John Obey Beach, Sierra Leone

The other side of Sierra Leone

For the past week the world has woken-up to the fact that the ebola virus is spreading rapidly across West Africa, already killing 729 in the deadliest outbreak in history. Airlines have pulled out. States of Emergency belatedly declared. Paranoid crisis government meetings have been convened globally. Perhaps most alarmingly the Sierra Leonian doctor in charge of the fight against the disease, Umar Khan, has died from the disease. Surely if a competent doctor can catch ebola then this thing can spread far?

A week earlier at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games a small team from Sierra Leone strode proudly into the arena, only to be introduced on television by Huw Edwards as “a country which has emerged from a decade of horrendous civil war.” That was over 12 years ago Huw! There have been three peaceful elections since then.

But just when those of us who have been fortunate to spend time in Sierra Leone over the last few years thought that the negative narrative might finally be fading, ebola strikes. And now, predictably and sadly, the stereotype is reinforced: Sub-Saharan Africa / Sierra Leone — what a bloody mess!

So is Sierra Leone still a bloody mess? Yes, but also no.

Yes, development is slow. Too many people still die who shouldn’t.

Yes, infrastructure is poor. Even in the capital, Freetown, the roads are shocking.

Yes, natural resources are being plundered. Forests, fish and minerals are being wiped out.

But also no, most people in ‘Sweet Salone’ are working hard to build a better future for themselves and their beloved country.

5 reasons there is another, brighter side to Sierra Leone, that hopefully we’ll see more of once ebola has gone.

  1. Music

Music is the heartbeat of Salone, and it is being used to combat the crisis.

2. Sport

Football. Football. Football. Even in a remote village the kids will tell you who the best player on the Hull City bench is.

The Craig Bellamy Academy, Sierra Leone Marathon, The Leone Stars, Yoga

3. Eco-tourism

Bouncing back from ebola will be tough for the burgeoning eco-tourism community. But, there are so many stunning beaches, islands and forests to explore that the intrepid will soon return.

Tribewanted, Overlanding West Africa, Bureh Beach Surf Club, Tiwai Island, Banana Islands, Turtle Islands, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

4. Social enterprise

DJ Focus (below), Upskill, The Collective, Ma Dengn beach Festival, Near Far Fashion

5. Religious Tolerance

Finally, perhaps the most remarkable thing for me about Sierra Leone is the culture of religious tolerance. One brother is the Imam, the other the priest. This is how Salone rolls, open, accepting and peaceful. There’s so much the rest of the world could learn from this small, beautiful country.