By Veronica Henry

For most African Americans, tracing their ancestry begins with a lifelong curiosity. Isaiah Washington felt this same fascination. There was a question, forever looming in the background, for which science could suddenly provide an answer. For those who have taken this first step, I say kudos. I commend you for understanding the value of knowing and taking action to more clearly define your heritage. When your friends and coworkers proudly speak of their origins, you’ll also be able to lift your chin and join in the conversation. For some, it ends here.

But, for others, that is just the beginning. Isaiah Washington is one of those people. After discovering his genetic link to the Mende people of Sierra Leone, he felt his journey had just begun. Mr. Washington immediately scheduled a trip to Sierra Leone which lead to several subsequent visits. On one such trip, he was inducted into the tribe as Chief Gondobay Manga–the name of a legendary Mende warrior that had not been used for over 400 years.

Unable to ignore the incredibly optimistic attitudes of the people, even in the face of conditions which called for help, Mr. Washington formed The Gondobay Manga Foundation. “He felt an intense desire to do something and was moved to take action,” said Sonya Gay Bourn, President of the foundation.

The Los Angeles, California based Gondobay Manga Foundation advocates cooperative planning to achieve positive, timely improvements in the lives of the people of Sierra Leone. By uniting people that share in this vision, they attract much needed national and international attention to the unique needs of this community.

Of immediate concern is infrastructure development and stabilization, particularly in the areas of road building, water and electricity. These items must be addressed in order to help set the foundation for future growth. With the presidential runoff elections on September 8, 2007, there’s increased excitement as the new administration ushers in the next era of continued progress.

The Gondobay Manga Foundation is pursuing it’s first three projects simultaneously:

The Chief Foday Golia Memorial School – primary school (k-5th grades) being built in the rural village of Njala Kendema. The school is expected to accommodate 150 students and will eventually include sleeping quarters for the teachers. Ground was broken on February 8 2007 and is near completion.

Bunce Island Preservation- Once the largest British slave castle on the Rice Coast of West Africa– tens of thousands of African captives were exported to North America, particularly the colonies of South Carolina and Georgia. “A lot of people that were there went straight to America exclusively,” said Washington. “That’s what Bunce Island was designed for.” The foundation is working in conjunction with James Madison University professors Joe Opala, and Gary Chatelain to generate computer animated rendering of the Bunce Island slave castle. The 18th century slave castle is constantly deteriorating and this effort seeks to preserve it technologically and to physically restore this historical landmark and its educational importance.

Bo Hospital rehabilitation – In partnership with International Medical Corps, the foundation is working to rehabilitate the Bo Hospital. Locals will be trained in everything from surgical techniques to equipment maintenance and the latest medication protocols. After the full rehabilitation of the facility, IMC and Gondobay Manga envision the Bo Hospital becoming the premiere teaching and research hospital in West Africa, bringing the brightest minds to Sierra Leone and, more importantly, native Sierra Leoneans back to their homeland to combat the Brain Drain that has hampered the country.

While The Gondobay Manga Foundation is always in need of skilled individuals to assist at home and abroad, resist the urge to donate items to this cause. It’s actually prohibitively expensive to export goods from the United States to Sierra Leone. Rather, cash donations are preferred and greatly appreciated.

This approach has two benefits. First, the local economy benefits from the use of local skills, labor and materials to complete the projects, such as the craftsmen involved in building the school. Second, you’ll have more assurance that your tax deductible donation goes directly to support projects in country.

The Gondobay Manga Foundation demonstrates what can be achieved through the power of collective work and responsibility. For more information on how you can help and to donate, please visit The Gondobay Manga Foundation’s website at www.gondobaymangafoundation.org

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