Guest Speech by: -Anthony Abdul Karim Kamara, Jnr.
Mr. Sullay Adekulay, President of OMFA UK/Northern Ireland
Members of the Executive
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you all for making this day part of your schedule. Your love and support to the OMFA UK/Ireland Branch means so much to Saint Francis Secondary School, our Alma Mater.
Permit me in my own capacity and on behalf of my family, to register my profound gratitude for your kind invitation as guest speaker for this 2015 Fundraising Dinner and Dance. I am humbled by this token of recognition by my brother Franciscans in the beautiful city of London.
However, tonight I am very saddened that on this auspicious occasion, I cannot be with you.
I am unavoidably absent because of previous professional commitments, that cannot be re-scheduled. Thus, from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, I send you very warm greetings and crave for your indulgence as my remarks are read.
Forty-Five years ago, a group of students came together to form an alumni association. From their meeting in 1970 was born the Old Makeni Franciscans Association (OMFA).
Why did they come together? One could think of many reasons.
However, you will agree with me that they came together because they wanted to stay connected with their Alma Mater – the school gave them a strong foundation and a good education. They came together because they wanted to stay connected with their network of friends.
Beyond the bonds of friendship and brotherhood, they wanted to stay engage in the activities of the school as stakeholders for the school’s continued educational development and future. They wanted to have a voice in the affairs of the school.
They showed their unwavering support to the school but depended on successive generations to do their part, make the association greater then they found it and pass it on to the next generation.
The state of our Association
Decades later, many more have joined the association in our respective locations around the world in support of the same objectives.
Unfortunately, in 2016, the state of our association is not as stellar as it should be. We have collectively failed to usher in the passion, dedication and sacrifice needed to take our association to higher heights.
For far too long, we have allowed our egos to get the better part of us. For far too long, we have neglected our responsibilities as an alumni association.
For far too long, we have allowed divisions to reign over unity. For far too long, we have failed to accept genuine criticism in the conduct of the affairs of our association.
For far too long, we have shown enthusiasm for OMFA only during the first week of December and have failed to sustain the momentum necessary to move further.
The Way Forward:
If we are to forge a way forward out of the current situation that both the association and the school face, then we must get our OMFA house together. In any association or organizations, there is bound to be disagreements or problems and over the years, both at home and abroad, OMFA has had to contend with such difficulties.
In some cases, they linger for far too long. The manner in which these differences are settled makes a big difference and ensures the association stays stronger.
We all have a responsibility to seek unity over division and respecting each other, young and old, while harnessing our individual gifts to raise the organization to higher heights and it must start today.
Given the abysmal state that St. Francis finds itself today, OMFA must find its rightful place in the administration of our school and ensure it reclaims the Franciscan brand and right the wrongs of this ailing institution.
We know for many years now, and it was no secret either, that St. Francis is no longer the school it was known for.
The state of its infrastructure as seen from recent photos confirmed what many already knew – the lack of leadership and personal pride for our school and profession has contributed greatly to this downfall.
The current administration has clearly shown that it is a non-performing one.
In fact, the values that we espoused as Franciscans to ourselves and to community no longer guide the daily deliberations and actions or work ethics of the current administration in producing men of character for a better Makeni and a better Sierra Leone.
OMFA can no longer be silent. The time to act is now. The responsibility is on OMFA to engage all stakeholders. OMFA has the clout to lead and must fight for the interest of the next generation of leaders coming from St. Francis and Makeni.
Let’s face it – our school is in such bad state that it needs a lot of resources to get it to just to what will be considered satisfactory. Satisfactory standards would mean basic infrastructure services such as ensuring that every student has a chair and desk and there are decent toilet facilities including the provision of clean water for drinking and other purposes.
I am happy to note that some work is currently been done to identify the needs of the school by the national branch.
As you and I know – that is not all. If we are to elevate St. Francis to the academic standards that it was widely known for, then we have to turn our attention to the teachers and the leadership. Leadership is critical in any organization and we are in dire need of one to lead our school.
We need a leader who sets the vision with his or her team and inspires the team to get the vision achieved. As William Arthur Ward states, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The greatest teacher inspires.” More than ever, St. Francis needs leadership and a staff that inspires. How do we ensure these qualities are embedded in our culture?
I propose the setting-up of a revolving fund which is set aside and used to pay teachers on time especially if the government does not pay on time. That same fund can be used to reward teachers who inspire their students to do well in generally.
