I’ve been reading a book recently entitled “Back to Africa” about George Ross and The Maroons from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, by Mavis C. Campbell.  It made me think about our Maroon Church in Freetown and want to write this blog to share a few of the things I have learnt.

Ancestral links

In 2021, Sierra Leone became the first African nation to formally give people citizenship if they can prove they have ancestral ties to the country.  Recently there has been an increase in people tracing their heritage back to West Africa through DNA testing. This has revolutionised the way people understand their ancestry and connect with their past and I cannot help thinking about Dave’s lyrics when performing ‘Black’ at the Brits.  “Black is my Ghanaian brother readin’ into scriptures doin’ research on his lineage, findin’ out that he’s Egyptian”.

By analysing genetic markers passed down through generations, DNA testing can reveal detailed information about a person’s ethnic background, geographical origins, and familial connections. This scientific approach allows people to uncover aspects of their lineage that might have been obscured by time, migration, or lack of historical records.  There is of course an enduring connection between many people of Afro-Caribbean heritage living in America the Caribbean and South America.  For example the percentage of MyHeritage DNA users in Jamaica who have Sierra Leonean heritage stands at 56.5%.  Who knew there were such strong links between Jamaica and Sierra Leone?  Of course it makes sense for broader West Africa. I guess “Black is people namin’ your countries on what they trade most Coast of Ivory, Gold Coast, and the Grain Coast”.

My debut cookbook ‘Sweet Salone’ offers a very brief history of Sierra Leone from pages 13 – 17, before moving on to tell a very personal story about my family and migration within West Africa.  In this post I would like to set out another migration story. This story is one of forced migration and once again the movement of people seeking freedom and a better life. The historical links between Sierra Leone and the Caribbean are deeply rooted in the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, and the movement of peoples between these regions over several centuries.  The cultural exchange created from this movement of people to and from Africa fascinates me.

One thing I have pondered recently is the connection between Jamaican Bammy usually eaten with fried fish or salt fish and our Cassada Bred.  Bammy is a traditional Jamaican cassava flatbread descended from the simple flatbread eaten by the Arawaks, Jamaica’s original inhabitants. I believe that the similarities may show that (potentially) there is a direct connection with our popular Salone street food, cassava flatbreads with onion stew and often wonder which way this technique or recipe travelled?  One thing is for sure, and that is the presence of similar cassava-based dishes in both Jamaica and Sierra Leone highlights the culinary connections that span the African diaspora.

There are very strong connections between plate, planet, people, and culture.  I love exploring them for two reasons.

Firstly a Sierra Leonean born Chef, I love our food stories that explore the cultural, historical, personal, and social significance of food. Secondly as a migrant myself, I am sometimes aghast at the inhuman way migrants are clumsily described in the mainstream media.  “Populism defines our current political age, and migration is a pressing contemporary issue.  I believe migration should be placed at the heart of our national stories if it is to be more widely understood.  It has shaped who we are – as individuals, as communities, as countries.” Sweet Salone – Recipes from the Heart of Sierra Leone (2023) Page 91

This post is about St. John’s Maroon Church in Freetown, Sierra Leone and the enduring Connection Between the Caribbean and Sierra Leone, West Africa.  This historic landmark in our capital Freetown, was built by the Maroon community,  but who were they?  Why did they come to Sierra Leone?  How did they come to Sierra Leone?

The Black Community in London 1787 – 1807

Before setting out who the Maroons were, I would like to start a little closer to my current home.  I want to start in London, England.  On page 91 of my cookbook I mentioned a group of people often described as ‘The Black Poor” in London.  How did they arrive in London?  Why were they poor? Why did they head to Sierra Leone?

In the 1780’s there was a small Black community in London that were free but struggling to survive and thrive at the end of the American Revolution.  This was the American war for independence against the Kingdom of Great Britain.  This black community in London were freed slaves that had been brought to England from America or the Caribbean by their white masters.  This community was growing because there were many black people working on the ships sailing between Britain and America during the war that now needed to find work in England.  Many had begun the war as slaves working on plantations in America but fled to the British side on the promise of freedom and employment.  The reality was that racism prevailed and they were unable to find employment in order to feed and house themselves in London.  A British man named, Henry Smeathman who had travelled to and from Sierra Leone to England and lived for three years on the Banana Islands, just off the mainland, proposed the idea of moving the black poor in London back to Africa.  There were others from Jamaica and Nova Scotia that were returned back to Africa.

The Maroons

The story of the Maroon community in Sierra Leone also began in the late 18th century. After the Maroons’ resistance during the Maroon Wars in Jamaica, the British colonial government decided to relocate many of them. In 1796, about 600 Jamaican Maroons were transported to Nova Scotia, Canada. However, the harsh climate and difficult conditions in Nova Scotia led to their further resettlement in Sierra Leone in 1800.  Upon their arrival in Freetown, the Maroons joined other groups of freed slaves, including the Black Loyalists from Nova Scotia who had settled in the region earlier. The Maroons brought with them their strong sense of identity, cultural practices, and traditions, which significantly influenced the local community.

Establishment of St. John’s Maroon Church

St. John’s Maroon Church was established in the early 19th century by the Maroons who had settled in Freetown. The church was built as a place of worship and community gathering, playing a crucial role in preserving the Maroon cultural heritage and fostering a sense of unity among the community members.

Architectural and Cultural Significance

The architecture of St. John’s Maroon Church is a unique blend of African and European styles. Constructed with local materials and traditional techniques, the church stands as a testament to the Maroons’ adaptability and resourcefulness. Its design reflects the fusion of African motifs with elements introduced by European missionaries, creating a distinctive and harmonious structure.

The church is not only significant for its architectural beauty but also for its cultural importance. It houses numerous artifacts and records that document the Maroon experience, from their origins in Jamaica to their settlement in Sierra Leone. The church also hosts cultural events, religious ceremonies, and educational programs that celebrate Maroon heritage and promote community cohesion.

Role of St. John’s Maroon Church Today

Today, St. John’s Maroon Church continues to serve as a place of worship. The church’s congregation is dedicated to preserving the Maroon legacy and promoting an understanding of their historical contributions.  St. John’s Maroon Church in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is not just a religious institution; but  a symbol of the resilience, cultural heritage, and enduring spirit of the Maroon community. From its origins in the early 19th century, the church has remained a central pillar of Maroon history in Sierra Leone.

To this day it continues to educate, inspire, and unite people.

I hope what I have written here might inspire others to look into their linage, or perhaps start to read a bit more of the rich history of Sierra Leone and learn a bit more about our rich and fascinating culture.   It has value. Culture provides us with a sense of identity, connecting us to our heritage, history, and ancestors. It helps define who we are and where we come from.  Cultural heritage and traditions attract tourists, generating significant economic benefits for communities and countries through tourism.  Culture fuels the creative industries, including music, film, literature, and the arts, contributing to economic growth and innovation.

