Adama Kalokoh on ‘If I Become President’ Episode Nine
“I never dreamed I would one day be named a DDEA Humanitarian Award USA recipient, as so few “Women of Substance” are recognized to hold such distinction. Inspired by my parents, I’ve been on a journey to help bridge the gender equality gap for girls and women in my beloved homeland to “Make Every Voice Count,” while preserving our cultural heritage, to garner respect in this male-dominated world. Being nominated for the DDEA Humanitarian Award USA 2019 is, therefore, an affirmation that I was right to push the proverbial envelope for Women’s identity, suffrage, equality, and self-worth in Sierra Leone. I’m proud to be among the distinguished personalities to be honored and bestowed this humanitarian award in the United States.”
Adama Kalokoh is a strong advocate for women and girls in Sierra Leone. She is the CEO and Founder of impact Sierra Leone, an organization founded to reduce socioeconomic challenges in Sierra Leone through empowerment, education, and building strong partnerships with the Diaspora community. Her passion for helping others and devotion to the service of humanity was crystalized after she made her first visit to Sierra Leone in 2003 and realized the tremendous need to help rebuild a fragile nation that still harbors the trappings of instability.
She was born Adama Conteh, in Washington DC. The USA, to the union of James I. Conteh and Harriett Memuna Sesay. Her parents both migrated to the United States in the late 1970s. The second of five (5) siblings, the Contehs were raised in a loving-Christian home environment. Her parents instilled in them, a deep sense of pride and appreciation for their Sierra Leonean heritage. Adama’s parents imbued in her the importance of being a proud African child that must never lose sight of her heritage. Mrs. Sesay taught young Adama to never allow herself to be defined by the whims of others and to always remember that “greatness lies within you;” which is the driving force of Adama’s inspiration.
She attended the Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C. and graduated in 1996. After graduation, she enlisted in the United States Air Force. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of the District of Columbia majoring in Public Health. She honorably served for four (4) years specializing in dietetics and nutrition and acquiring many other technical and life-skills training. She holds a Bachelor of Science – Health Education, University of the District of Columbia,
Upon conclusion of her education, Adama began volunteerism work with Americorps (2001 – 2003) as a Director. Her work proved very rewarding, as a result, she was inducted as a Fellow into the Americorps Promise Fellowship. She also served as Volunteer Program Coordinator for the HOPE Worldwide Mid-Atlantic non-profit organization between 2004-2005, and was again inducted as a Fellow of the Thurgood Marshall Fellowship. Her volunteer activities led her to reach thousands of marginalized people through the successful coordination of services to soup kitchens, shelters, and schools. She currently serves as the Director of Development for the Save The Young Girls Foundation Orphanage as well the US representative for several schools in Yonibana.
Due to her experience of volunteerism, she felt a great sense of responsibility, challenge, and inspiration to become an Ambassador and Agent-of-change for girls and women in Sierra Leone. Since then, Kalokoh has worked tirelessly to raise the consciousness of Americans and the Global Community to the plight of women and girls in Sierra Leone. At the same time, she is working to sensitize, uplift, and reinforce women in Sierra Leone to role model as “actors of change,” – a key ingredient that ensures social inclusion, gender equality and peacebuilding. This framework emphasized that engagement with Civil Society working on girls and women’s rights should inform country-level programs, regardless of the sector. It advances the idea that women’s organizations should participate as equal stakeholders and accountability agents in local, national, legislative, and policy-making processes at all levels. Ms. Kalokoh has contributed meaningfully to the fields of Education and Health for girls and women in her ancestral village.
She has been honored and received recognition in Sierra Leone and the United States as the Yonibana Brand Ambassador, Female Empowerment Entrepreneur and Chief Patron of the Yonibana Student Association (YOSA) Award, nominated as a 2019 Global Good Will Ambassador and was also among the Top 100 Recognized Human Rights Defenders 2019 Almanac. In addition, her commanding personality has made her a natural for hosting a series of successful fund-raising events through collaboration with the community association and church organizations in the Washington DC Beltway between 2004 and 2019.
This deep appreciation of her cultural heritage led Kalokoh to finally visit Sierra Leone for the first time in 2003, followed by three consecutive visits. Her series of visits to the Motherland advanced her strong desire and interest in using her knowledge, skills, and influence to advocate for and empower less fortunate village girls in Sierra Leone. Kalokoh observed many of the disparities in the economy, education and health systems, and the vast amount of poverty within the country. As a result, upon her return to the states, Adama coordinated many fundraising efforts in the U.S to bring awareness and help solve some of the pressing issues in Sierra Leone. She chose, as a primary focus, to help support women and girls in rural areas because of their huge lack of resources and access to services. In 2010, Adama joined five other members to form an organization called Me Against Poverty, Inc. (MAP). Her role as Vice Chairman and Marketing Specialist had a huge impact on much of the group’s success. She coordinated many of the fundraising, marketing, and promotion events for the group. As a MAP member, her efforts contributed to (a) the construction of a library/resource center, (b) the awarding of 80 Scholarships for qualifying students, and (c) the distribution of backpacks and school supplies for the Yonibana Secondary School (YSS). Her efforts at YSS made her realize the importance of education as a critical ingredient for eradicating poverty within vulnerable communities
Ms. Kalokoh truly believes there is so much power in supporting Sierra Leone as a descendant. She hopes that her efforts will inspire other descendants of Africa to embrace their culture and positively impact their home country. Ms. Kalokoh currently is the Director for Impact Sierra Leone, Inc. which supports empowerment and education programs in Sierra Leone (www.impactsierraleone.org).