Such a fund can also be used to encourage the recruitment of Franciscan college graduates to offer their services to the school. However, this fund should be put in a separate account. Perhaps, it can even be invested.
If we are ready to ensure our School regain its past glory, we need to recruit a new principal very soon and ensure we have the right package to attract a good leader who can steer the ship.
We must make it attractive that those in the Diaspora will be interested to apply. We must ensure that there are certain goals that the selected person must meet and he or she must know that he will be held accountable. Yes, this may seem like a lofty dream but I happen to believe that OMFA can do this.
Perhaps, it is time to forgo the government assisted label for a while for us to turn around the school. In any case, I believe given the outstanding calibre of alumni that the school has produced both at home and abroad, we have what it takes to change the trajectory of our school.
St. Francis School needs leadership that is willing and able to tackle the falling educational standards in the school and unimpressive performance in external exams over the years. We need leadership for the poor state of repairs of the school’s infrastructure and ensure a functioning board for the good of all. We need a new leadership – one that is results oriented.
Colleague Franciscans must also step up their involvement in the affairs of OMFA. This past week we have seen considerable interest and support from a large section of the populace especially in Sierra Leone.
That should be the spirit. OMFA cannot be seen as a December group that comes together and is active only beginning late November and ending on the first Sunday of December. If the enthusiastic response that we have seen over the last few days is what we see every day, this organization will be in a better shape.
Let us endeavour to show the same spirit and passion for our association and Alma Mater each and every day.
OMFA National must encourage the growth of other chapters where possible especially in the Diaspora. I have always believed that OMFA members around the world can come together in their own communities to form a chapter as long the aims and objectives remain the same.
Take the case of the USA. It will be difficult for anyone living in Texas or Ohio to be a member of say OMFA- North America in Maryland. I am happy to see that slowly new chapters are springing up. We recently observed the launch of the OMFA Ohio Chapter – thanks to a group of committed Franciscans.
We also see a new generation of Franciscans have taken over the leadership of OMFA North America. I made the same call in Makeni during the handover of the resource centre that the young Franciscans must be seen to be engage and be relevant.
There is so much one can do by criticizing. At some point, you need to get up and join the battle and join the leadership. We must encourage change and demand accountability when we elect our leaders and from ourselves.
Not too long ago, former President and current Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) noted in his keynote speech that OMFA Parent Body and the Diaspora Branches or Chapters need to harmonize. I agree with the call for a transparent mechanism that allow for transparent coordination. We must have one constitution that binds us all.
Today, I would like to suggest that all Branch or Chapter Heads be part of a global OMFA Executive. This OMFA Global Executive could meet and discuss, and the various heads will then bring the decisions and deliberations to their respective organizations.
I would recommend the same for a big country like the US where we are all scattered and branches are beginning to spring up. You cannot have OMFA Ohio, or OMFA Philadelphia or OMFA Settle or Texas and you have one called North America.
I have always believed that OMFA – North America is OMFA Maryland since those that constitute it are mainly from the Maryland, Virginia and Washington areas. Of course, any Franciscan who is able to must support each other’s activities.
Let me affirm my unflinching support for the current administration of Dennis Luseni. He and his team are doing a fine job. That is what the new generation is capable of doing. Kudos to you all my American Franciscans.
Even as a new generation rises up, we know we are stronger and better when we work together to defeat the general apathy that our association has suffered. When we coordinate between the parent body and the Diaspora, we will be able to collectively do so much more.
However, OMFA has also failed in marshalling resources or fulfilling the promise to electrify the school and connect to the national grid. Perhaps, it is time we move away from the grid by using renewable energy sources.
This can be done easily if we are ready to. The issue of identification and demarcation of our school with a perimeter fence is still lurking around. Then, there is failure to put the resource centre to use after so much was invested in it.
Our leadership must be held responsible for these lapses. There is no time for more excuses. The time for action is now and we must all work together to bring these projects to fruition.
Following our move to build a resource centre, two other alumni associations have followed our lead.
The Old Kolenten Student Association (Kambia) and the Old Murialdo Boys Association (Lunsar) have decided to follow our pioneering venture while at the same time learning from our mistakes and failures. They have of course become even more ambitious than us. I am happy that we were the first to do such a project.
OMFA has a legacy to protect and we must protect it with all our might and strength and pass a stronger and unified association to the next generation of Franciscans.
In this regard, please join me in acknowledging all past presidents of the parent body including my dad, Anthony Kamara, Snr, Dr. Dennis Kargbo, Manso Samura, Ambassador Timbo and others.