The value of culture lies in its ability to connect us to our past, enrich our present, and inspire our future.  This is why I mention it.

Maria

A Voice from the Kitchen

I began building my career and perhaps trying to find my identity through food back in 2017 and after seven years of hard graft I do not yet feel I belong.  In my journey I’ve come to realize that achieving equality, let alone equity, appears to be a challenge in the food sector. Knowing this, I feel compelled to say something, to write something and publish something, for the record.

Not just for my own peace of mind but because it is important for those who also wish to walk this path.

Inequity prevails

There is an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.  I am familiar with that reaction.  The Sunday Times Best Selling Book “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” explains this well and to quote a news article back in 2017, “They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not to really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong”.

So I must say this loud and clear “I do not feel part of the system, I do not feel welcome, included, or equal”

It is important I voice this for three reasons:

Firstly, cooking is about connection; and whilst cliché, connecting people through food is what I enjoy and to some extent my ‘why’.  It brings me immense joy.

Secondly, I want to create platform on which others can build.  Other creatives, other people of colour, other people of Afro-Caribbean heritage.

Thirdly, I want to break down the systemic biases that favor certain foods and chefs over others.

As a fairly new entrant trying to make my way in this sector, trying to find my space I must say to those that follow me that you must expect to have to work twice as hard, just to achieve equal recognition just to get a foot in the door.  When I started Maria Bradford Kitchen back in 2017 as a relatively unknown black Chef I remember cold calling, card dropping, and personally visiting venues in hoping to secure a super-club venue.  I lacked credibility and profile in those days so the “No’s” where to be expected.  However, I soon learnt to ask my white, British Husband to call, drop in or enquire because his success rate was immediately telling.  I am not sure if it was the familiar accent, lack of dreadlocks, or his skin colour but it was crystal clear how much more airtime let alone success he could get.

We worked hard in those days to build credibility, get events and experience under my belt and with a growing social media presence I decided to pitch for my debut cookbook.

Most cookbook authors are white, and most literary agents, editors, publishers, food and prop stylists, photographers and book designers are white and therefore I accept the European lens, the white gaze when hearing my pitch, although it was more than a little infuriating for one major publisher to say, “African food is best plated in a home cooking style”.

Awards

Cookbook awards play a vital role in shaping the past, present, and future of the culinary arts.  Having overcome these and a few other minor but nonetheless frustrating challenges, comes my experience and view of cookbook awards.  Awards are important, for new Authors.  They are important for the sector because they are an opportunity to elevate culinary voices, amplify diverse perspectives, preserve culinary heritage, and inspire further creativity.

They are important events in the food sector and all the more important for new entrants hoping to break ground or build a culinary placemaking strategy for a particular type of cuisine.

They are established to champion the achievements of the UK’s current and emerging writers, publishers, photographers, broadcasters, content creators and personalities who encourage us to enjoy, experience and broaden our appreciation of food and drink through their work.  Once again the majority of cookbook authors are white, the judges are white and the nominations predominantly white.  Sadly these awards serve to maintain the status quo.  I am not suggesting the bias is conscious or completely unconscious.  Racism is not simply attitudinal prejudice or individual acts, but an historical legacy that privileges one group of people over others.  Colonialism, in all intents and purposes was a disservice to Africa.  It left in its wake a preference towards European food structured along racial and socio-economic lines exists to the present day, whereby European cuisines are typically regarded as superior and prestigious and these ingrained preferences pan-out disadvantaging black chefs, black authors that cook food from the African continent when it comes to the notable industry awards.

Opportunity

Cookbooks can be a catalyst for change. They can satiate a community’s need for representation and open a gateway to a world of flavours, narratives, and traditions to those unfamiliar.  They can often provide a foundation for culinary placemaking and therefore are important to countries that have been plundered of their cultural heritage. They can act as a vital bridge reconnecting people in Europe and across the diaspora to a wealth of culinary knowledge that is often at risk of being lost due to our habit of passing recipes through the practical demonstration of relatives.  It is entirely possible to connect people through food.

A cookbook can draw parallels between historical struggles and contemporary challenges, they can strive to raise awareness about enduring societal issues, emphasizing the collective responsibility to foster a world where every person can thrive.

On this basis is there not, an obligation for the gatekeepers and custodians of the prevailing system to recognize and proactively foster equal opportunities for all individuals, promote a more inclusive sector, and address the systemic barriers that prevail?

To those that follow me and dream of breaking through, do not be put off.  You can do it.  I felt a duty to share these observations so that you are better equipped and able to endure and overcome the system and one day realize the dream of a more equitable sector.  I certainly hope I am alive to see it.

Final Note

In conclusion, as a Black chef navigating the culinary world, I’ve experienced firsthand the challenges of inequity and lack of representation within the industry, and why the table stays white. Despite the barriers I’ve faced, I firmly believe in the importance of recognition via awards for cookbooks. These accolades not only celebrate culinary excellence but are crucial in the preservation of culinary heritage and for building appreciation for other cuisines and cultures.

However, the systemic biases that exist within the awarding process, where predominantly white panels often overlook the contributions of chefs and authors from marginalized communities, must be addressed . This perpetuates a cycle of inequality that undermines the true diversity and richness of our culinary landscape.

Finally, to aspiring chefs and authors who dream of breaking through, I urge you not to be discouraged by the obstacles that lie ahead. Your voices, your stories, and your contributions are invaluable to the culinary community. By sharing our experiences, advocating for change, and supporting one another, we can work towards realising a more inclusive and equitable culinary world—one where every person has the opportunity to thrive and be celebrated for their culinary talents.

Maria. 

Africa is the final frontier of food, and the movement to elevate our culinary culture upwards in the food hierarchy continues.  I intend to play my part, in this necessary journey.

Articles

Why the table stays white 

Why I am no longer talking to white people about race

To Change Racial Disparity in Food, Let’s Start With Cookbooks

Reflecting on the passing year is not just a customary tradition, but an invaluable opportunity to appreciate the milestones, challenges, and growth that has shaped our journey. As we stand at the threshold of a new chapter, it’s only fitting to cast a glance back at the experiences that defined the past 12 months.

In this ‘year in review’ I will unravel the threads of 2023, connecting the highs and lows, achievements and lessons learned, and the moments that left an indelible mark on me (Maria Bradford) and Shwen Shwen.

A Year in Review

Q1 2023 (Jan to March)

I was writing my cookbook throughout 2022 which was quite a stressful and emotional journey that got a bit more intense towards the end. Come January 2023 I needed to top up on inspiration, keep learning and take a brief interlude before the year got too busy.  I flew out to Cyprus, to visit some carefully selected villages and traditional product workshops to taste a variety of Cypriot delicacies.

Travel often serves as a source of inspiration, a means of professional development, and an avenue for cultural exchange for me as a Chef. It allows me to continually evolve, bringing fresh ideas and experiences back to the kitchen.  I visited Cambodia the year before and was thrilled to receive a signed copy of “Nhum” from Chef Nak in January 23.  Furthermore, I was pleased to be featured in Kent Life magazine in an interview piece entitled “Why we love cooking in Kent” in January.

