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Swim for the girls of Sierra Leone

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Aderonke Bademosi Wilson, centre with girls at Hope Academy in York Village, Sierra Leone (Photograph supplied)

Like a lot of Bermudians, Tcherari Nu Kamara does not swim before May 24.

On Sunday, however, she has pledged to brave the waters of John Smith’s Bay to raise $50,000 for a cause that’s dear to her heart: a school her grandmother started two years ago for at-risk girls in Sierra Leone.

“I am a big reader,” the 14-year-old said.

“That is part of the reason I wanted to help, because I love reading.

“I have always read since I was very small and I wanted other people to be able to experience that.”

Money raised from The Great Bermuda Penguin Swim will be put towards a library and computer lab at Hope Academy in York Village.

Aliea Kamara opened the school for girls aged 13 to 16 in November 2017.

It’s one of very few free schools in the West African country, where 72 per cent of the population earn less than a dollar a day.

As a result, only one in ten girls complete high school.

Tcherari has visited Hope Academy twice, the last time shortly after it opened.

Her grandmother, a retired teacher in Sierra Leone, is developing it as finances allow.

“There are 33 girls now, but there were fewer when I visited,” the teenager said.

“The girls are very proud of their school. They take pride in their school and clean up after themselves. They act like us. They joke around and like to tease each other.

“If these girls didn’t go to the school, they wouldn’t be in school at all.

“I feel very lucky to have opportunities, and to be able to be educated and learn things.”

One thing that shocked her was how few books there were. Students lined up eager to read the handful that came on her last visit, regardless of what they were about.

Tcherari’s father Abayomi Carmichael has visited the country eight times since marrying Ngadi Kamara 21 years ago.

“I have routinely seen situations with the young kids not being able to go to school,” he said.

“Because tuition is out of the question, many families end up putting their girls to work instead.

“Then, there is a cultural situation which disproportionately impacts the girls, because they have a system where there is a dowry involved in marriage.

“The male side gives money to the female side. Girls as young as 14 are married off. These girls have just as much capacity as anyone else.”

In November, he and his wife and daughter formed Elevating Bermuda, the charity behind Sunday’s swim, with help from friends Aderonke Bademosi Wilson and Deidra-Lee and Ayana Bean.

Ms Bademosi Wilson visited the school last year and found the girls hungry to learn.

“They need access to information,” she said. “We need the opportunity to help that process along. We don’t know who we’re educating. We could be educating the next person who is going to cure cancer. We could be educating the next president of their country.

“This is an important endeavour. You don’t know where the dollar we give here in Bermuda will move forward in a country like Sierra Leone for these young ladies. The potential there is beyond imagination.”

They called the fundraiser The Great Bermuda Penguin Swim because of the way the birds move in the water.

“When you see them, they are darting through the water to jump up on the land,” said Ms Bademosi Wilson, who is also planning to swim on Sunday.

“That is how we envision this event: running in and running out of the water. But people can stay in for as long as they like.”

She laughingly admitted the sea surface temperature isn’t expected to be anywhere near the 50F weather forecasters had cited as possible.

“Right now, it is scheduled to be almost 70F which is quite warm for this time of year,” she said.

“Someone said it’s warmer in the ocean than on land. We will soon find out.”

How you can Help

The Great Bermuda Penguin Swim starts at 3pm at John Smith’s Bay on Sunday.

Teams of five are asked to donate $100 towards a library and computer lab at Hope Academy in Sierra Leone; individuals are invited to give $20.

‘Penguins’ are asked to get into the water up to their necks. They can dash out immediately after, if they wish.

Should you want to donate and not swim, organiser Abayomi Carmichael will get in the water for you.

Non-swimmers are encouraged to come and show their support. There will be soup and hot chocolate for sale, and other treats.

The event will take place rain blow, or shine with prizes donated by Digicel, Butterfield & Vallis, Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, Buzz, John Barritt & Son and Speciality Cinema.

For more information: go.rallyup.com/penguin. Look for Elevating Hope and The Great Bermuda Penguin Swim on Facebook

Tcherari Nu Kamara, far left, visiting Hope Academy in York Village, Sierra Leone (Photograph supplied)
From left Deidre Lee Bean, Abayomi Carmichael and Tcherari Nu Kamara will be taking part in the Great Bermuda Penguin Swim on Sunday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)