My goal is to transform the lives of people whose main needs are not being met. Working in small villages lacking basic social services has become a personal challenge for me: through AVSI's support, I see a lot of progress taking place and I need to do even more.Jimmy Tamba, Distance Support Project Coordinator for AVSI in Sierra Leone
On August 20 at the Italian Event Meeting Rimini 2023, Jimmy Tamba retraced the steps that led him from being a former child soldier to coordinating the very same project he benefited from - AVSI Distance Support Program - in Sierra Leone.
His experience did not only make him become a social worker, but also start supporting two young children himself.
I want to start by thanking AVSI for giving me the opportunity to address this room, full of so many different people, gathered here to listen to my testimony and life experience. A life full of challenges and transformation.
Jimmy Tamba speech at Meeting Rimini
Brief story about my life
A former child-soldier, that was captured at an early age and trained to fight a war. For what reason or why, I do not know. A child who has experienced a lot of psychological, emotional and physical trauma. An individual, who also lost his father at a tender age, has now become a role model for others in life and society. It has not been an easy journey, yet I was able to make it.
Most of my colleagues who had similar experiences to mine could not make it. Some ended up to be drug addicts; others have gone mad, some are “night carpenters”, thieves, some even beggars, and some have passed, due to strange illnesses. It was not their wish, but they did not have a person they could look up to, an individual that could understand their needs or open their arms to guide them accordingly and give the necessary support that they needed to change or improve their lives. For the deceased, may their souls rest in peace. This former child soldier is now a university graduate in governance and leadership, with a bachelor’s degree, and will soon graduate with a master’s in development management. This is a transformation that I had never even dreamt of, yet it is happening. As I said earlier, it has been a long journey, and with numerous challenges that I will not speak about now or we will have to stay here all day long.
Before I go further, I would like to say a big thank you to Rev. Fr. Joseph Berton who was always there for me and guided me through my path. Looking at my past experience as a child soldier, I had witnessed so many odd scenarios in life that it affected my personal life. Scenarios that can lead to trauma, and other mind or memory challenges. He never gave up on me, rather he taught me the value of life, how one can be a better person despite the type of trauma the individual might have faced, and I am no exception. I was a very difficult person to interact with, though I still have a little of that character in me as I speak. Nevertheless, Fr. Berton spent a lot time with me, talking and narrating stories. He always travelled with me to different places just to get my mind relaxed and open to opportunities that are in front of me. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.
Moreover, I am more than grateful to the Italian family that accepted me as one of their own even though race, color, and even religion did not connect us. Yet, they saw me as one of their own, allowed me to stay in their home for a whole year to live with them and experience the life of a family. They supported me in different ways, especially in my lonely moments, when I don’t feel like talking to anyone. They never gave up, especially my mother and little brother. I own them a lot and I know they are among this gathering listening to my testimony. They always say to me that I owe them nothing, as it is their responsibility as a family to look over every family member. I want to say thank you, and that I am proud to be your son and brother. I am talking about the Nembrini family of Bergamo. Grazie mille Maria Grazia, mama, as I always called her, Franco, my dad, Gabriele, I prefer Gabri, my little brother. Thank you so much my beautiful family, God bless you. The little time I spent with you taught me a lot about life, and I always have that emotion, that memory of your kindness. You showed me that everyone has value; it all depends on the type of people you interact with, and those that have passion, empathy and love for others. I am sincerely grateful. I wish my mother Maria Grazia Nembrini and a special sister, Elga Contardi, were here by side as I am sharing my life long experience with you.
Back in Sierra Leone, after my stay in Italy, I was a different person and everything I learnt from this family guided me through. I realized that every human being needs the attention of others, listens to them and values their being. Indeed Fr. Berton in his words used to tell me “always try to help others whenever you have the chance, this will increase your own happiness.”
Watch the event (J. Tamba talked at min 44)
My life from being a beneficiary to becoming a benefactor
Today, aside my own son, that is, my biological son, I have two beautiful daughters Mariama and Sallay. Mariama is about 20 years old now and Sallay is almost 11. They are former and current pupils of the Holy Family schools, a very big school complex built by AVSI in Sierra Leone. I decided to support both of them as my children when I was working as AVSI social worker in the school, after hearing their stories.
Both of them have different life stories. I met the Mariama when she was 11 years old, right after the Ebola pandemic in our Country. I saw it in her face that she was depressed, shy and never spoke nor interact with others. After several observations, I realized that she needed attention. I had to come closer to her to know what was wrong with her, why she was always sad, lonely and hardly talked to anyone, so I had to think about my previous life. After several discussions, she explained her situation to me, what she was going through. She was an orphan and had lost both her parents in one day, due to the Ebola virus, and had no one to take care of her education, not to mention basic needs like food. A neighbor rescued her but almost always mistreated her. I had to remove her from that family and bring her to a neutral family, where I was giving my support for her livelihood.
Sallay had a different, but somehow also similar story. She had no friends and did not interact with children her age in class, and she was just 3 years old at that moment. I visited the pre-school she attended and played with the other children, but she never once came closer. I had to talk with her class teacher to know the cause of her loneliness, and why she was always sitting alone. She told me that her mother ran away, leaving the then 1-year-old child with her grandmother. The grandmother is a backyard gardener, but she hardly has the strength and health to work anymore. Therefore, Shallay always came to school without any food. I had to spend some time with her alone, and I told the teacher that from that day onwards, she was my own responsibility.
Today, Sallay is in the final year of her primary education, while Mariama has completed her senior secondary education and is now waiting for her results. The most important thing I have ever done with them was celebrating their birthdays, something they have never experienced in their lives. It was their first ever birthday celebration, they did not even know what it meant. After a long dinner party, they went back home to their caregivers. Going to work the next morning, I met the caregivers, who were waiting for me to express their gratitude, especially Sallay’s grandmother. She told me that they had barely slept, as Sallay kept talking, describing and recalling her experience. That was her 7th birthday and for the first time she knew what it meant to have a birthday celebration. Today, I feel pleased with myself seeing my children grown to such a peak in life. I owe this to the Nembrini family and to my host-sister and former AVSI colleague, Elga Contardi. Elga was, and is my strong pillar in supporting the growth of these beautiful kids. My life has been like moving from being a beneficiary to a benefactor, something I myself cannot imagine. An individual who can support the growth of another to become a useful person in society. What a world we live in.
I may not have had the financial power to support them, but I felt obliged to, because it is something I have learnt from the people I have encountered and that I have told you about. I believe that if we say we should have enough before we can start helping others, then we’ll never do it. Nothing is enough for us on this planet, even the rich demand for more. In fact, they demand more than the average or poor people.
Now, as project coordinator with AVSI, I work with a larger number of beneficiaries and different communities in Sierra Leone. My goal is to transform the lives of people whose basic needs are not being met. For example, working in a small village called Madina-Tabai, in the northern part of Sierra Leone, has became my personal challenge. This community, despite being located on the main route between the capital city and the third biggest city in the country, does not have basic social services. Through the support of AVSI, and my dedication to transform the mentality and lives of the people, I see a lot of progress taking place and I need to do even more. Today, I am at my happiest when I can help others realize their potential and guide through their life journey. Mariama and Sallay have taught me that people can do better and contribute to the progress of the whole society, if they are listened to and have the right guidance and support. If we all could open our arms to others, listen to their inner problems, come close to them so that they feel valued, loved and comfortable, we would live in a world of peace and harmony. A world without chaos, war, suppression and depression, disparities, race, color, regional and even religious differences.