In February I was delighted to support Action Against Hunger at London’s Oxo Gallery with their free exhibition of stunning photography from South Sudan by award-winning photographer @petercatonpix .  The incredible photos highlight the devastation caused by years of extreme flooding in South Sudan and how, with Action Against Hunger’s help, local communities are adapting in the face of the climate crisis. That month, Sainsbury’s Magazine also featured my Rice Bread recipe.

In March I featured in Inside Kent magazine again celebrating all that is great and good about the garden of England and in the same month I shared the cover of my debut cookbook ‘Sweet Salone’. The inspiration for the cover came from Sierra Leonean Country Cloth. Country cloth or (“kpokpo”) is a centuries-old traditional textile of Sierra Leone. Woven on a drop spindle, using locally sourced raw cotton and ink from tree bark, country cloth was the traditional garb of paramount chiefs and had varied uses as hammocks and bedspreads.

Once again I would like to thank the amazing Dave Brown @apeincltd @jimmylazergram (a.k.a White boy snap snap) who designed this cover. He’s an award-winning designer and photographer who travelled with me to Sierra Leone for location photography.

Q2 2023 (Apr to Jun)

I was pleased my products/services got a mention in Preneur World, Specialty Food Magazine and Delicious Food mag in April and I also received my very own copy of Sweet Salone in April.  In May I contributed a quote to BBC Good Food about Sierra Leonean-style braised beef short ribs.

In May I had the pleasure of attending the @fortnums Food and Drink Awards (Grabbed a selfie with Rick Stein, who has been an inspiration to me). These awards champion the achievements of the UK’s current and emerging writers, editors, publishers, photographers, broadcasters and personalities who encourage us to enjoy, explore and experience more about food and drink through their work.  I had a ball.

On a sad note.  Our beloved Cotton Tree, the historic symbol of Freetown, in the capital city of Sierra Leone broke at the trunk on Wednesday, 24th May 2023 due to a heavy storm that brought it down. For something that has been a constant my whole life, a living thing that must have seen so much of humanity and our story, it felt like a family member passing on.

In May, I attended Food Season at the @thebritishlibrary_ I thoroughly enjoyed listening and learning more about the creativity, versatility, and rich history the speakers had to offer. It’s clear that there is now a movement with momentum that can spotlight stories, people, and places in the Black food community. I’m so proud I can play my part, represent Sierra Leone on the UK food scene, and meet so many wonderful people.  I joined a panel on the topic of ‘Smashing the Food Hierarchy: Re-Evaluating the World’s Foods’ with @dees_table and @akokomi in conversation with @mels_place_east . This panel was followed by a topic many West Africans can get quite passionate about ‘The Journey of Jollof’. Jollof is an institution that has evolved across borders and is eaten across West Africa: the different ways in which it is enjoyed says a lot about the different nations, tribes, and movement across the region. It was a delight and a privilege to join @littlebaobabuk and @akwasibmensa to talk about jollof in our respective countries of Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Ghana.

Q3 2023 (Jul to Sept)

In July I was on BBC Radio with Cerys Matthews. The most popular digital only radio show in the country. It was indeed a joyous exploration of music, poetry, and food, and it was an absolute pleasure to spend time chatting to Cerys and share my playlist with her. It was great to learn she knew about S. E. Rogie and has heard Dr Oloh. I made fonio with spiced roasted butternut squash and pine nuts (page 78 of Sweet Salone), which went down really well with the team.

I then held not one, but two consecutive supper clubs in London for Fortnum and Masons. There’s a lot of synergy in our approach and dedication to providing the best tasting food by ensuring that we use only the finest ingredients and production methods. This is a shared value and why I love collaborating with F&M in London at their Food & Drink Studio on the 3rd Floor in London’s Piccadilly Store, where they offer unmissable masterclasses and intimate dining experiences hosted by some of the world’s best chefs.  Including little ol me!

13th July was the publication day for Sweet Salone.  I want to express my deepest gratitude to the team that helped imagine it, shoot it, design it, and publish it. Thank you to all the wonderful cookbook enthusiasts that have bought it too.

Come the end of July there was a nice mention of the book in Waitrose Magazine, Delicious Magazine, Food and Travel.

In August, I catered for LABRUM and fellow Sierra Leonean, Creative Director Foday Dumbuya, who was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design in May 2023. The event was to mark the launch of a limited edition collection with Irish beer brand Guinness on 7 August 2023.  In the same month I appeared on channel 4’s Sunday Brunch TV show and Kent Life Magazine did another feature on ‘What Maria did next’.

Podcasts have become quite popular over the last few years and in September I was pleased to join CAFOD the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development on theirs and also the wonderful ladies from PodaPoda Stories and the Brooklyn Book Festival in the USA.  Towards the end of September I was featured in NatGeo Travel.

Q4 2023 (Oct to Dec)

I had an unforgettable day in October back in Sierra Leone. This book launch home coming is a 360-degree adventure as I grew up not far from the British High Commission in Freetown. From play cook business in a broken-down car in front of our house in Tengbeh Town to a debut cookbook launch, standing side by side with the High Commissioner. Sierra Leone and England are both homes to me, and both have moulded me into the person that I am today.

It felt great to be back home launching ‘Sweet Salone’ my debut cookbook. Seeing my friends, family, and supporters gathered together to celebrate this milestone was truly heartwarming.

Thank you to the amazing team at Hello Sierra Leone for once again championing the home coming of ‘Sweet Salone’. To @jewlsandtravels I couldn’t have done this without you. @royal_ifab thank you for being fabulous and PR extraordinaire in Sierra Leone. ‘Watin na TV appearance den, look at pack’.  I’d also like to say a big thank you to AYV Media Empire Sierra Leone.  It was a pleasure to join a number of TV and Radio shows back home.

Thank you, Rosaline Thomas, for flying all the from England to Sierra Leone to support me. You empower me effortlessly, thank you.  Back in the UK the book was once again featured in Waitrose Magazine.

Every year on October 11th, the International Day of the Girl is celebrated worldwide. This day is dedicated to recognizing and empowering girls across the globe, raising awareness about the challenges they face, and advocating for their rights and gender equality. Since its inception in 2012, this observance has become a catalyst for change, highlighting the importance of investing in girls’ education, health, and well-being.   I was privileged to visit EducAid’s Strong Girl Incubator (SGI) project in Sierra Leone that provides girls and young women who are vulnerable to dropping out of school with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to successfully join mainstream secondary education.  While in Freetown I visited the Aurora Foundation and their wonderful Sweet Salone Pottery Project.  Please do visit their online shop. 

I did an online cooking class for Milk Street, based in Boston USA. Then CN Traveller, the essential guide to inspirational travel, featured what I do and featured Sierra Leonean cuisine. This magazine is known for breathtaking locations, stunning photography, and independent travel advice. This is what makes Condé Nast Traveller the authority in its field and the premier lifestyle magazine for people with a passion for travel, adventure, culture, and new ideas.

