Growing up in Sierra Leone, Abass Mamud Sesay saw his relatives struggle every day to make ends meet. He often thought to himself: There must be a better way.
“My extended family was from a poor background,” Abass says. “I remember they wanted access to basic amenities but couldn’t afford them.”
“I realized that we needed to empower youth to tackle the root causes of poverty,” Abass says. “We needed to contribute to the wellbeing of others.”
Abass, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, later founded the nonprofit Active Ambassadors Network Sierra Leone, which works to promote climate change action, girl-child education, youth empowerment, gender mainstreaming, youth leadership, human rights, and justice across the state.
In addition to running his nonprofit, Abass mentors young adults throughout Sierra Leone to provide them with the training and skills they need to build sustainable careers and lift themselves out of poverty.
In his current work, Abass is working to educate his peers about the risks of COVID-19 and the steps they can take to keep themselves and their communities safe. Abass is particularly concerned about the wellbeing of people with disabilities in Sierra Leone.
“I have begun training youth to help the visually impaired, as they have an especially difficult time moving from place to place without touching a surface that might be infected,” Abass says.
“It’s also more difficult for them to observe social distancing guidelines. It’s never been more crucial to challenge stigmatization and discrimination against people with disabilities.”
When Abass first proposed the idea for his nonprofit, he was met with skepticism.
“Friends and relatives mocked me. They didn’t understand my idea,” Abass says. “Or, at the very least, they didn’t think I could start it. They just saw me as a very poor boy.”
For Abass, countering the criticism leveled against him began with a focus on his aim: lifting others out of poverty.
“I want to empower youth to discover and to use their potential to contribute to their communities. That starts with self-awareness and self-control.”
As Abass puts it, achievement is less about monetary gain and more about giving back.
“That’s when I feel most fulfilled: when I’m serving my community.”
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