Alec Russell was born in 1918 in Lanarkshire, Scotland and at young age was removed from education to work in the local mine. He was described as a bright child who could have attended university and his teachers did not agree with his removal from education. Alec developed a career in mining and over the years of his working life he managed mines in places such as India, South America and various middle eastern countries. He strongly believed that education was fundamental to success and achievement in life. Through his work he travelled throughout the world often living in countries with high levels of deprivation and poor educational attainment. With a philanthropic approach, Alec Russell encouraged those children and young adults that he met and those who showed promise and motivation to further their education.
Through the establishment of Alec Russell Memorial Trust, his family will honour his memory by continuing his commitment to encouraging the advancement of education in the developing world. Primarily, although not exclusively, ARET will provide support to organisations and individuals living in Sierra Leone. The family has established links to Sierra Leone, a country troubled for years with a horrific civil war, the outbreak of Ebola, mudslides and floods which have claimed many lives and left children and adults traumatised. Within Sierra Leone, ARET aims to provide funding to organisations, communities and individuals to improve access and the general quality of education provided within the country.
Morag Keenan, Trustee and founder of ARET tells the story that led her to form the Alec Russell Educational Trust…..
“My first visit to Sierra Leone was in April 2017. It was an interesting but fairly limited introduction to the country. I returned home to the North West Highlands of Scotland with my curiosity piqued, many unanswered questions and knowing with certainty that I would have to return to the country.
In November 2017 I found myself flying out to Sierra Leone on my own. It was not a sudden whim nor a rash decision. I had done my homework, sought the advice of Visit Sierra Leone, and read as much as I could about the history and current affairs. The programme I arranged was not your typical tourist holiday, I specifically wanted to find out more about education and schooling in Sierra Leone. To do this I was strongly advised to take a driver, car and guide which would enable me to cover quite a wide area and open doors which I would find difficult to open on my own.
Fortunate are the tired, jaded and dishevelled travellers who are met by Lamin. He has an infectious smile which he seems to share with the world, it is a smile of welcome and friendship. Whilst killing time between the plane landing and the ferry departing I had to accompany Lamin while he had a haircut. It was an interesting experience, not watching him have his hair cut but listening to the heated political discussion as the barber’s customers and bystanders exchanged opinion. Sierra Leone was scheduled to have a general election in March 2018 and politics was certainly a topic discussed by many.
I was met by Abdulai , Visit Sierra Leone Guide, and Idrissa our driver, they were to be my companions over the next ten days. Abdulai’s welcome was friendly and warm, his laughter deep and rich. They told me later that I did not quite fit into the mould they expected but by the end of the ‘tour’ I think Idrissa, Abdulai and I were very relaxed in each others’ company and became friends. Idrissa drove ambulances during the Ebola crisis for the WHO (World Health Organisation) and he is easily the best driver I have known. As he navigated some of the roads I initially sat with clenched jaw muttering a wide selection of prayers but was told by Abdulai , ‘It is all right ,Ma, he knows what he is doing.’ And so I learned to relax, marvel at the roads he navigated and wished when I returned to the snowy, icy conditions we experienced in the UK this year that it was Idrissa who was driving and not me.
Abdulai and I shared similar attitudes to life and education and given that he is now our Volunteer Ambassador in Sierra Leone he should introduce himself.
Due to communication and broadband issues in Sierra Leone it has taken some time to receive and publish Abdulai’s contribution. However, it has now been added on 18th June and titled Abdulai Sankoh Ambassador ARET Sierra Leone. It makes very interesting reading.
I met so many inspiring people whilst I was in Sierra Leone. Obviously I was an outsider looking in but I never felt anything other than welcome as I sat and observed life or listened to their discussions. For the majority poverty is life and life is hard and probably only someone who has faced real poverty can understand how crippling and destructive it can be.
In Freetown they have this wonderful mural – “Learning is better than silver and gold”. Generally people believe this to be true. Education is available to all at Primary Level but the realities and hardships of life mean that many simply cannot access it or have to abandon it as premature responsibility for the family is thrust upon them. Such is Kemohkai’s (Kemoh) story.
Kemoh had been a star pupil in his secondary school and was close to graduating and praying that one day his dreams would be realised with a place at University. Sadly, Kemoh’s father died and the young man had to return to his village to become the ‘elder’ of the family. He did not even graduate from Secondary education. I was visiting his village for a few days and he learned I was a teacher and came to ask me if I could revise his subjects with him. I had no teaching materials and we had to make do with a rather inferior pencil, a notebook, a paperback novel and knowledge embedded in both our brains. The darkness descended so quickly that my head torch became an essential piece of equipment. Kemoh worked all day in the fields, an hour’s walk from his village. He came straight to my hut from the fields and some kind person suggested that he should eat first and learn after eating. He later told me that many of his companions would put up with any number of hardships to access education but hunger was the most brutal. His attitude to learning was exemplary, a teacher’s dream, but my stay was too short to be of any real value. Many stories have a nice ending and I hope this one will too. ARET has arranged for Kemoh to have formal tuition three days of the week. He will work to support his family for the rest of the week. He hopes to be able to take the Secondary School exams before the next academic year and apply for University. Kemoh’s current tutor describes him as a young man with a passion for learning. If he is successful gaining entrance to University he will be given financial assistance. We truly hope that in four years time we will be advised that he has gained his degree.”
Kemoh is merely one story of many children and young adults who struggle to access education. It is the desire of the Trustees of ARET (Alec’s Russell’s own family) that we will be able to help many more individuals and communities in Sierra Leone to reach their potential.