The same goes to Samuel Kamara, Charles Kamara and the founding president of OMFA Philadelphia – another Anthony Kamara. We have all played our part in one way or the other in moving this organization forward.
We recognize all of them and thank them for their service. In the same vein we call on all to ensure elections are held now for a new executive or another re-appointment of the current team. We must believe in participatory democracy and we must practice it.
Administrations after administrations have done their part to move St. Francis and our association forward. Let me refresh your memory with a few that stands out in moving our Alma mater forward.
Take the first 10 years of St. Francis founding under the administration of the Congregatio Fratrum Immaculatae Conceptionis Beatae Mariae Virginis (Brothers FIC), commonly known as the Dutch Brothers. The older folks among us will tell you they received the best education that St. Francis has ever offered to all who passed through its doors. It will be hard to deny their claim.
Under the leadership of the first Dutch Brother Oventius van Dooren, FIC (1959- 1962/63), they set about the school’s infrastructure projects and development including the sports field.
They expanded the languages taught at the school (German and Italian) in addition to Latin and French. These languages earned St. Francis the popular name “School of Languages.”
They instituted the Work for Fees and Books Supply for poor students.
The school song which we will always sing and reminds us of our daily responsibility as Franciscans to remember that we are friends together is a living memento that we continue to enjoy.
The Brother Lambertus’ administration (1963 -67) saw the advent of the admission numbers which all students still carry today and the introduction of the 6-day week in an effort to ensure that no public holiday disrupts the school’s academic calendar.
He also began the process of naming classes by colour. I was always in the Red stream. Other Dutch Brothers during the 10 year span included Brothers Charles, Peter and Reynald all of whom are collectively known in Maastrict as the Maastrict Brothers.
Those from the era of the first Sierra Leonean principal will tell you St. Francis can boast of a Sixth Form thanks to Mr. R.A. Kanu and the Agricultural Science department. Following Mr. Kanu’s era, Mr. James B. Koroma became first alumnus principal.
I entered SFSS during the Irish Christian Brothers Era lead by Brother Patrick Titus Coffey as principal. The older Franciscans amongst us always say – the Christian Brothers era was reminiscent of the Dutch Brothers. Perhaps, it was because like the Dutch, they too left a lasting legacy.
Since the boarding home was no longer functioning, the Christian Brothers converted the boarding home into classrooms. Many of us here spent our days in that Quadrangle.
Like the Dutch Brothers, they too instituted the Work for Fees Program. I was one of the many beneficiaries of that. With support from the United Kingdom, they provided us with Textbooks.
They designed a new logo which was meant to incorporate the township of Makeni with its two hills (Wusum and Mena), the country represented by the Lion and the palm tree.
By today’s standards, with the palm tree on our school crest, the Christian Brothers would have been accused of being SLPP supporters or sympathisers. Perhaps, the Dutch Brothers would have been labelled APC Supporters.
The folks from the Dutch Brothers generation will tell you Bro Coffey gave rights to students and thus spoiled many of us. You be the judge on that one.
The current school administration has over many years failed to show any tangible proof of successful stewardship of our school. It is time OMFA demands results and lead the process of change for a new beginning. There is no better way of serving humanity than by serving our respective communities.
On the association side, some notable achievements include:
- the donation of Le60M to the Ebola fund by OMFA (SL) and being the only national alumni to have done so.
- the construction and donation of an ultramodern resource centre, a monumental edifice reaffirming our everlasting commitment to the school and was designed, constructed and financed by OMFA worldwide members.
- the construction of a two classroom block now housing the Principal’s office.
- the construction of a school market block, Scholarship program, donation of a brass band and books and learning materials.
- the OMFA Forum Worldwide and helping to send one of our own to go study medicine in China etc. I will stop here for now.
Of course, I strongly believe there is so much more we can do if we marshall our resources, our clout in and outside Sierra Leone and call for a “New Deal for St. Francis and Makeni.” I still believe that the future is bright and beautiful and the opportunities are endless but we all must do our part and move our school and association forward.
What can the current administration show us? I am yet to see any positive results. If you know any that I am not aware about, please let me know. We cannot continue on this path. Accountability must start now. We must fix what is broken.
May the spirit of St. Francis Xavier be with us all. May the Almighty God bless our ventures and our aspirations for our school, our township and nation. May we the 60th anniversary of our school’s founding be one where we will all look back and say we did it. May God bless us all.
Thank You all for your kind attention.