“It´s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).
My spiritual father here in Thessaloniki, northern Hellas, pointed out a few days ago, that we did not come to this life to sit back and rest our bodies but to rest our eternal soul, serving the will of God.
I remember being deeply motivated by Rev Themi, in last year’s PK4A video, who, when speaking to the children of School in Syke St, said: ‘’Those who give are the queens and kings and princesses of this world. Those who take are like everybody else. Those who give are the queens, the kings, the princesses. And so, there is a saying: Wise life if you have helped others. You will be judged in life not by how much money you have, but how much you have helped other people’’.
And again in another part of the video: ‘’We are doing this for God not for publicity’’.
Then last year I had the blessing to meet Fr Themi and walk with him around the city for Thessaloniki; during this time, I realized how close his heart is to the poorest of the poor of this world and it was then that I decided to go and see this Holy Work of the Orthodox Mission in Sierra Leone, and contribute the little I have.
Now, thanks be to God, the time has come, and in a few hours I am flying to Freetown through London, to meet the Hellenic team of Heart Doctors and be part of medical and dental services in mission facilities.
Also, we hope that we will have the chance to make some presentations to the school children about oral hygiene, medical emergencies and share our Orthodox faith from Greece.
My luggage is full of pencils, sweets, balloons toothpastes, holy icons and crosses, books about orthodox faith and dental equipment.
But the most precious that I bring to Sierra Leone are the blessings to Fr Themi from Fr Polycarpos, a missionary Mount Athos priest, I met last year in Madagascar, including a few Euros given by 5 of my friends and the love and prayers of so many Hellenic people, that think and care for Orthodox Missions around the globe, despite the economic crisis that exists in our country. Christ be with us.
9/3/13 , Thessaloniki, Christos Georgiou, maxillofacial surgery resident
Hello Rev Themi & friends & supporters.
I wanted to wait a month or so before I put up my first blog. Mainly because I didn’t want to make the same false assumptions and western expectations that I did when I was here 2.5 years ago.
It is easy to be shocked, to be overwhelmed, to feel sad, to judge, to expect, to be critical and to be helpful…all in the same day! Sierra Leone is such a paradox and like the country .…I too am a work in progress.
At the moment (under the advice of Father Themi) I am working on my Patience. This virtue I believe brings forth; acceptance, understanding, respect, endurance, persistence and most importantly Love. I am finding that the more patient I become, the more loving I become and the more productive I feel I can be here.
In this blog, I want to share some news about the Orthodox Youth Fellowship. This group meets every Saturday for catechism.
The group was first known as “Paradise Kids 4 Sierra Leone Youth”, but in November 2013, their benefactor Mr Louis Toumbas , changed the groups name to “Orthodox Youth Fellowship, Freetown.”
And now have decided to expand the program to incorporate a range of activities (similar to what any youth ministry leader would conduct in the West). Needless to say the youth are delighted and eagerly participate. There are some obvious talents already in this group. Dancers, singers, writers, artists, chanters, and soon to be revealed ….actors as well as youth leaders.
The future of Sierra Leone will rest in the hands of these young people. It is crucial that we harness their God given gifts and talents so they can use them in the future to develop the Orthodox faith in this country and to fulfil their own dreams and goals. It has been an honour to work here this past month and as we continue to meet every week, we are learning from, and about, each other in order to improve social, moral, spiritual, cognitive and creative skills, values and attitudes.
The group is made up of 32 young people aged 14 years to 18 years of age. There is a balance of boys and girls. Some of them attend school early Saturday morning and then stay on for youth fellowship.
Others wake up early and work selling fish for their parents, peddling goods or cleaning and doing chores. From 1pm until 4pm the youth group meets. We have no lighting, no fans, no fancy hall, no kitchen or stage. Just a concrete floor, some desks, a black board, and a second hand lounge (which we scored this weekend). At 4pm Father Themi comes and there is a vesper service in the church. Most of the young people by this stage have not had anything to eat or drink for the day. If they stay on for vespers (which many do) they have the long walk home in the evening.
Just as an aside, the young people that come to the fellowship are not sent by their parents to be entertained (as we would do for our kids when we want them to be entertained or to mingle with other Greek kids). The youth here make a big sacrifice to come. One boy came to me only yesterday and said “Miss Eleni I am sad I cannot come to fellowship today because my mother needs me to sell fish all day…I will try to sell it all quickly so I can come back”. (He never made it back). Another girl had been sick and collapsed at school with suspected anaemia. She insisted that she come to youth fellowship instead of home, declaring to her friends that she feels better when she is amongst us (she does not live with her parents).
There are so many stories I could tell you but suffice to say that what you do, what you give, is greatly needed and appreciated by these young people. As an old time advocate for children however, I cannot end this blog without asking for your help. Whether it is a fellowship group in Australia or Greece or USA that would like to sponsor this group, an individual who would like to pledge a cash donation or a fund raising activity…..We need to find a way to provide one good nutritional meal on Saturday for them. We have found a lady that can cook this meal and it will come to around $20 to feed up to 40. Another $5 would mean we can give those that travel far to get here, some public transport money so they do not walk home after vespers; (if you can help please use Paypal by clicking this link).
Thanks to their kind benefactor every youth member now has a bible of their own (they were so excited to write their own names in them). Other resources that would help run our program include more paper and stationary and some paints, and craft items. We can purchase them here if we had the money.
Next blog…I will write about my lecturing and wonderful Education and I.T students at the college!
Blessings and many thanks for your prayers, donations and support.
Eleni from Freetown (Brisbane, Australia )
ADVANCED EDUCATION OFFERED BY THE ORTHODOX MISSION IN SIERRA LEONE
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.
Because of mine and Dr. Christomanos’ previous experience in the establishment of the Orthodox Teacher’s College in Kenya we already had the experience and a ready made curriculum which with minor adjustments could be applied to the Sierra Leonean early childhood educational situation.
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.
The College Facilities
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
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