News / Africa

Peace Corps Volunteer Returns to Help Sierra Leone School

Steve Kruse and Salifu Mansaray first met more than 40 years ago when Kruse was a Peace Corps volunteer and Mansaray was a boy who had just stolen bread from a bakery
Steve Kruse and Salifu Mansaray first met more than 40 years ago when Kruse was a Peace Corps volunteer and Mansaray was a boy who had just stolen bread from a bakery

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On the 50th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Peace Corps, some former volunteers are returning to the countries where they served as teachers, health care workers or agricultural advisors. 



Steve Kruse and Salifu Mansaray first met more than 40 years ago when Kruse was a Peace Corps volunteer and Mansaray was a boy who had just stolen bread from a bakery.

"I learned that he wasn't in school," recalls Kruse. "So I put him in school and he came after school to do some work, to help around the house.  One thing led to another.  He ended up moving in with me.  His mother had passed away."

"I was also sick.  I had a wound on my stomach," Mansaray explains. "And, all this I came to Steve to love me.  I had no one to take care of me.  My family was very poor."

Steve Kruse
Steve Kruse

The men lost contact when Kruse returned to the United States.  He worried about his friend during Sierra Leone's long civil war.

"I would try and watch the news and the only news out of Sierra Leone then was bad news.," Kruse says. "And, I was worried.  We heard about all the amputations and all the killings.  I wasn't sure he was able to survive that or avoid that."

 

After the war, Kruse found an e-mail address for the legislator who represents the district near the border with Guinea and wrote to him asking about Mansaray, who had become a police sergeant in the capital, Freetown.

Salifu Mansaray
Salifu Mansaray

"Imagine when you lose contact with someone for 30 years and you get it again.  It is a universal happiness.  I had to think that 'I am back with Steve,' even though I couldn't see him," Mansaray says.

Fifty years after the start of Peace Corps and 50 years since Sierra Leone's independence,  Kruse returned to Bafodia, where, on evening walks down the same dirt streets, Sergeant Mansaray is still called Salifu "Peace Corps."

The men visited former student Kottor Decker, who started school late because his father kept him home to work the family farm.

"When I went to school, my father drove me out of the house by saying that I would not go to school because I am the only son to work for him on his farm," recalls Decker.

By the time Decker got to Kruse's grammar school class, he was only three years younger than his young American teacher.

"A lot of people don't have the opportunity to go to school," explains Kruse. "They may have to work in the fields and on the farms.  So a number of the students may go to school for one year.  Be out one year.  So they attend school when they can or when they can afford it."

Remembering how hard it was to keep kids in school, Kruse and Mansarary came back to Bafodia, not only to renew old friendships but to help their former school.

"We brought supplies for the school kids, Salifu and I, and I would like to see that anyone who wants to go to school will have the chance to go to school," Kruse says.  "So the plan is to try to offer some scholarships for children to start school."

"We have come back to help the people of Bafodia with books," adds Mansaray.  "And, Steve is also determined to have a few scholarships for some of the pupils.  And, in fact we are thinking of more assistance for this township."

It is a small-scale, entirely personal contribution by Kruse, his friends and his family - inspired by a life-changing Peace Corps experience.

"It gave me the opportunity to think of places other than just what your familiar surroundings are," Kruse says. "I grew up in Kansas, lived in Tennessee and all of a sudden you have an exposure to a whole world out there, a huge world and places like this become like your second home."

Kruse wondered how he would feel coming back after so many years, but little has changed.  There is still no electricity in Bafodia.  People still get their water from a forest spring.

With Peace Corps volunteers now back in Sierra Leone 15 years after pulling out during the civil war, Kruse and Mansaray hope another young American will be sent to this village where their friendship is helping keep children in school.

 

See our special report on the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

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