Sierra Leone | One Life, A Glorious Cycle
|A street scene in Murray Town (courtesy of West African Medical Missions)|
One of Africa's greatest hits is a tribute to all mothers. "Sweet Mother" by Prince Nico is a 1976 song, with an infectious dance beat that is guaranteed to rock any party in black Africa. Like millions of Sierra Leonean mothers, Gloria Allen's story is filled with not only references to representations of the highs and lows of her time, but to a glorious cycle of song through different stages of life. Read and be inspired!
Gloria Allen: Born in Freetown, I am the second of 7 children. Our parents, Abigail and Joshua Allen loved and disciplined us. In the process they created a strong, well defined family with values that helped to solidify our foundation. The Bible passage, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” was a constant reminder to us about their responsibility. The sayings, ‘life is a cycle,’ [and] we come fresh to the different stages, are so true. Our parents played their part; we have played our part, and now we watch our children play theirs. How wonderful!
In Sierra Leone, there were many favorite moments. I’ll provide a few of those. When my son, Ronald, was about fourteen years old, I took him to watch a football/soccer match between Guinea and Sierra Leone at the stadium. Sierra Leone won that game. It was exciting with fans shouting, singing, dancing, and cheering their home team. During the jubilation, some fans got into fist fighting after their prolonged arguments, and this created an obstruction at the exit points of the Siaka Stevens Stadium. It became an uphill task trying to get out. My son, almost as tall as me at the time, held my arms and shielded me from being hurt; he protected me as a mother hen protected her chicks. I was so proud of him; his action left a lasting impression of the chivalry he displayed.
As a member of the Freetown Aqua Club, I arranged for swimming lessons for me and my daughter, Lavinia, who was about six years old then. The Aqua Club is one of the few recreational clubs in Freetown for families--similar to a health club, or community pool club. The instructor showed us the various swimming techniques and in the pool she taught us different strokes. My daughter applied all those instructions and was able to swim in two days. The following week, she could dive, but Mom never made it beyond the shallow end. I was so proud of her! We had fun learning swimming together.
My mother’s house at Murray Town was the meeting point for her children and grandchildren― it was the family home. When my sister and her husband who lived in Austria, visited, it was a joyous occasion. That was the first time members of the family met him, and my mother decided to have a party on their behalf to welcome them. My mother invited friends and extended family members. We, of course, had the favorite delicacies: jollof rice, rice bread, pepper chicken, and cake etc. We had lots of fun welcoming my sister and her husband. It was like a ‘second wedding celebration’.
My sister and brother-in-law stayed at the hotel, but my mother made sure that they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at Murray Town. Their visit lasted two weeks and everyday was like party time. We reminisced a lot. Although my brother-in-law couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak German, the communication barrier was almost non-existent. The warmth, bond, the togetherness and excitement of their visit was great. Most of the communication with my brother-in-law was through my sister, who was the interpreter. We had such a wonderful, fun, family time together. It was amazing the few krio expressions he picked up before he left – one was “werram Na you hade.” We also learned a couple German expressions.
Commitment and dedication have always been important to me wherever I have worked, and didn't realize that these are qualities I would pass on to other people.
Between 1972 and 1976, I worked for the Sierra Leone Government, first at the President’s office and then at the Office of the Vice President. Whenever an emergency arose, I was expected to be at my desk. I left government service for Sierra Rutile in 1977 because I wanted to utilize my skills and talents in private industry while advancing my career.
Between 1977 and 1995, I worked at Sierra Rutile Limited, an American mining company, as an executive assistant to the resident director. I was at the Freetown office with ten other staff members. At Gbangbama, which is about 170 miles from Freetown, about 90 percent of the employees worked where the mine site was located. In addition to secretarial and administrative duties, I acted as liaison between the senior staff at the mine site and their families in Freetown.
With most teenage children (of senior staff) in secondary boarding schools in Freetown, I usually arranged transportation at the end of each school term for these school children, as well as children of the expatriate staff, whenever they arrived from overseas, to get them to their parents at Mobimbi, five miles from the mine site where they resided.
With all that care, a well laid out plan could be thwarted when the plane that should have arrived on a Friday with the expatriate children was delayed till the following day. Transportation for the boarding school students had to be rescheduled. On one occasion, in order for the children not to be stranded, I had taken the role of ‘adopted mother’ for five stranded children for one night. It was fun, and the parents were so grateful!
Business and Community Service
Although working at Sierra Rutile was challenging and exciting, I never really knew what job satisfaction and fulfillment was until I founded my own business, the Gloronia Secretarial Institute in 1993.
