By: Christa Meland
Just a few years ago, the children of Baiwalla, Sierra Leone faced significant challenges being able to attend middle school. The community didn’t have one, so after finishing primary school, the only option for teens to be able to continue their studies was to find friends and family in other towns who could house them—a major obstacle for people in an area where most are living on $1 per day.
But in September 2019, thanks in part to the generosity of 50 Minnesota United Methodist churches through OC Ministries, The Rev. Richard Ormsby Secondary School opened its doors. The school houses 300 students between the ages of 13 and 17, those for whom education wouldn’t otherwise be possible. More than half come from nearby towns and villages.
In addition to learning the core subjects, students also have access to a computer lab—which many are particularly excited about. Each morning, they begin with devotions, and they attend chapel every Wednesday. They can also opt to engage in activities like a debate team and acting in plays.
Because most of the children attending school are living in poverty, every student is connected with a sponsor who helps them buy a uniform, shoes, books, their backpack, and other essential supplies. The school also feeds students every school day.
“It is the accomplishment of a dream I had as a teenager to do to other people what missionaries did for me—gave me education, moved me from being a hungry child, led me to Jesus Christ, and cared for me completely,” said Rev. Judith Banya, the school’s proprietress. Banya is an elder in the Minnesota Conference who returned home to Sierra Leone after serving two churches here. She played a key role in bringing the school to fruition, and she recently visited Minnesota to meet with churches and update them on her work.
Banya acquired 20 acres of farmland near the school, and she hopes to use it in ways that generate income so the school can become self-sustaining in the coming years. Cassava has already been planted, and a small store built across the road from the school is selling commodities like rice and cooking oil.
COVID-19 amazingly has not entered Baiwalla, partly because the Sierra Leone government closed the border to other countries and partly because a mask mandate was strongly enforced, said Banya. But although the pandemic hasn’t posed a problem, there are a couple of urgent needs for the school: a dormitory for girls and an apartment for teachers. Many girls must walk two or three miles to get to the school, which is unsafe. And currently, teachers are living in Banya’s late parents’ houses, one of which will soon no longer be available.
In addition to helping the school get off the ground, Banya has also played a pivotal role in bringing people to faith. It wasn’t long ago before there was no United Methodist Church in Baiwalla. She planted one whose membership now exceeds 100, as well as three smaller churches in nearby villages.
“God is at work in everything we do, the possibilities,” said Banya. “This is my passion. God laid that on my heart.”
To further Banya’s work and help students in Baiwalla receive an education, you can make a donation on the OC Ministries website. Any amount is welcome and appreciated, but for $310, you can sponsor a child (who will write you a note and send you their photo) for a year, and for $150, you can feed a student lunch for a year. Make a donation
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church