Saah Joseph, 33, has come to Maple Valley to raise awareness and support for his work through The Bridge mission helping the people of Sierra Leone located on the west coast of Africa.
He is speaking in this state and others including Oregon, California and Texas.
The Bridge is a Christian organization connected with New Community Church in Maple Valley and Jefferson Baptist Church in Oregon. The organization sends missionary teams to Sierra Leone to provide assistance to the people including medical care, building churches, schools, skills training and economic opportunities.
Joseph is a coordinator for The Bridge in Sierra Leone.
He speaks to groups about the people and conditions in Sierra Leone and he tells the story of his life as a refugee during the civil war in Liberia that began in 1989.
Joseph traveled a long and difficult road that took him from Liberia to Sierra Leone, from refugee camp to refugee camp, but he took the tragic times and found a calling to help others.
In the early 1990s, armed fighters killed his father and shattered the 14-year-old Joseph’s life as he knew it.
Joseph refused to join the fighters and he was forced to flee for his life.
“I managed to escape and I walked by foot one week and two days through the bush,” Joseph said. “I was able to get to a refugee camp in Sierra Leone.”
After his 1,500-mile trek, Joseph stayed in the camp, but had to flee again as the war chased him from Sierra Leone to Guinea and on to Senegal.
Destitute and hungry, the boy was forced to beg for food on the streets. It was at this point he came to the crossroads of his life. While begging for food, he came upon a refugee center run by the Jefferson Baptist Church.
Through the association with the Oregon church he was able to get back to his mother in Sierra Leone, who was at a refugee camp and had been shot. He stayed with her and the church helped pay for the medicine she needed for treatment of her wounds.
It was at this point Joseph started his first church and began a school to teach working skills to young people with the help of the church.
Joseph found a need for schools to help young girls who were left without parents because of the war. The girls did not have any means of providing food and shelter for themselves.
“We have very young girls whose parents were killed during the war,” Joseph said. “Their only means of support is prostitution. We are trying to teach the them skills (at the schools) to empower the girls so they won’t go back to prostitution.”
The schools teach catering, carpentry, tailoring and hairdressing.
Maple Valley’s Allie Wallace met Joseph when she went on a mission trip to Sierra Leone with the Bridge.
“I was really impressed with his ideas,” Wallace said. “It is so important that the girls can realize they can do something for themselves.”
Joseph said estimates are 70 percent of the girls have babies without a spouse to help raise and support the child.
His goal is to get the girls to the schools and teach them to read and write.
Joseph said many of the girls have sexually transmitted diseases, and the school provides treatment and medication. The schools also provide a meal a day for the girls.
Joseph said 380 girls are graduating in November and he is trying to raise support to get jobs for the girls to keep them off the streets.
He is committed to his schools and work The Bridge has been preforming in Sierra Leone including the medical assistance.
“We want to develop more opportunities,” Joseph said. “People are really dying from illnesses and we are looking for more support.