The experiences I acquired at the City Council, the Sierra Leone Government, and at Sierra Rutile Limited were quickly utilized. My vision for founding this institution was twofold. One: for secretarial and administrative personnel to evolve with their changing role worldwide; and two, for business executives to be aware and appreciate the role of their assistants.
As a trailblazer and business owner, the joy I had in organizing conferences, training programs and workshops could not be overemphasized. The fact that organizations identified the needs of their secretarial staff and enrolled them to participate motivated them, as stated by the secretarial personnel themselves. At the conclusion of each program certificates were presented to each participant; you could see the pride and appreciation in their eyes as they walked up to receive their certificates upon graduation. For students who attended my school for a secretarial career, I organized a three year-long program to successfully equip them. They had the opportunity to do job training in the second year and at the end of their final year, I got job placement for about 70 percent upon successful completion.
I will always remember the remarks made by a chauffeur during a workshop that the United Nations resident director requested me to organize for drivers. During my introduction, I asked each participant, ‘what do you expect to get out of this workshop?’ The responses differed from participant to participant, but one that never left me was this, ‘Madam, if even I don’t gain anything, the fact that I am sitting in the training room that I am scared to come into when my bossman needed a file, makes me happy.’
During one of the longest teachers strike in Freetown, I was president of the Methodist Girls [High School] Parent Teachers Association. I initiated a group involving representatives of PTA, teachers, and officials of Ministry of Education to meet regularly and have dialogue to resolve the teachers strike.
Helping those less fortunate is one of the reasons I became a member of the Freetown Lioness Club. When the international body merged the Lioness and Lions clubs, they integrated female Lioness members into the Lions Club. It was at this stage I was elected as the first female president of the Rokel Lions Club.
Organizing dinner dances, luncheon sales, raffles, and sponsored walks were some of the fund raising activities the club embarked on. The Freetown Blind School, School for the Deaf and the Children’s Home were recipients of monetary gifts from the Lions Club. In the United States, I am still involved in serving my community and currently I am president of the Methodist Girls’ High School Old Girls Association, New York/New Jersey Branch and the Krio Descendants Union. We do fund raising to help the school and our community back home.
I left Sierra Leone for vacation on May 4th, 1997. I travelled to The Gambia and held meetings with officials of the vocational school as well as the Ministry of Education personnel regarding training of their secretarial and administrative personnel. It was my intention to advance my business beyond Sierra Leone and to introduce Gloronia Secretarial Institute and the robust training it offered Sierra Leoneans. I spent two weeks in The Gambia and then to the United States via London. I eventually arrived at Newark airport on May 24th, 1997, one day before the coup/rebel activities in Sierra Leone. I always wonder, how did this happen?
I was lucky my son and family as well as siblings were here in the United States, they helped me with my transition.
Getting a job in the United States after Sierra Leoneans were granted TPS (Temporary Protected Status) was not as challenging at that time. After securing a job my next goal was to become a licensed driver here in the U.S. It was a little scary at first, because even as a licensed driver from Sierra Leone, I couldn’t imagine driving at such speed in my small country with small roads. Driving in the U.S. is a real challenge. I am getting used to it now, but the winter months, when there is snow on the ground, is another story. I once skidded on ice one snowy winter morning, and developed some phobia after that. This last winter wasn’t too bad. If we don’t have a lot of snow in the North East I am fine with that. I have been praying for no snow!!
A memorable moment here in the United States was when my children organized a surprise 60th birthday party for me at the Hyatt Hotel in New Brunswick a few years ago. I was told that we were attending dinner but when I was ushered into the dining room, I was pleasantly surprised to see family members, friends and other relatives. There was an open microphone before the buffet dinner, and lots to eat and drink. I danced to ‘Sweet Mother’ and everyone had a wonderful time. After absorbing all what happened at the party, the following day, I sent my children and their spouses a letter to thank them for such a memorable event.
1. Self-published “Guide to Administrators and Secretaries” booklet in Freetown
The content of the booklet included the role of the secretary, names and address of the cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, government officials, forms of addresses for heads of states worldwide, other dignitaries, religious leaders including the Pope, flight schedules, transportation details to and from the airport, hospitality needs at the airport, and important details affecting their role. The information in this little booklet helped secretarial and administrative assistants a lot.
2. Pioneering the first magazine for Secretaries: “The Secretary,” which was launched by the late Mrs. Laura Lee Peters, who was US Ambassador to Sierra Leone
3. Founding the National Association of Secretaries, Sierra Leone-- an opportunity to bring secretarial and administrative personnel together. This association is still operating and open to all secretarial and administrative personnel. The association is now 17 years old.
4. Publishing poetry in an anthology here in the United States
5. Travelling to Freetown and getting positive comments from girls who attended my school and women who participated in training programs. Plans are underway to reestablish these robust training programs and more sometime this year.