On his father’s land in River Number Two, Fr. Konteh constructed the children’s home, which includes sleeping areas for boys and girls, a chapel, a kitchen, staff offices and a large hall for the children’s recreational activities.
Credit: ACI Africa
Bordering the scenic River Number Two Beach, the home is an alluring site that is also complete with a library and a school where younger children at the home are admitted. The school that is named Kiera Chaplin Desert Flower School also runs a vocational training facility that equips older members of the home with skills in tailoring, catering, hairdressing, among others.
“I wanted to surprise the children with that facility. Then, they were staying at a makeshift residence in Allen Town. One day, I took them out for a walk and brought them here. I told them ‘this is your new home’ and their reaction is something I cannot explain. They were very happy,” Fr. Konteh told ACI Africa.
The member of the Clergy of the Archdiocese of Freetown recalled that he had developed a deep passion for the children from the time he worked at a Parish in neighboring Catholic Diocese of Freetown and Bo before the Archdiocese of Freetown was created.
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He shared the events of a particular Sunday after celebrating Holy Mass at St. Pius Catholic Parish of Bo when he found two twins abandoned at his door. Fr. Konteh estimated the twins to have been a few months old. That was 27 years ago, when Fr. Konteh was celebrating his first year of Priesthood.
“I took the two twins in and searched on Google on basic things such as changing a baby’s diaper and feeding it. In about six months, I had found four more children abandoned at my door, and with the help of the Bishop, I started a home for them in Bo,” he shared.
Credit: ACI Africa
Moving to Freetown, Fr. Konteh granted the HHCJ members their request to start a home for the children that the Sisters were already working with on their feeding program. He also brought in a few children from an amputee center in Newton, outside Freetown, that hosted victims of the Sierra Leonean civil war. The center had become home to hundreds of Sierra Leoneans who had their limbs chopped off in the country’s worst civil war.
“By the end of the war in 2002, many families were separated. Many children had been orphaned and left on their own. Our social workers went about rescuing the most desperate cases on the streets and bringing them to the home,” he told ACI Africa.
Fr. Konteh leads the Caritas Freetown team that runs tens of other development projects in the city. The Children’s home in River Number Two, as well as other children’s projects he is engaged with, are the dearest to him, he says, noting that he finds gratification in seeing a vulnerable child’s life change for the better.
“To me, transforming lives is the most enriching experience. When you impact one person, you have impacted a lot. In children, particularly, you see the immediate transformation of what you do. Knowing where a child is coming from, knowing where they are going, knowing that you are going to give light to those in darkness is very fulfilling,” he says.
As for Sr. Agatha, her role as Home Mother to the children gives her the opportunity to practice the charism of her Congregation.
"This is how I get to live my calling since our charisma is anchored in taking care of the poor and the vulnerable, especially vulnerable women and children. I always try to do my best with them, and I am only happy when the children are happy," she says.
Life with the children is, however, not always a rosy experience, the Catholic Nun admits. Her biggest struggle, she told ACI Africa, is getting all children, especially those drawn from the difficult street life, to adjust to life at the home.
"Here, we have children coming from different backgrounds and they are expected to love together as a family. You find some very tiny boys coming from the streets and they can be very wild, sometimes physically challenging the older children. These are children who have known all manner of abuse, profanity and other survival tactics and it is always not easy to instill discipline in them. But with patience, they eventually become very good children," Sr. Agatha said.
In the interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Konteh reiterated Sr. Agatha's sentiments, noting that the children develop a lot of passion for school, and have always emerged top in national exams.
Some, like 19-year-old Franka Mbayo, have proceeded to university and are hoping to transform their lives and the lives of their families.
The second year Accounting student at Milton Margai Technical University in Freetown was two years old when she was brought to St. Mary’s Fatima Interim Care Centre where her elder sister had also stayed and received vocational training.
Franka told ACI Africa that a desire to make Fr. Konteh and the Sisters at the home pushes her to work hard in school.
"Every child always wants to make their parents proud. And no parent is ever happy when their children become unsuccessful in life. Then, society would always blame the parents, and I think the blame is even bigger for children brought up by the church like ourselves," she said.
For Fr. Konteh, the most pressing need for the home is to establish a clinic near the children’s facility, the nearest being a 20-minute drive away.
He told ACI Africa that despite his many activities at Caritas Freetown, which works with dozens of vulnerable groups within Sierra Loene’s capital city, as well as his father figure at the children’s home, a supportive staff and a prayerful life keep him going.
“God has blessed me with staff that are motivated to work selflessly. They look beyond what we can offer in terms of pay and only seek to serve humanity. And in terms of funding, God is always making a way for us. The children never lack anything,” the Sierra Leonean Priest said.
He added, “In everything I do, the priority has always been my Priesthood. I start every day with the Holy Eucharist celebration. So, spirituality really counts for me.”
Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.