Towards the end of October I attended an event run by Rory’s Well Foundation who are working sensitively and ​co-operatively with local communities in Sierra Leone.  They are doing an amazing job so please do check out their website.  From clean water to bee farming, rice farming, women’s farms and vocational education and training, I am looking forward to collaborating with them again in 2024 and beyond. 

In November I attended, The Sierra Leone Arts & Culture festival (#SLACFest ) at Brixton House in London and also the Afro Arts Production Event.  Events like these are important to me, it’s an opportunity to contribute to the vitality and resilience of our community in the UK. National Geographic Magazine then featured an article from me on Sierra Leone at the end of November 23.

Ending the year with 50,000 followers on Instagram was a milestone I was pleased to meet.  I have put a fair amount of effort into content creation since 2017, and community engagement. It is great to see the growth and success of Shwen Shwen but most importantly I am keen to construct a platform on which others can build.  It’s important we continue to foster a more inclusive and equitable environment. The food & drink industry will benefit from diverse perspectives, talents, innovations and I am certainly keen to keep nudging Sierra Leone up the food hierarchy and to ensure Sierra Leone has its place on the world food map.

In December I established my YouTube channel and my TikTok account so please do like and subscribe for all that is coming next.

I did some filming with the wonderful Fats Timbo. We cooked Fish Huntu and Cassava Leaf Plassas together.

What happens next in 2024?

In the New Year I will release a new conversational cooking project called “Kam mek wi it!” where my guests choose a couple of dishes from Sweet Salone that I cook with them, while chatting and having fun.  It was a lot of fun and will start rolling out in 2024.  I love my job!

Between Christmas and New Year, I collaborated with Karma Drinks. They are on a mission to be the world’s most ethical soft drink and have established The Karma Foundation where 1% of revenue from every Karma Drink goes to Cola nut growers and their communities in Sierra Leone.  Shwen Shwen and Karma have a lot in common, from my family history as Cola nut traders from Guinea right up-to to my grandmother today in Bandajuma, Bo, but also on our quest to be a force for good.  In 2024 I’ll be doing some more collaborations with the great people at Karma.

Looking forward to January….on the 9th January at 7.30pm I will be cooking Plantain Pie at The Sevenoaks Bookshop in Kent.  The Bookshop opened in 1948, when Basil and Frances Krish bought John Richardson’s secondhand bookshop and renamed it The Sevenoaks Bookshop.  I’m looking forward to meeting lots of lovely people then.

I am flying off to Kigali, Rwanda.  Don’t worry that nasty Suella Braverman is not removing me, for being a proud migrant, #iammigrant.  I have been invited to run some cooking tutorials and spend time with some adventurous foodies in East Africa and I cannot wait.  I’ve never been to Kigali or Rwanda for that matter but I have heard all about the warm and welcoming nature of the Rwandan people.

With a bit of help I have scheduled a number of Shwen Shwen, High Tea events in 2024 at my studio in Kent.  I’ll be sharing an Eventbrite link shortly.

I am really excited for what else 2024 has in store for Shwen Shwen and me and I cannot wait to keep sharing Sierra Leonean culture, cuisine and produce with the world!

Wishing you all a Very Happy New Year for 2024

Maria xx

Maria on TV show Maria on TV showMaria on TV showMaria backstage with Cerys sampling her food Maria in radio studioChannel 4 logo in studioBBC Wogan House signMaria and Family at book launchVideo Clapperboard for TV show Maria appeared onMaria on bench in Sierra Leone

Our Sweet Salone, is a country known for its rich cultural diversity and breathtaking landscapes, and it has made significant progress in recent years towards women’s empowerment and gender equality. However, challenges still persist, and the journey to empower women and ensure their full participation in all aspects of society is ongoing.  I returned home in October 2023, and it was a pleasure to visit EducAid’s Strong Girl Incubator (SGI) project.

Historical Context

There is much to love about Sierra Leone, and far more to this beautiful country than a complex history marked by civil conflict and socio-economic challenges.  However, we must also confront the brutal truth which is that these challenges have disproportionately affected women.  Sierra Leone is one of the most challenging countries in the world to be a girl, ranked 162 out of 170 countries on the 2021 UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index. Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) is also commonplace with 9/10 girls affected (UNICEF:2019) in the country and corporal punishment and violence in schools is widespread.  More than half of the population in Sierra Leone lives below the poverty line and many girls and young women still unable to access or continue their education.  This is why the work EducAid do is so important.

EducAid’s Strong Girl Incubator (SGI) project

I visited EducAid Lumley, 23 Sheriff Drive Lumley, Freetown.  I was met by one of the students, who gave me a tour  of the school.  It was really interesting,  hearing how the school works.  The Educaid Moto is “Love and do as you will”.

The children do not pay school fees. The fee for education is:

  1. Excellent Attendance
  2. Excellent Effort
  3. Excellent Behaviour

I could see the children are really well behaved, well spoken and have beautiful handwriting. The girls can relate to the teachers because many of the teachers are past Educaid students and are now able to give back themselves.

Women have been at the forefront of peace and development initiatives, demonstrating resilience and strength in the face of adversity.  This initiative provides girls and young women who are vulnerable to dropping out of school with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to successfully join mainstream secondary education. The SGI is an accelerated learning programme that also includes mentoring and peer support. In addition to the academic work that begins with basic literacy and numeracy before progressing to mathematics, language and arts, participants enjoy workshops, sisterhood circles and other activities designed to create support networks, to increase self- esteem, and to build resilience. The SGI provides a safe, judgement-free space for girls to learn together, creating a built-in support network led by female role models. Working with some of the most vulnerable women in Sierra Leone, the project also removes other barriers by providing shelter, hygiene supplies, school materials and other necessities when needed.

These deliverables lead girls and young women to build a stronger and more equal future for themselves and their communities. With mentoring and peer support to increase self-esteem and build resilience, girls and young women form connections and create shared values surrounding their common mission; to overcome poverty through education.

EducAid expect 70% of SGI students to successfully return to mainstream education within 1 year and to enjoy and display increased confidence and take on leadership roles within school, participating fully in meetings and in class.

Last year the project achievements exceeded expectations as 48 out of 50 (96%) of girls and young women enrolled in the SGI successfully transitioned to mainstream secondary education. Qualitative data collected from interviews with students and teachers show that the SGI has a remarkable impact on positive social behavioural change among its beneficiaries. After a few weeks of participation, most girls and young women display increased self-awareness and improved relational and communication skills.

Women’s Empowerment in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has made significant strides in women’s empowerment, but the journey towards full gender equality is far from over. To continue this progress, it is crucial to address the remaining challenges, including gender-based violence, healthcare disparities, and cultural norms. Empowering women is not just a matter of justice; it is a catalyst for socio-economic development, peace, and stability in Sierra Leone.  Numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international partners have played a vital role in advancing women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone and having visited I am certain that Ecudaid’s efforts are integral to the progress being made.

