By Marie Pfeifer
Thanks to Morristown resident Alan Chorun, children in a desperately poor corner of West Africa will have a fighting chance at getting an education.
Alan recently raised more than $12,000 online–enough to pay salaries of a half-dozen teachers for more than eight months in a small school in Blama Peri, Sierra Leone.
“Sierra Leone in general is developing very slowly,” Alan said. “But this area, in particular, has a very low crime rate. Their future looks very hopeful. It is a good place to invest in because it is stable. There is a medical center that supports the medical needs of eleven villages.”
The former pastoral assistant at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown was introduced to Sierra Leone through a men’s group at Trinity United Methodist Church in Highland Park.
That group raised funds to support a small school in the town of Bo, in southern Sierra Leone.
“I was looking for an opportunity to do some mission work and volunteered to teach a vacation bible school one summer,” said Alan, 46.
“While I was there I visited an orphanage child rescue center in the second largest city in the southern part of Sierra Leone… It is amongst the the poorest countries in the world.”
While in Bo, Alan met Abdulai Sawaraway, who had been orphaned at the age of five when his village, Blama Peri, was attacked during the civil war at the end of the last century.
Alan was captivated by Abdulai’s heartbreaking story of horror, loss, separation and more loss.
As a 5-year old, Abdulai saw his father killed by soldiers. His mother escaped with him into the jungle, only to be separated from him.
Living on the streets of Bo, Abdulai was rescued by the orphanage, which was funded by Americans.
“There, he thrived,” Alan said. “He was nurtured, given three meals a day, while most Sierra Leoneans only have one meal a day, and sent to school. I met him when he had just finished high school and was about to enter college.”
Through various connections, Abdulai discovered he had been born into the village of Blama Peri. He left Bo and searched for his mother, only to discover that she had died six months earlier.
After visiting his village, Abdulai wanted to make a difference for the impoverished people there. Determined to help him, Alan raised $10,000 in New Jersey to fund construction of three homes that house three families apiece.
Alan made more trips to Bo, where he trained former orphans to run a vacation Bible school in Blama Peri with sports, and arts and crafts activities.
When Alan arrived in Blama Peri, he discovered that only one child in the village attended middle school. The child’s parents were subsistence farmers and the walk to school was ten miles round-trip.
A Methodist minister, the Rev. Francis Charley, and his wife used all their savings to build the Benmat School in Bo. After construction costs, there only was enough money to pay teacher salaries for two months. Alan’s online campaign raised more than $12,000 in just 26 days.
“Now our goal is to have girls go to school. That’s our next effort,” Alan said.
The children face many challenges. To succeed at school, Alan said, they need three meals a day, text books and tutoring.
To achieve these goals, Alan is part of Young Visions Africa, a New Jersey nonprofit.
He said the nonprofit’s primary mission is helping the villagers become self-sufficient. The board has started by helping the most needy — widows and orphans.
One venture is a 20-acre community farm.
“At the Village Meeting we agreed to give them a loan and after two harvests they would have to pay back the loan and the farm will be completely theirs. It cost $75 to start the farm.”
Young Visions Africa has one full-time employee, Abdulai, and the plan is to hire two more people.
For Alan, this work fulfills a calling. He graduated from Hofstra University with a philosophy degree, which he parlayed into teaching music–his passion–and math.
“I wanted to go into the ministry in college,” said Alan, who has an 11-year-old daughter. “I thought about it for 15 years, finally with the encouragement of friends I entered the Drew University Seminary part-time, while I taught music and math.”
He enrolled full-time in 2010 and graduated last year.
While at St. Peter’s, Alan organized the Newcomers Classes, presided over a Contemporary Service on Saturdays and led the men’s Bible study group and their annual retreat. He also oversaw the youth group.
Right now, Alan seeks donations to hire another person to expand Young Vision Africa’s work in Sierra Leone to nearby villages. He also is looking for a part-time youth ministry position, to support his continued fundraising efforts and his work in Sierra Leone.
More details about Alan’s work in Sierra Leone can be found at the Young Visions Africa website.