Pilgrim at 2023 WYD Remembers Young Sierra Leoneans Dwarfed by Drugs

Emmanuel Kangayo, the chairman of Archdiocese of Freetown, Sierra Leone youth group at the World Youth Day in Lisbon. Credit: Emmanuel Kangayo

"I have been praying for the young people in my country Sierra Leone who are wasting their lives away using drugs such as kush and tramadol, those who do not engage in any meaningful activities because they have lost hope in life," Emmanuel Kangayo tells ACI Africa, sharing how he spent his days at the just ended World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations in Portugal.

"When I came to Lisbon, I carried with me the pains of these young people addicted to drugs. They take kush early in the mornings and the horrible effects of the drugs take only 30 minutes to kick in. Thereafter, they spent the whole day sleeping," Emmanuel says.

Not every Sierra Leonean rose from the devastation of the country's 11-year civil war in which over 50, 000 people were killed and thousands maimed from forced amputations. Those who were children when the war broke out were unable to continue with their studies and ended up on the streets, where they sought refuge in drugs. Others who fought as child soldiers continue to be shunned by the locals, even after they underwent rehabilitation and were given motorcycles to make a legitimate living. Still, other former child soldiers who could not fit in society are used by politicians every campaign season to intimidate their opponents.

Emmanuel was among the few young people who rose from the ashes of Sierra Leone's civil war. He saw his father flee from Bo town southeast of Sierra Leone, abandoning his teaching job and settling in the village where his family plunged into poverty. At some point, Emmanuel stayed in a household of over 50 people where they barely had anything to eat. Aged only five when the war broke out, Emmanuel was also unable to go to kindergarten and other formative years in school. His grandmother would dodge bullets on her way to the market to buy salt which, according to Emmanuel, is a necessary ingredient for meals in Sierra Leone.

Today, Emmanuel works with Caritas Freetown's media team, reaching out to vulnerable communities that the Church supports in the West African country.


Emmanuel Kangayo, the chairman of Archdiocese of Freetown, Sierra Leone youth group at the World Youth Day in Lisbon. Credit: Emmanuel Kangayo

"Some of us who experienced war always have flashbacks of it," he says, and adds, "Many have not been able to heal completely. That is why they resorted to crime and drugs. I keep reminding them what the Bible tells us to serve the Lord in the days of our youth."

Each of the four Catholic Dioceses in Sierra Leone (Bo, Makeni, Kenema, and Freetown) sent two youths to represent the rest at the WYD in Lisbon, Portugal. Emmanuel was sent to represent over 1, 000 young members of the Archdiocese of Freetown where he is the chairman.

Emmanuel extended his stay in Portugal by a few days to visit the Shrine of Fatima and other religious places to pray for young people in Sierra Leone.

"I plan to visit religious, historical, and commercial places for the few additional days I plan to stay in Portugal. I fly back home on August 10," he told ACI Africa in the Sunday, August 7 interview, and added, "Before I left Sierra Leone, I told the youths in our Archdiocese that I was coming here on their behalf, carrying their burdens and that I would present their struggles to our Lord and the Virgin Mary. I, therefore, plan to share the uplifting messages I have received here with them, hoping that they will be inspired to lead positive lives as well."

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Emmanuel Kangayo, the chairman of Archdiocese of Freetown, Sierra Leone youth group at the World Youth Day in Lisbon. Credit: Emmanuel Kangayo

His best parts of the WYD celebrations were the welcome Mass by Pope Francis and the Way of the Cross.

"Seeing the Pope that close is something I will always cherish. I also saw hundreds of thousands of young people come together united by their faith, and to me, this is the beauty of the Catholic Church," he said.

While reflecting on the stations of the cross on Friday, August 4, Emmanuel says he was reminded of the hardships that young people endure in Sierra Leone. "I was reminded of the suffering of Jesus and united our pains to that of our savior. I reflected on the fact that Christianity isn’t always a smooth experience but that Christians have to draw strength from Jesus whenever they encounter hardships."

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.