As Salone continues to invest in the potential of its women, it paves the way for a brighter and more equitable future for all!

There are many ways that you can get involved with EducAid. It can be a small contribution or a big contribution; support them with your time or a donation.  You can reach out to me directly via any of my social channels or this website.  I will be more than pleased to connect you directly to folks on the ground or simply get in touch with them via their website.

Maria

 

 

Exclusive Author Event -11-10-2023

On Wednesday 11th October, 2023 from 5.30pm, I will be at the Aurora Foundation offices, 186 Wilkinson Road, Opposite Lumley Police Station, Freetown, Sierra Leone.   We are delivering an Exclusive Author Event with myself and Ishmael Beah.  In addition to their renowned Sierra Leonean Home Goods, they are now also selling books by Sierra Leonean authors!

The Aurora Foundation and I share many values, they aim to be a dynamic catalyst in development and culture, by executing projects that provide a robust and permanent boost to communities.  Like me, they believe in the free and creative spirit of the mind. Their vision is to nurture and cultivate this spirit in order to improve and enrich people’s lives and to be a dynamic catalyst for development and culture, by executing projects that provide a robust and permanent boost to communities.  Last week I visited some Aurora Foundations initiatives to see first hand their amazing work which I have heard so much about.

High-fired pottery from Sierra Leone

Lettie Stuart Pottery is a unique place in Sierra Leone and all of West Africa, as it is one of the few places capable of producing high-fired pottery. It was founded in 2008 by the Sierra Leone Adult Education Association (SLADEA) and named after Dr. Lettie Stuart, the founder of SLADEA. It was a three-year training course established to help adults and youth without formal education acquire the necessary skills to be employed as potters.

Among the students that graduated were Brima Koroma, Mohamed A Sesay, and Fatmata Lakoh, and they were expected to run the facility after the training course was completed. However, with little experience running a facility and no substantial training, the center slowly deteriorated, and little funds were gathered to maintain it.

In 2018 Aurora Foundation began working in partnership with the center, starting with center improvements in their infrastructure and equipment. As well, a new 18-month training program was established to recruit and train more potters.  I heard this week how this month October 2023, an 18month pottery school will launch to train 8 more potters. Today Aurora Foundation is still supporting the center to improve equipment and the surroundings to create a better work environment for the employees and to enable higher production levels.  I was also pleased to hear that due to the quality of the clay they are producing high quality cooking stoves.   When you have finished reading this blog, please do visit their shop.

Development comes with initiatives that eliminate hindrances to people’s choices and opportunities to realise their humanity and individual talents.  Culture is the richest manifestation of human liberty. The cultivation of human capacities brings meaning and hope where deprivation hampers development. The Aurora Foundation was created by Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, landscape architect and her husband Ólafur Ólafsson,entrepreneur and investor. It was formally established on 23 January 2007, Ólafur’s 50th birthday. The Aurora Foundation initial capital was ISK one billion (approx. 14M USD), which was donated by the founders.

The Foundation’s annual disposable income is interest income and other returns on initial capital, and other funds that the Foundation may acquire. The Aurora Foundation is a non-profit organization that operates according to a confirmed Charter.  Please do check out their website

Looking forward to the event next week.

Maria

Links

/https://www.aurorafoundation.is/en/frettir/nr/exciting-change-at-the-aurora-foundation-store-in-freetown-2/

English About

The Sierra Leone national football team

“Keep dreaming, even when people laugh at your dreams or tell you that they are impossible to achieve. Keep believing in yourself.” Tobin Heath

Leone Stars is the nickname for the Sierra Leone national football team, which was formed in 1949 and played its first international match against Nigeria in Lagos in the same year. During the early years, Leone Stars participated in regional tournaments and friendly matches against neighboring countries.  Sierra Leone gained independence from British colonial rule in 1961, and in the following years, the national team faced numerous challenges due to limited resources and infrastructure, and political instability. Despite these difficulties, Leone Stars continued to compete in regional tournaments, and tried to establish themselves on the international stage.

The 1990s marked a significant period of improvement for Leone Stars. The team qualified for their first ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in 1994, held in Tunisia. Although they were eliminated in the group stage, it was a notable achievement for Sierra Leonean football.

Over the years, Leone Stars have had talented players who have represented the country with distinction. Some notable team members include Mohamed Kallon, Julius Wobay, Ibrahim Teteh Bangura, Kei Kamara, and Mohamed Bangura.

Like many national teams in Africa, Sierra Leone has faced challenges over the years. However, efforts have been made to improve the football landscape in the country, including development programs, coaching initiatives, and infrastructure projects.

Leone Stars have had their highs and lows, but they continue to represent Sierra Leone on the international stage. With ongoing improvements in infrastructure and football development, there is hope that the team will achieve further success in the future.

Leone Star (named after the Sierra Leone national team)

When the Leone Stars play, I struggle to watch. My heart is in my mouth, and I’m too invested.  By God, em power… with the right support and investment, we will improve our football infrastructure and player development, and enhance our competitiveness on the international stage.

I’ve created a cocktail – Leone Star – in honour of our national football team. It is made using star fruit, pineapple, gin, prosecco, and honey. Perfect for pre-match nerves or post-match celebrations, you’ll find the recipe in the Tipples section on page 218 of my cookbook, Sweet Salone.

Inspirational quotes for chefs and footballers, from footballers.

“Surround yourself with good people. Surround yourself with positivity and people who are going to challenge you to make you better. If you just kind of let yourself stay alone and be by yourself, the negative, it is just not going to help you. You can control two things, your work ethic and your attitude about anything.” – Ali Krieger

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pelé

“A champion is someone who does not settle for that day’s practice, that day’s competition, that day’s performance. They are always striving to be better. They don’t live in the past.” – Briana Scurry

“You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be.” – Christian Pulisic

“You can overcome anything if, and only if, you love something enough.” Lionel Messi

“Whatever brings you down will eventually make you stronger.” Alex Morgan

“I don’t have time for hobbies. At the end of the day, I treat my job as a hobby. It’s something I love doing.” – David Beckham

Why ‘Sweet’ Salone?

Sierra Leone is sometimes referred to as “Sweet Salone” which translates to “Sweet Sierra Leone” in Krio. Krio is a Creole language that emerged during the colonial period as a lingua franca among the descendants of freed slaves and liberated Africans who resettled in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. Today, it is one of the most widely spoken languages in Sierra Leone. These diverse groups of Africans brought with them their native languages and cultures, resulting in a mixture of African languages, European languages (particularly English), and influences from Caribbean Creole languages. The interaction and intermingling of these different linguistic and cultural elements gave rise to the development of a unique Creole language, which became known as Krio.

