You might know Steven Caulker as a talented Premier League footballer who plays for Queen's Park Rangers, as well as for his appearance in the England national team. But he's also just returned from an emotional trip with ActionAid to Sierra Leone, his grandfather’s homeland. It's always been Steven's dream to go and visit this west African country.
Here Steven shares his experiences about the people he met in Sierra Leone: from the Ebola survivor who lost eight members of her family to the disease, to the children who are hungry for an education at the primary school Steven helped to fund, and the fearless women who are working hard to provide a better future for themselves and the next generation.
Three years ago, I approached ActionAid as I wanted to give my support to projects in Sierra Leone where my grandad was from, and where ActionAid has been working for 28 years.
I had never been before and first planned to visit in 2014. But my trip had to be cancelled because Ebola had taken hold, devastating the country and tragically killing so many thousands of people.
I was so pleased to hear in January that Sierra Leone was, at last, declared Ebola-free and I started making plans to visit this June.
#Repost @stevencaulker4 with @repostapp ・・・ What an amazing greeting from all the community! 3 years ago I sat down with @actionaiduk and explained to them I wanted to do something for #sierraleone in my granddad’s memory. Now after the hard fight against Ebola the community have welcomed me with open arms to see the school and livelihood projects that @actionaiduk have set up with help of my funding and the very kind people who supported by donation to the Africa’s Child just-giving page. Check out @actionaiduk page this evening where I will be posting my favourite video clips and pictures of this journey and ask me any questions you may have!
My first stop in Sierra Leone was in the capital, Freetown, where I got some time to explore and check out the beautiful beaches.
I soon got a shock when ActionAid took me to a local slum to meet people who had survived Ebola, who had lost their family and friends and are having to survive on their own, and in some cases looking after their younger brother and sisters.
I met Elizabeth, a 21-year-old woman who lost her mum, dad, brother, auntie and four other family members to Ebola. With the help of ActionAid she is now back in the community looking after her younger brothers and sisters.
Elizabeth really stood out to me as a strong, inspirational woman. Someone who battles on through the tough times, all while looking after — I think — four younger siblings at the same time as studying to be a nurse. It’s stuff that I’d never imagined, until I saw it firsthand, and saw the strength of women like Elizabeth.
I was overwhelmed at the welcome. The shock of the noise and the volume of people there to greet us was incredible; I had to hold back tears.
Next day, I travelled four hours to the Kambia District of northern Sierra Leone. It’s here that I have been supporting a school and livelihoods project in a village called Lal Gberay. I was really excited to see how the project was coming along; and of course to meet all the children.
When I arrived after the long journey and feeling a bit tired, I was overwhelmed at the welcome. The shock of the noise and the volume of people there to greet us was incredible; I had to hold back tears.
It was great to see so many children so happy to be going to school and to know that they were now going to be getting a decent education and have the chance of a brighter future.
There was so much joy and happiness – especially visible in mothers who are now learning livelihoods, so they can now provide for their families. It was something that moved me in a profound way.
It showed me that the work that ActionAid has done, the work that I’ve done, and the work that people have done in supporting me to fundraise and help improve the lives of the people I met has made a difference. That is something that I will forever hold in my heart.
After meeting the entire community and schoolchildren I got the very great privilege of being able to stay overnight with a local family. They told me they had so little to give me, yet they gave me more than I could ever imagine, and they made me feel at home, welcomed me, fed me and gave me a bed for the night. It was breathtaking.
It’s only after coming out to Sierra Leone and seeing the work the women have to do in the villages and the pain they go through that I began to understand.
The family also had a genuine appreciation for the work that not only I and ActionAid had done but for the people back home who supported this project, because without them and ActionAid it wouldn’t be possible.
When I first started supporting ActionAid they mentioned women’s rights a lot, and at the time, I was unaware of what that really meant, and why this issue was such a big thing for them.
It’s only after coming out to Sierra Leone and seeing the work the women have to do in the villages and the pain they go through that I began to understand exactly what they meant.
It saddened me to see that a lot of these women previously stood alone, and it’s so pleasing to see through the project, that the women are now learning about their rights, and learning to come together to be as one, to stand up for their rights.
ActionAid has done a fantastic job educating these women and giving them the knowledge to know what is right and what is wrong, and that is what makes them strong. I saw this in the girls I met at the school and the strong mothers I met who are supporting their families and enjoying life.
I’ve been really impressed by the work that ActionAid has done; the staff on the ground here have been fantastic. The respect that the people on the ground had for the staff was clear for everyone to see, and that respect has been earned by ActionAid providing for the families looking out for the families, and having a personal care for each individual, and that’s something I took pride in being part of.
This place has definitely touched my heart, and is an experience that will stay with me forever.
I had my doubts about being part of something like this before, as I’m sure many people do, in terms of worrying where the money goes, and does it go to the right people in these remote villages where people really need help. And I can tell you that ActionAid is doing just that. Reaching out to those whose need really is the greatest.
The three-year wait has definitely been worth it and it has inspired me to work harder, to be able to provide more funds to help more people and to help the country develop. I want to give these kids and, in particular, the women more opportunities in life.
This place has definitely touched my heart, and is an experience that will stay with me forever. Thank you ActionAid.
Carrying on Steven’s work
Well, Steven has definitely won some hearts and minds, not only in Sierra Leone but here in the ActionAid office in the UK too. While he was on his trip, he documented it all on his Instagram and even took over our Instagram account for a live Q&A.
You can follow ActionaidUK on Instagram to see more incredible stories and photos like this.
And if you want to make like Steven and help support some of the world’s poorest women and children, there are lots of things you can do. You might not be able to fund a school like Steven did, but if you sponsor a child — in Sierra Leone, or another country of your choosing - your money will go to help make sure they get the education they need, as well as food, shelter, healthcare and the chance of a better future.
It’s a great way to make a lasting difference to a child’s life.
Photos: Will Morgan, Steven Caulker.