The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10 percent of the country’s population of seven million has mental health problems. Due to an unknown number of unreported cases, the reach of depression, psychosis, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is likely to be higher. Psychological help for these disorders is hardly available as there are only two practicing psychiatrists in the country. With more than half the population living in extreme poverty, daily hardships and misery can turn into what scientists call “toxic stress” and trigger or amplify mental health problems.
For children growing up in adversity, this “toxic stress” can have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health throughout their life. There has been a lack of political will to change the situation.
But now, individuals, activists, medical professionals and NGOs are coming together to help the country come out of the dire situation.
Alusine Gibril Kamara, a 17-year-old Sierra Leonean art prodigy is one of those using creativity in promoting mental health by using his artwork. Born in Freetown, he started doing his artwork at the age of 5. Like many young people in Sierra Leone who find pushing for their talents to be seen and felt in a society that only sees University door as a success, Alusine faced a lot of challenges and setbacks in trying to pursue his dreams. Alusine would take an hour of his study time to do his drawings that are related to issues of human interest, like mental health. Anytime he got leisure time; not fetching water, not looking for customers around his Lumley neighborhood, he will find a little corner at his backyard and start drawing.
At age 5, Alusine got inspired after spending most of his time with his elder brother Mr. Amidu Kamara who is an artist also. It was during those time that Alusine grew interested in drawing and artwork in general.
Alusine, like many young children, is coming from a poor family. His dream has always been to get support from any NGO’s, private institutions, or a humanitarian that will help him and support him with school learning materials, guidance, words of hope and help him get enrolled in a university to study arts and be graduated as a successful artist like Picasso.
In an exclusive interview with him at his home in Lumley, Alusine shared with me his experience, hopes, and next plans with us at Salone Messenger
Tell us about the path of artwork you are focus on and why?
‘’My path of artwork is to use my talent to talk about social issues affecting children and young people in Sierra Leone, in fact, when I realized that I had this talent in me and waking up every morning where we are asked to fetch water in at around 5: A.M in the morning, at a time when one should be fast asleep, let alone in a country where her children and youthful population and engaged in drug abuse. I find this very troubling. I do not think as young people, we should grow up in such a society and become such type of people. I strongly believe that children and young people should grow up in a society where opportunities are there to go to school and live in dignify life, my passion of using my talent started when I woke up one morning, with my pencil and after fetching water, I could remember drawing an 8-year-old boy with a rope across his mouth, crying and with the words NOT AMONG. That artwork depicts my current predicament and that of many others who are born and grow up in a society where they wake up at 5:00 A.M in the morning to fetch water when they should be sleeping, where their parents discourage them to focus on their talents because the society they are born hasn’t nurtured much of such people. Where I find myself and that of many other contemporaries at the market places around 10:00 A.M selling cold water, running after each car for us to be able to feed our families when we should be in schools. This artwork I drew portrays the opposite of the society we find ourselves. I wanted our leaders and parents to know that this is not the society we should live in. I didn’t have the heart or even voice to speak this louder for our leaders and families to understand our pitiable plight and that of many others in the streets of Freetown, so the best way to seek refuge is to do this drawing that I could take a look at whenever I want to describe children and young people in Sierra Leone’’
In one of your artworks, there is one of different faces joint together with a message of Mental Health problems. Tell us more about this artwork?
‘’Mental health is a problem that has blazing up in recent times due to the number of children and young people engaged in it in sierra Leone. Since 2018, Watching some international news whenever I have the chance, I see lot of report on this troubling issue. In our country, many young people have engaged in taking drugs that affect their wellbeing which push them to do bad things like stealing, insulting their parents and end up destroying their future at a tender age. With the drawing of those different faces side by side helps send out a message of how our young people look like when they take drugs, it shows that they are no longer normal when they take drugs. I want to help in adding a voice to this growing concern in the world.’’
In some of your artworks, you drew some past leaders and celebrities who are they and why did you choose to draw them?
‘’2 Pac Shakur, Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson and others, Having watched YouTube videos of their inspiring journey, I realized that they served as a source of inspiration to many, they went through a lot of challenges to be where they were. I drew them because they had talents and most importantly most of them were born and grew up a society where opportunities were not available, faced with injustices, and otherwise did what they did to inspire others in their various field where they are good. The likes of Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and many others. Some of them proved to the society that their talents are a profession too and should be respected. So putting their faces on a paper inspires me that I will someday prove to my parents and country that artwork is a profession that should be recognized and respected.’’
In a society that has not seen so much interest in artworks or skills in general, what are some of the challenges you are faced with?
‘’My greatest challenges are for my family to accept my talents, some of the materials I need to do my artworks, and the opportunity to pursue my education. I was born and grew up in a society where parents have not seen a successful artist, as in rich or let alone someone that is talked about and praised. So the reality is my parent have not and will not easily accept my talent, so the option I have is to break the chain, I will need support from you reading my story that is inspired by what I do to help me go to university so I can continue my education and graduate in this artwork, you can do so by either helping finance my education, buy my artworks or request for my service. I am optimistic with your support, I will come out triumphant to my parents that they will someday see a man they didn’t believe in me.
For some young people that are inspired by your work and those reading, what message do you have to tell them?
There are many young people talented than me, they are born and living in a society where our parents and government have not created a safe space where we will grow up, nurture, and realize from our potentials, instead, they want us to believe that. I am sending out a message to the government, humanitarians, and organizations to come to my aid support me. If my family does not have confidence in my artwork, you can all help me build that confidence in and help me rewrites the story to the world. I strongly believe that through my artwork, I am able to raise awareness on social issues affecting young people in our country. My recent artwork on mental health problems is a clear manifestation of the challenges young people face in our country. if you want to support me, or are interested in any of my artwork, contact me on the following number direct call or WhatsApp: +23299634235