The term “Sweet Salone” is an expression of endearment and pride for Sierra Leoneans, reflecting our affection for our country despite its past challenges and hardships. It conveys a sense of optimism, resilience, and love for our nation. Despite the difficulties the country has faced, including a civil war, mud slide and the Ebola outbreak, the people of Sierra Leone continue to embrace their cultural diversity, natural beauty, and rich heritage. “Sweet Salone” encapsulates the idea that Sierra Leone is a place with warm-hearted people, beautiful landscapes, and a unique blend of cultures, making it a special and cherished homeland.

Looking back

“Granville Sharp’s original Province of Freedom lasted only four years, from 1787 to 1791, but because a succession of freed slaves were able to create their own province of freedom in Sierra Leone during the nineteenth century.  The British who came to rule Sierra Leone after 1791 were unable to do so with consistent and over-all effectiveness, particularly in the area’s of local government and the administration of justice.  The resultant administrative and legal void was filled by the settlers and liberated Africans who were able to establish effective control of the political, economic, and social dimensions of their society.

The contact between the Liberated Africans and the Europeans who came to administer, to trade, to convert, and to teach produced an Afro-European society by the second half of the nineteenth century.  The cultural product of this contact is known as Creole society. 

Creole society has a much wider cultural spectrum than is usually attributed to it; it is far more Afro-European.  There were three groups of immigrants to Sierra Leone before 1807: the Orignal Settlers of 1787, the Nova Scotians of 1792, and the Maroons of 1800.  There were also between 60,000 – 70,000 liberated Africans who were saved from the holds of slave ships trading illegally after 1807 and settled in Sierra Leone. The children of the Liberated Africans are called ‘Creoles’.  There culture tended to be more European in its outward forms largely because of its geopgraphical focus was Freetown.  Creole society also embraced a wide variety of cultural forms which had their origins in the African past of its members.  The language of Creole is Krio, and their staple food such as fufu is not European, but rather indices of the Afro-European cultural fusions which had taken place in society itself.  The Creole then is a second generation immigrant to Sierra Leone, descended from Liberated African parents, whose cultural pattern was Afro-European”. 

Province of Freedom – A history of Sierra Leone 1878 -1870, John Peterson. 

Recipes from the heart of Sierra Leone.

My Cookbook, Sweet Salone, includes Sierra Leonean street food, traditional main dishes as well as Afro-fusion starters and mains. Food fusion is a form of cooking that combines contrasting culinary traditions, techniques and ingredients into a single dish. There are various forms of fusion food, including regional fusion which combines food from different regions or sub-regions.  Food fusion allows experimentation and freedom in exploring a contrast of flavours and textures. Creativity is at the core of culinary innovation. It’s very important to me as a chef to explore and show audiences something new without compromising on nostalgia. I have a keen eye for aesthetics and an imaginative approach to food presentation and my growing foodie audience on social media were eager to learn, explore, and incorporate diverse influences into their cooking.  Over the years I have developed a deep understanding of cooking methods, ingredient properties, and flavor combinations. This enables me to experiment confidently, adapt recipes, and create unique culinary experiences, influenced by my heritage and the schooling of my mother and grandmother.

I attended Leiths culinary school in London, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but the comprehensive knowledge of Sierra Leonean ingredients, including their seasonality, sourcing, and potential uses can only be attributed to my childhood in our Sweet Salone. I embrace the richness and diversity of African ingredients such as grains (e.g., millet, sorghum), tubers (e.g., yams, cassava), legumes (e.g., black-eyed peas, lentils), tropical fruits, leafy greens, and an array of spices and herbs. I like to embrace techniques from other culinary traditions to create innovative and harmonious dishes and I like to enhance, improve and be progressive wherever possible.

At Leiths I learnt a lot about classical European culinary techniques, including knife skills, food preparation, cooking methods, and recipe execution.  These are essential skills for professional Chefs.  This is not say that I didn’t have knife skills, my Sweet potato leaves chopping technique may raise eyebrows or make pulses race, but it is the same one Sierra Leonean women have been using for centuries, and I am quite clear that I learnt to cook in Sierra Leone.  I would ‘play-cook’ in a rusty broken down car as a child and pretend it was my kitchen, I began helping my mother cook from age 8 or 9 and my grandmother continues to inspire me.

I am a Sierra Leonean born Chef and I cook Sierra Leonean food and dishes inspired by heritage.

Therefore, as this book is filled with recipes from the heart of Sierra Leone. It was named accordingly; Sweet Salone.

https://amzn.eu/d/bjGJoEf

The first secondary school in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Sierra Leone was the most important education centre in the whole of West Africa for training teachers, doctors and administrators.

The education system that developed in Sierra Leone during the nineteenth and twentieth century was styled on the British education system. It was elitist in nature aimed at urban middle class and focused on the academically gifted, who would go on to tertiary education before taking up positions as civil servants in the government.

The Sierra Leone Grammar School was founded on 25th March 1845 as the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) Grammar School – the first secondary school in Sub- Saharan Africa. The school started with 14 pupils drawn from students of Fourah Bay College and was housed at Regent Square in a massive building which still exists. This is the origin of the names “Regentonia” and “Regentonian”.

The founding Principal was Rev. Thomas Peyton. On his death in 1853, Rev. James Quaker, one of the 14 original pupils, assumed leadership of the school – the first Regentonian and Sierra Leonean to do so.

Subjects offered within the first century of the school’s existence included English Grammar and Composition, Greek, Latin, French, Bible Knowledge, Mathematics, Science, Geography, Astronomy, History, Writing, Recitation, Music, Agriculture, Physical Education, Printing, Carpentry and Navigation. Additional subjects since the 1950s were Mende, Economics, Accounting, British Constitution/Government, Technical Drawing and Art leading to the wide range of subjects currently studied. There were also opportunities for Football, Cricket, Athletics, Swimming and activities related to Scouting and Missionary Work.

Over the years, the school became famous for the education, discipline and career prospects it provided. With the availability of boarding facilities at Regent Square, the school attracted pupils from various parts of the country and the African continent at large, thus creating the special Regentonian characteristic of dogged determination in the pursuit of goals. It was partly through the quality education provided by the school that Sierra Leone earned the cherished name of ‘Athens of West Africa’.

In 1962, the school moved to the present spacious site of about 50 acres at Murray Town with tremendous opportunities for development. The school has always been responsive to new educational ideas and programmes which have been refined and successfully welded to her basic traditional structure. She has led the way in many fields and development. Regentonians can be found playing leading roles in many spheres of life at home and abroad, thus reflecting the school’s continued commitment to discipline and quality education.

Shwen Shwen Foundation proudly supporting the SLGSOBA Foundation Trust (UK)

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” —Malcolm X.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.

