Student gives back to Sierra Leone

Lydia Coutré

Senior political science major Danny Johnson said he knows what it’s like to go without food for a day or two.

Johnson grew up in Sierra Leone and has gone through the same struggles kids face there today, he said.

“I know what they’re going through,” Johnson said. “I’ve been there. I’ve lived it. I lived there for 17 years. I know what it means to not have it.”

He said he has been thinking about doing something to give back to where he came from for years, but it was a class last semester that really motivated him to take action.

At the end of last year, Johnson started the Danny and Friends Organization, a program established to help children affected by war in Sierra Leone, a country that experienced 11 years of civil war.

“I didn’t have a whole lot of things and I’m fortunate to be here,” Johnson said. “I have the upper hand, so I thought I’d help people that don’t have enough, especially the kids — kids that don’t have enough clothes or enough stuff to eat. Their parents can’t really provide for them, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to help people.”

Johnson said he asks people to donate anything they can, such as food, necessities, clothing and change.

Besides collecting donations from students, Johnson said he has contacted many local churches asking for their cooperation, and a few of them have expressed interest in working with him.

He began the project with the help of his friend Momoh Bangura, who still resides in Sierra Leone. The two grew up and lived together for several years.

“Both of us experienced the 11 years [of] war in the country,” Bangura wrote in an e-mail. “And so it was in our heart to help the war-affected people, especially the children, but we were not financially strong at that time.”

Bangura is the country director for DAFO and operates the organization in Sierra Leone.

The organization is still in the process of becoming a legally recognized charity in Sierra Leone.

Once things get going, Johnson said he hopes to take videos and photos to show people the work they are doing and wants people to know “this is not a joke.”

“I’m not here to steal anybody’s money or whatever you’re giving me,” Johnson said. “I really want to help these people. I know it can make a difference.”

Bangura said he hopes to expand the project in the future.

“We are hoping for more sponsorship, financially and materially, so that we can help people in our communities and even reach out to other nations that are affected by war and other natural crisis,” Bangura said.

Johnson came to the United States in 2004 through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an agency that leads an international effort to help protect refugees. He went to high school in Akron for two years before coming to Kent State.

Johnson said people who wish to contribute can e-mail him at [email protected]. He hopes to put out a basket somewhere in the Student Center as soon as he can to make donating easier.

He said it is an important cause for students to consider helping.

“Even though we’re from different continents, we’re still all family,” Johnson said. “We want a better life for ourselves, and because they’re like family to us, we want a better life for them too.”

Contact news correspondent Lydia Coutré at [email protected].