Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Reflections from Sierra Leone YMCA Partnership Trip

At end of May I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Sierra Leone with University Y staff, board, trustee, and  members of the U of I faculty. My purpose for traveling was to build relationships and scout out the possibilities for partnerships between the University Y and the Y of Sierra Leone. I was also traveling as an ambassador for the Urbana Rotary’s International Service Committee. The Rotary is similarly interested in the potential for partnership and water, health, sanitation and education projects that could engage its membership.

Sam Smith, University YMCA Board Member and Engagement 
Director of the University of Illinois Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, greets 
Christian Kamara, CEO and National Secretary of the YMCA of Sierra Leone 
with an Urbana Rotary t-shirt. Sam Smith, as an ambassador for the 
Urbana Rotary International Service Committee, is exploring the potential 
partnership for possible service projects to engage its membership.
On our trip we were hosted by Christian Kamara, the capable and personal leader of the YMCA in Sierra Leone. Our travel and accommodations were comfortable, affordable safe, instructive, and well organized. The presence of Mr. Kamara’s young, dedicated and equally competent staff provided broad and specific insight to the history and current challenges of this incredibly beautiful country.

One simple session that I learned on previous trips to the African continent is that Africa is big. The second largest continent it boasts hundreds of languages, distinct culture, histories, challenges and resources. Sierra Leone is one of the many distinct countries with a history deeply connected to the history of the United States. The country is a fabulous set of opportunities to learn more deeply the amazing manifestations of human culture, spirit, creativity and ingenuity. The possibilities for meaningful person-to-person engagement, unique and innovative project development are exciting, vast and concrete.

We have already begun to plan for Mr. Kamara’s visit to Champaign-Urbana and Chicago; I look forward to his sharing his insight and knowledge of so many areas of human and community development.

The pregnancy of potential and possibility is palpable and the cadre of willing, available, competent partners is inspirational. This next chapter is gonna be a blast.

Sam Smith
Board Member
University YMCA

Wednesday, June 8, 2016



Illinois & Sierra Leone YMCAs partner for new global service learning exchange program following Ebola Crisis relief efforts

With the Ebola virus outbreak now ended in Sierra Leone, the University YMCA, the Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs, and the Sierra Leone YMCA are revisiting an international-service learning exchange partnership that was brought to a halt by the Ebola outbreak relief efforts in 2014. The re-engagement of the partnership is marked by the University YMCA's visit to Sierra Leone in late May 2016. Post-trip, the University YMCA and Ys across Illinois are encouraging community members, U of I campus members and organizations in Illinois to learn more about the partnership and ways they could get involved during the Sierra Leone YMCA's visit in Illinois in late June 2016.

On May 30, 2016, a delegation of University YMCA members (Far Left, Second Row: Enrique Rebolledo, University YMCA Global Engagement Coordinator; Front Center: Samuel Smith, Engagement Director for the University of Illinois Krannert Center for the Performing Arts; Far Right, Second Row: Jerry Glashagel, University YMCA Global Engagement Committee Member & Trustee) visits the Kenema Branch of the YMCA of Sierra Leone to learn more from members of Peace Group (pictured above), which is a peer-to-peer conflict resolution program, advised by Francess Reffell, Program Director of the Sierra Leone YMCA Kenema Branch (Pictured Front Row, Far Right). 

The YMCA of the University of Illinois and the Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs are pleased to announce that we are currently in the process of establishing a partnership with the YMCA of Sierra Leone. The focus of this partnership is the development of a mutually-beneficial international service-learning exchange program that aligns with Y’s mission. Today, with a growing number of youth pursuing international service-learning experiences as part of their education, the Sierra Leone YMCA partnership aims to give youth in Sierra Leone and in Illinois the tools to develop into culturally competent leaders in global service. 

“The Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs is thrilled to see this growing partnership between the University Y and the Sierra Leone Y," says Meg Cooch, Executive Director of the Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs. "As Illinois Ys, we hope to be able to support this work going forward.”

On June 27 & 28, 2014, the University YMCA hosts Christian Kamara, CEO/National Secretary for the Sierra Leone YMCA. Pictured left to right on bottom row: Walt McMahon (Retired U of I professor and member of the University YMCA), Mabinty Tarawallie (MSW student) (and daughter), Christian Kamara (CEO of Sierra Leone YMCA), Pictured left to right on top row: Kasey Umland, University YMCA Associate Director, Mike Doyle, University YMCA Executive Director, Enrique Rebolledo, University YMCA Global Engagement Program Coordinator, and Vaneitta Goines, Program Adviser for the U of I's Office of Volunteer Programs and University YMCA Board Member.

The University YMCA and the Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs invite YMCAs from across the State of Illinois to meet Christian Kamara, the CEO/National Secretary of the YMCA of Sierra Leone to learn more about the work that they do and explore possible collaborations. Two opportunities to connect are: Monday, June 20, 2016 from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St, Champaign, Illinois AND Thursday, June 24, 2016 from 11:30am to 1:00pm at the YMCA of the USA, 101 Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois. To RSVP to either event, please click here:http://tinyurl.com/slymca . Both events are free and open to the public.

"My Y supported the University Y’s efforts to help fight Ebola with the Sierra Leone Y because my members want to support Y work internationally and this project offered a bridge between Illinois and Sierra Leone in a concrete way," says Andrew Bobbitt, CEO of the Fox Valley Family YMCA. "We continue to support the growing partnership and connect between the Sierra Leone Y and Illinois with Christian Kamara’s visit.”

Serving 23 communities across the country, the YMCA of Sierra Leone’s programs promote youth and young adult development in the areas of civic education, community health, human rights, job training, computer literacy and agricultural development. The heart of the Y's youth education efforts lies in developing cause-driven leadership, serving and advocating for low-income communities across the country. To learn more about the work of the YMCA of Sierra Leone, visit:http://www.sierraleoneymca.org/programme-focus/
"Thanks to YMCA World Service and partners like the University YMCA-UIUC and the Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs, we reached out to thousands of people with Ebola prevention messages," said Francess Reffell, Program Director of the Sierra Leone YMCA's Kenema Branch. "We are looking forward to growing this collaboration into a mutually-beneficial partnership to support global leadership." 

​Enrique Rebolledo, University YMCA Global Engagement Coordinator ​greets Christian Kamara, CEO/National Secretary of the Sierra Leone YMCA with a University YMCA program t-shirt (Dump & Run Community Recycling Program) and a University of Illinois themed backpack at the Sierra Leone YMCA headquarters office in Freetown, Sierra Leone. 

“I am very excited to see first hand the kind of work that Sierra Leone YMCA does for youth development and social responsibility,” says Enrique Rebolledo, University YMCA Global Engagement Program Coordinator. “I am looking forward to meeting the Sierra Leone YMCA programming staff to explore collaborations for the kind of community-driven work that we are doing. I hope that people can join us in welcoming the Sierra Leone YMCA at the end of June.” 

To learn more about the Sierra Leone Partnership, please visit:universityymca.org/global/slymca

Press Release
For Immediate Release
June 6, 2016

For media inquires, contact:
Megan Flowers, University YMCA Communications Director