I went to Vine Memorial Secondary School, in Freetown and my Principal at Vine Memorial was Mrs Lasite. She is the wife of Mr Lasite at The Sierra Leone Grammar School.  I am proud to say that Shwen Shwen Foundation is supporting Team Regentonian who are participating in three big sporting challenges this year for Sierra Leone Grammar School Old Boys Association Foundation Trust (SLGSOBA).  These are:

  • TCS London Marathon 2023 – 26.2m
  • Ford Ride London – 100m & 60m bike rides
  • Vitality London 10K race

These challenges are being undertaken to ensure a bright future, embedding STEM learning at the school. All of this is dependent on the continued belief and investment of the school’s donors.  Their science facilities are currently in desperate need of renewal, and the state-of-the-art plans they have to update them, simply won’t happen without the vital donations they oversee. More details can be found here: https://stemforslgs175.com/stem-at-slgs/

Sunday 23 April 2023 in London.  I’ll be there egging them on… I might even get my husband to run for them in 2024.

Maria

 

A wonderful surprise!

On the night I was dumbstruck.  All I could muster was thank you, thank you, thank you.

It was clear to those around me upon the announcement and to those handing me this award that I did not expect it.  I was shocked, surprised, thrilled, elated and unprepared.

So I didn’t say much about what it meant.  I couldn’t.

This is what I wish I’d said:

Africa is the final frontier of food.  Our traditional dishes, ingredients and techniques have been passed down for centuries and yet we can elevate and evolve what we do even further.  We can do that without compromising its authenticity or provenance.  Our food can be fine dining and that’s not selling out and it doesn’t make it any less black, or less African.

This is new Africa!

We are new Africa..

The world is yet to experience all that our content has to offer to contribute to share.   We can do home cooking, we can do casual dining, fast casual, diner, bistro, contemporary casual or fine dining, so let’s not put ourselves in a box, or worse let anyone else put us there.

There’s a lot of talk about migrants in the news and it’s easy to divorce oneself from the plight of others, unless you can to walk in their shoes or even know one.  I am a migrant.

Migration is not a crime, and as a black woman of Sierra Leonean origin trying to make it in the food industry I can tell you it is not easy.  We do face barriers, unconscious bias, and do have to push twice as hard.  I’m proudly African, I am British and I am black.  There are cultural differences, behaviours, beliefs, customs, traditions, language and expressions that are both fascinating and at time challenging, but I know there is a richness in diversity and much to love.

I am also really clear that we must work to eliminate racial disparities and improve outcomes for everyone. Where there is a need we much change policies, practices, systems, and structures by prioritizing measurable change in the lives of people of colour.  Be Inclusive Hospitality was established with a vision to create a Hospitality sector that is Equitable and Inclusive for Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities at all levels.  Their goal is to support the upward social mobility of 10,000 employees and 2,000 business owners from our community by 2026.  Please do check out their website: https://bihospitality.co.uk/

So I was thrilled to win the Award for African food.  This is my space.  I am proud to have one it for myself and for Sierra Leone.  I am also proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with BE Inclusive and demand equity, because every person, everywhere, should have an equal chance to live up to their full potential.

Maria

The Shwen Shwen Foundation is proud to announce our donation of £1,000.00 to the Cottage Hospital.  The Cottage Hospital is a nickname for the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH), which was founded in 1892 by British Missionaries in Sierra Leone.  This need was brought to our attention by Afro Arts Productions.

We would like to thank and recognise Afro Arts Productions who have been raising funds for Cottage Hospital since 2016.  The need is great and they have been helping with refurbishment of wards and offices, to providing mosquito news and plumbing works.  The Hospital suffers from power black-outs and lack of blood supplies and basics such as food for mothers and babies. The United Nations defines the “lifetime risk” of maternal mortality as the probability that a 15-year-old girl will die at some point from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Sierra Leone’s figure — one in 20 — is the third highest in the world.  The Cottage Hospital in Sierra Leone requires all the support we in the diaspora can muster.

Afro Arts Productions is a community based organisation in the UK, dedicated to highlighting for recognition, outstanding Sierra Leoneans in all walks of life in the UK.  They also work tirelessly on a number of charitable aims and initiatives and we would like to thank them for their support of the Cottage Hospital back in Sierra Leone.

The Shwen Shwen Foundation

The Shwen Shwen Foundation is not a charity, at least  not yet.  There are plenty of charities, perhaps too many and we feel there is benefit in pooling resources to achieve the most bang for our buck in terms of impact.  Shwen Shwen has become a Micro influencer on Instagram we are relatable to our followers and have an engaged audience because of our particular niche.  Our niche being a black owned business, focused on traditional Sierra Leonean cuisine and Afro-fusion fine dining. With influence comes great responsibility and we take that responsibility seriously.  We will balance purpose and profit and grasp opportunities to highlight three important issues:

Defeat Poverty – As a proud Sierra Leonean, I was born and raised in Freetown.  I know what it’s like to be hungry first hand.  I also know that over 700 million people in our world currently live in extreme poverty and that with collective action, we can change this.

Defend the Planet – The world’s poorest people contribute the least but suffer the most from the climate crisis. Climate change impacts people’s health, ability to access nutritious food, and livelihoods.

Demand Equity – Every person, everywhere, should have an equal chance to live up to their full potential.

The Shwen Shwen Foundation acts in a dynamic way, leverage our influence, raise awareness and respond when the need arises.  So far we responded to the mud-slides tragedy, fuel tanker explosion and now Cottage Hospital needs.  We will work with local partners, established Charities and NGO’s with visions, missions and values that resonate with ours, with causes that are dear to our hearts. In summary Shwen Shwen seeks to be a new kind of business that aims to connect people through food, balance purpose and profit and grab every opportunity we can to work toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.

We have a sincere desire to support the development, accomplishments, and well-being of others, and are very clear, that we must be the change we seek!

Today, 27th April 2022 is Sierra Leonean independence Day.  There will be a celebration of freedom, nationhood, history and patriotism. Some of us Sierra Leoneans,  both at home and in the diaspora, will once again – as we do at this time of the year – reflect on what freedom has meant for our nation.  And as before, it will invoke all sorts of complex emotions.

We continue to ask ourselves: How has Sierra Leone’s independence worked for us these last 61 years?  Has it even been a good thing?

Thinking about the future, how can we make a greater contribution moving forwards so that Sierra Leonean’s can enjoy the freedom and benefits that being independent should bring. Sierra Leonean’s have been through a lot, but while our hearts beat, hope lingers!

A single thread of hope is still a very powerful thing and on this independence day, I would like to offer a vision of hope.  It’s not what we look at that matters.  It’s what we see!

Imagine Sierra Leone, a country where wildlife thrives, and people can too.

Sierra Leone’s land and seas are rich in wildlife, it’s a country where people can live in harmony with nature.  The economic well-being and quality of life for Sierra Leoneans can be improved if we move to protect and maintain living landscapes, living seas and a society where nature matters, to ensure equity, good health care, consistent education, nutritious food and clean water for all.

The major natural resources in Sierra Leone include mineral resources, land for agricultural production, and tourist attractions.  Sierra Leone is blessed with abundant natural resources but we need to look after them.  The money we make is a symbol of the value we create.  Money flows in the direction of value.   Although a small country we are blessed with something of immense value and it is right under our noses.

