to complain about my life? I didn’t. It’s time to get real. I knew from that point on I was going to make a difference no matter how hard I have to work at it!
I could sit here forever and a day writing about my first adventure but I have plenty more to come. Saying goodbye, one of the hardest days of my life. Everybody was crying, begging us to take them back to the UK with us. If only it was that simple I wished.
How is it possible for this to be happening all over the world, and people are just going on like nothings happening. People need to open their eyes and see the bigger picture. Nobody deserves to live like that, no running water to clean their babies, struggling to pay for food to feed their family.
We got it way too easy, I promised myself the day that I left Africa that I would never complain about my life ever again!
Since returning from Sierra Leone my life has turned itself around. I am volunteering for the SAFE foundation, I’m doing this because I want to make a difference and because this charity changed my life completely. This trip was all about opportunities and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join them. I met amazing and inspirational people who will be a part of me now and forever.
I feel better in myself, I feel like I have another chance at ‘living’ and now I know the true meaning of that word I know this time around things will be a million times better and I will appreciate so much more than I used to. There’s so many things I want to do and nothing is impossible.. If you want something you have to chase it until you have it. Don’t ever give up because that proves you never wanted it in the first place. My life has transformed from ‘nothing’ to ‘something’ and everybody can make a difference if they really want to. I know I will fulfill my ambitions and I’m going to make my Nana proud of me.. what’s your motivation?