Be inspired! Be amazed! It may seem like a long leap from luxury jewelry to one man’s dream of social and educational empowerment for Sierra Leone, but remember, you can opt to donate 5% of the cost of your fine designer jewelry to this cause, making it shine with a special luster in your eyes, or you can get involved yourself through volunteering or donations! Meet Mr. Marcos Portillo de Armenteras the man behind the Wara Wara Schools Community project.
In our search for truly worthy charities in which every cent that is donated goes towards making a real difference to the cause itself, the Wara Wara Community Schools Project was the first to truly inspire us. Its founders are right there at the coal face every day, giving their lives for something they truly believe in, and they’re fighting a battle that brings victory to the poorest of the poor in impoverished Sierra Leone, a country still struggling to overcome the ravages of war.
We decided that we wanted to know about the founder of this project, Mr. Marcos Portillo de Armenteras. How did he come to leave Spain and the chance of an easy, comfortable life for the hardships and challenges of Sierra Leone? Who is this man, and what is his daily life like? How can we help him in his quest for a better future for Sierra Leone’s children?
An interview with a true hero
Jaume Labro, makers of fine bespoke jewelry is proud to bring to you our interview with Marcos Portillo de Armenteras:
What was your background / career before you dedicated yourself to this community venture?
I am a lawyer but I have never worked as a lawyer. In 2008/2009 I worked as a volunteer, spending 13 months in an education project in Sierra Leone. [ictt-tweet-blockquote via=”jaumelabro”]I fell in love with Sierra Leone, its people, especially the children, and education.[/ictt-tweet-blockquote] In 2009/2010 I went back to Madrid to study a Master’s Degree in Rural Development at Complutense University, and at that time, I also taught in Madrid in the School of development of Comunidad de Madrid.
In 2010/2011 I worked as a teacher in a Rural Area in Equatorial Guinea, in a primary school and I also taught adult literacy. I did an external audit in Senegal.
How did you become inspired to create the Wara Wara community schools project? Was there one life-changing incident, or did the inspiration come over time?
In 2004 I traveled to Calcutta, India, to work with the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa. I spent only a month there, working with the people dying in the streets, in Kalighat, that experience changed my life. 4 years later I left Spain and went to Sierra Leone for the first time.
Since that first experience in Sierra Leone, I fell in love with this country and also with my work. I realized that there were a lot of work to do in education, mostly in the rural areas. Everything was so simple, so basic, and I feel that I am making myself useful, I felt I was a “tool”, a “link”, between that world with all its neediness and poverty and all the possibilities we have in Europe. 13 months working hand in hand with Sierra Leoneans in the rural areas made me feel more and more concerned.
I see that above and beyond schooling, your organization has been involved in projects to make basic amenities such as clean drinking water available. Could you tell us a little more about that?
I am sorry to say that we have tried several times to offer water wells to the people in Koinadugu District, but It has been so difficult, because that area is a very rocky district, more so than in the Wara Wara Mountains, where we work. We failed with 2 water wells and we repaired another one. It took us a lot of effort, and we could not offer good solutions to the villagers; we also realized there are people specialized in water wells. We stopped our activities offering clean water but we are considering starting it again, because it is so needed, we know that.
I understand that volunteering on the part of locals and sometimes people from other countries contributes to your project. Is there a specific story or stories about this spirit of volunteering that you would like to share?
Eskimo is a Sierra Leonean journalist, he is very concerned about education. That is why he opened a secondary school in Bafodea, the headquarters of Wara Wara Bafodea. They had a secondary school in Bafodea but he wanted to achieve two things by opening a new one: reducing overcrowding in the existing school and achieving competitiveness to improve the quality of education. We loved these two ideas. We supported it by building the school building for that new secondary school. Eskimo has been pushing the community work in order to build the school. He did it as a volunteer because he loves his people and education. He a great example of someone who wants to go ahead.
What is a typical “day in the life” on the Wara Wara project like for you?
Every day is different because we have many different activities to accomplish. For example, we need to purchase and deliver building materials to the villages where we built schools. Then there is the supervision of the buildings in the villages, meetings with villagers to push the community work, office work, identification of new areas where to build schools, supervision of teachers in the university, identification of new projects, so on.
*Author’s note: It looks like Marcos has to get up pretty early in the morning to achieve all this!
Many Western school children aren’t particularly keen on going to school. Do you find that local children share this feeling, or are they happy to have a school and teachers?
Children in Sierra Leone are so happy being able to attend the school. It is a great opportunity for them. They love it and they respect their teachers a lot.
What is your approach to teacher training? Are local men and women getting involved? Again, any individual stories that stand out for you?
[ictt-tweet-blockquote via=”jaumelabro”]We help community teachers who are not trained and not paid[/ictt-tweet-blockquote]. They are volunteers teaching to help the children. We want them to be qualified in order to achieve more: being trained they are better teachers for the children; being trained is a mandatory requirement if you want to be a government teacher, government teachers have salaries, and they need it.
Looking back over your years with the Wara Wara project, what are the biggest successes that you hope to repeat and improve on?
Thousands of children are getting a better education because of our project: 12 new schools, 50 new qualified teachers and the community work of thousands of people who are helping to achieve that goal.
What major projects are you currently busy with?
This New Year we want to try to build 3 or 4 new schools in remote villages. We also want to build a water well in Bafodea Secondary School. Last year, 48 teachers finished their program at the university. This year we want to identify new community teachers to start supporting them from next year.
Looking at the present and future, what are the biggest challenges you face?
We want to continue keeping on this way, we want to be part of small changes in this country that are so badly needed. We want to offer them the possibilities we had at home. Children deserve that.
What keeps you going forward with this project?
Our love for our Sierra Leonean brothers, children and education. Our contribution for a better world.
How can the public expect their donations to be used?
Wara Wara schools is a small Sierra Leonean organization, we have a small structure, and they have to know that all their donations would be used in the projects in Sierra Leone.
How can the public help the Wara Wara project (other than donations)?
Some people, because of their skills, could offer a lot by coming to Sierra Leone as doctors, teachers, and so on. Other people are organizing events, and are talking about education in Sierra Leone or Africa. Any initiative to help raise awareness and solidarity is welcome.
*Author’s note: if you do nothing else, share this on Facebook and invite your friends to join the movement in any way they can!
Anything else you would like to add?
I would say if we are really brothers and sisters in this world it has to be through action. The president of Sierra Leone said to Sierra Leoneans: “Action surpasses intention…”