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.  It is something in the world that holds true value.  Not many countries are blessed with what Sierra Leone has and it can be monetized, if we move to protect it.

Imagine the future…

Wildlife, wild places and natural habitats in Sierra Leone will be abundant and thriving again.  They will be a significant, commonplace and everyday part of the countries, towns and cities, our coasts and seas.  Our landscape will be full of flowers and alive with birdsong.  Wherever you are, you will be able to see and hear wildlife nearby, and know that even the most rare, threatened and endangered species have populations that are stable, resilient and recovering in Sierra Leone.

Out at sea, communities of slow-growing species such as sponges, sea-fans and sea-pens will be re-establishing themselves across much of the seabed;  whales, dolphins and porpoises will be abundant and commercial fish stocks will have recovered. Sierra Leone will be recognised as somewhere where people live long, healthy, active and fulfilling lives. Among other things, this will be driven by the quality of our natural environment and our society’s recognition of the contribution it makes to the quality of life, health and prosperity of people living in Sierra Leone.

Human development can only be sustainable if it does not destroy the ecosystems on which people and wildlife depend.  Preventing species extinctions is an enormous challenge and depends on a sound understanding of the complex interdependencies between people and nature.  Even in wilderness areas where there is little human presence, there is still a need to manage and protect wildlife from human effects, for example through protected area management.  Over half of us now live in urban environments, increasingly disconnected from the natural world on which we depend – there is a real opportunity and need to bring humans close to wildlife, to breathe life into cities and contribute to wellbeing and community life.  We need a body akin to a Sierra Leonean Zoological Society (ZSL).   There is another gem that is right under our noses.

Introducing Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

They have been preserving Sierra Leone’s Wildlife since 1995 and can help us achieve a better future.  Located just on the outskirts of Freetown, in the Western Area Peninsula National Park, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary was founded in 1995 by conservationist Bala Amarasekaran and his wife Sharmila.

Initially established to enforce wildlife laws and rescue and rehabilitate critically endangered orphaned Western chimpanzees, Tacugama has grown into a diverse conservation organization.  Caring for close to 100 chimpanzees on-site, Tacugama is also actively engaged offsite in community outreach, wildlife field research, environmental sustainability, conservation education and alternative livelihoods programs. Tacugama is also an eco-tourism hub for Freetown – home to 6 eco-lodges, and a variety of activities for both tourists and Freetowners alike to participate in.  Tacugama aims to be at the forefront of preserving Sierra Leone’s remaining wildlife through education, community support and eco-tourism.  As Sierra Leone’s primary conservation organization, their mission is to use education and community conservation to eliminate the wildlife trade and safeguard the remaining natural habitats in the country. Through law enforcement, eco-tourism, livelihoods programs, and chimpanzee rehabilitation, they are engaging local communities and multidisciplinary stakeholders to secure the future of Sierra Leone.

Can you help?

Tacugama have established a UK Charity in addition to the work they do in Sierra Leone.  Can you help safeguard Sierra Leone’s most cherished wildlife?

  • Adopt a chimp ambassador and support Tacugama’s mission today!
  • Join Tacugama’s growing volunteer programme and make a difference in the world of conservation.
  • Treat yourself to a night under the canopy in one of our six eco-lodges nestled in the heart of the rainforest

Are you in the Sierra Leonean Diaspora?

A country’s diaspora, and the diasporas it hosts, can be a huge asset for its development. We are a channel through which not only money, but also much tacit knowledge, can flow, we are a potential source of opportunities for trade, investment, innovation, and professional networks.  Governments should have a diaspora strategy that builds on natural feelings of identity and affection to cultivate this social network as a powerful source of economic progress.    If we want to harness the value that is under our noses, we can do much more to raise the importance of environmental awareness with our Government and other stakeholders, we can raise awareness of the depth and breadth of wildlife, flora and fauna we are blessed with and the eco-tourism potential it holds.  We can all become ambassadors for our cherished Tacugama and the great work they have been dedicated to for decades, because if they thrive, we thrive.

Please do check out their website and get in touch:

https://www.tacugama.com/ 

Maria Bradford 

Be the change we seek!

Introducing the Shwen Shwen Foundation

Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone.  I founded Shwen Shwen with a strong sense of purpose and that was to put Sierra Leonean produce, cuisine and unique culture on the map.  I wanted to prove that traditional West African cuisine can be fine dining.  Ultimately I wanted to connect people through food, elevate our culture, and balance purpose and profit.  I wanted, inspire my fellow Sierra Leonean’s to take action, and to be the change we seek.

Connecting People through food

Throughout history explorers have landed in Sierra Leone, attracted by our huge resources. Their intentions were not always pure, and transactions not always fair. Inspired by my Sierra Leonean heritage, I’m gathering a new breed of explorers. Foodies, willing to pay a fair price for our resources, genuinely interested in our culture and traditions. They seek new ingredients, new flavours, and see value in techniques that have been forgotten. This new generation are keen to expand their culinary horizons, create new perspectives and cross new frontiers. These explorers will take nothing but memories, yet leave an enduring positive social and economic footprint.

This is about people and food. It’s about connection.

We source high quality producers, create stunning dishes, new experiences and serve them to people with a refined interest in food.  This in-turn will create a platform on which others can build.  We hope to support Sierra Leonean producers, and collaborate with other creatives to improve economic development for a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Balancing purpose and profit

Introducing the Shwen Shwen Foundation.  We are not a charity, at least  not yet.  There are plenty of charities, perhaps too many and we feel there is benefit in pooling resources to achieve the most bang for our buck in terms of impact.  Shwen Shwen has become a Micro influencer on Instagram we are relatable to our followers and have an engaged audience because of our particular niche.  Our niche being a black owned business, focused on traditional Sierra Leonean cuisine and Afro-fusion fine dining. With influence comes great responsibility and we take that responsibility seriously.  We will balance purpose and profit and grasp opportunities to highlight three important issues:

Defeat Poverty – I’m a proud Sierra Leonean, and was born and raised in Freetown.  I know what it’s like to be hungry first hand.  I also know that over 700 million people in our world currently live in extreme poverty and that with collective action, we can change this.

Defend the Planet – The world’s poorest people contribute the least but suffer the most from the climate crisis. Climate change impacts people’s health, ability to access nutritious food, and livelihoods.

Demand Equity – Every person, everywhere, should have an equal chance to live up to their full potential.

The Shwen Shwen Foundation will act in a dynamic way, leverage our influence, raise awareness and respond when the need arises.  We will work with local partners, established Charities and NGO’s with visions, missions and values that resonate with ours, with causes that are dear to our hearts.

In summary we are a new kind of business that aims to connect people through food, balance purpose and profit and grab every opportunity we can to work toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.

We have a sincere desire to support the development, accomplishments, and well-being of others, and are very clear, that we must be the change we seek!

Maria

Head Chef and Founder for and on behalf of Shwen Shwen.