In an exclusive interview with us at Salone Messenger in our new series: ‘’IF I BECOME PRESIDENT’’ which is intended to flesh opinions of Sierra Leone’s young emerging leaders and those in the street of Freetown on the future of a United Sierra Leone, here is what he said will the first thing she will do if she becomes the President of Sierra Leone, why and how?
What would be the first thing you would do if you become president, Why and How?
“According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Only 2% of the population in Sierra Leone has access to clean, readily available drinking water, and most households lack basic sanitation.” As a result, millions drink from freestanding water such as ponds and unprotected wells, which increases the likeliness of exposure to infections and parasites. Drinking unclean water that contains bacteria or parasites can lead to an infection in the intestinal tract. Diarrheal disease is still a leading cause of child death.Diarrheal disease usually results in malnutrition and dehydration, which can become fatal. In Sierra Leone, more than 1,400 children die from diarrheal diseases each year. Additionally, hand-washing facilities are often lacking as well as safe water to facilities for the sanitary disposal of waste. This is an extreme public health issue and will only contribute to increased exposure to many diseases. I recall visiting Sierra Leone for the first time in December 2003 and how I was so happy to finally be in Sweet “Mama Salone” However, my eyes could not help to notice the lack of sanitation on the streets in comparison to the US. This is not the Sierra Leone that my parents boasted about when they were growing up in the 1960’s. In my heart I knew, I must help improve my country someday in any way that I can”.
“As a descendant of Sierra Leone, it saddens me to hear the current health statistics and is a gripping reminder of how much work needs to be done to improve everyday life for citizens. However, these statistics definitely is a result of the decade-long civil war which severely impacted the country’s infrastructure. It is proven that improving the country’s water, sanitation, and hygiene will help combat diseases and better prepare for future disasters or outbreaks. For many, especially children, access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene not only keeps them alive and healthy, it also helps them to do well in school, reduces inequalities, and creates a brighter future. A healthy mind will learn better and thrive. In addition, better sanitation will ensure
better experiences at the marketplaces and keep workers healthy. With the threat of Covid-19 and maybe even future pandemics, safe water, sanitation and hygiene must be a priority in
Sierra Leone. A lack of running water greatly reduces the ability to stop the spread of infection. By providing access to sufficient quantities of safe water to facilities for the sanitary disposal
of waste, Sierra Leone will reduce the spread of infectious diseases”.
As a Public Health graduate, I always dreamed about helping low income families in the US. I am so passionate about ways to help underserved populations gain access to clean drinking water and breathable air. Having visited Sierra Leone four times, my passion has now shifted to helping my beloved country. I would first coordinate a meeting with all members of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Ministry of Works, Housing, Infrastructural Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, and the Ministry of Finance and Development. My target would be to develop a Public Health Task force that will immediately address the water, hygiene and sanitation issues. I would select a few members of each of these ministries to be on this special task force. I would use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based) goals approach to carefully strategize an effective plan to be executed immediately. In addition to having the right team, partnerships with other NGO’s, international organizations such as World Health Organization (WHO) will be key to our planning. Our first target will be to conduct a thorough needs assessment (approx.3 months) throughout Sierra Leone, including some of the provinces which will provide the current health and sanitation issues on the ground. This needs assessment will capture all of the gaps in the area of safe water, hygiene and sanitation. After this needs assessment is conducted, we will gather all of the data into a Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Capabilities Based Assessment Report. We will use this report to guide our process in tackling the most immediate sanitation issues”.
“I would first make waste management a priority because it is a major challenge. I would work with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to acquire at least over 500 waste dumpsters and distribute them throughout Sierra Leone. I would partner with local NGOs to improve the current wasteland areas to ensure proper dumping that will not harm the environment. The current process of burning trash is very unhealthy and must be replaced with a healthier option. Once an effective process and location are established for waste, I would coordinate with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to employ over 250 workers to work in Waste Management where trash would be collected and disposed of regularly each week. This would also be a boost to the economy. I would coordinate the construction of at least 100 toilet facilities and locally-sourced handwashing stations to improve the health of many communities in Sierra Leone. I would coordinate with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to identify areas where new dams can be built so that access to clean water is possible for all citizens in Sierra Leone. We would target building at least 10 water dams as a start. I would also coordinate with international partners to access various water filtration and treatment kits and make available to many of our citizens. Additionally, we would work with local partners to obtain kits that can test water samples for contamination. The key to addressing these pressing health issues is prevention. Public Health is a critical component to improving the current health conditions.
Our best approach would be to increase Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to teaching citizens basic health practices that will help the sanitation issues. We want to enable sustained behavior changes and promote sustainable development. I would obtain enough funds to design and distribute Public Health posters throughout Sierra Leone. Additionally, I would use funds to provide every citizen with an “A Healthy Salone is a Better Salone” Public Health kit that will include water bottles, hand sanitizers, miniature health promotion materials, plastic gloves, face masks, Veronica buckets, soap, and water purification tablets. All of these measures will lead to a better Sierra Leone that will attract more tourists and boost the economy. Together we can Impact Sierra Leone for the better…United We Stand and Together We Rise!”