Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sierra Leonian in US university inspires other students

The Glens Falls' Post-Star (upstate NY) did a great article on a Skidmore College student from Sierra Leone named Joseph Kaifala. He and his father were caught in Liberia in 1989 when that country's civil war was provoked by now-indicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Kaifala and his father spent six months in a Liberian prison, even though the son was only six years old at the time. Two years later, the war spread across into Sierra Leone; Kaifala and his family (minus his father who'd died) fled to neighboring Guinea.

Years later, he received and accepted a scholarship to attend a United World College high school in Norway, where he initiated his own humanitarian group -- Beatitude International -- as a way to help those whom he left behind physically, but not mentally, writes The Post-Star's Jarrett Warshaw.

Once every term, Kaifala would visit his homeland to deliver donated clothing, money and medical supplies to children. He continues the charitable practice now from Skidmore, where he is a first-year student.

His story has inspired other Skidmore students to help.

"I heard his story and thought we should do something on campus," said Vanessa Ruiz, a third-year student and president of the Newman Catholic club. "A lot of people at Skidmore don't fully realize what's going on in the world. This is a person-to-person relationship, not something you can get out of a textbook."

With the help of Ruiz, the Newman club and the group's adviser, Catholic chaplain Catherine Minnery, Kaifala organized a clothing drive for students to give unwanted clothing to Beatitude International, she said.

"What I marvel at is how people experience these horrible situations and somehow come away hopeful," said Minnery, who coordinated charity efforts with St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs and the College of Saint Rose in Albany.

And that is probably the most admirable thing of all.

Note: subscribers to The Post-Star online can read the article here. Others can read it here, though it may only be available on Tuesday May 10.


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