What comes to mind when you think of Sierra Leone?
Most people will immediately think of the country’s civil war that raged throughout the 1990s, and recall the harrowing images of child soldiers and amputee victims. This conflict ended nearly a decade ago, yet we are still stuck with snapshots from this sad chapter in the country’s history.
Today the story is very different. If you walk through the bustling streets of Freetown, or spend an afternoon on one of the peninsula’s stunning beaches, the atmosphere that pervades is one of welcoming chaos and a certain joie de vivre. Sierra Leone – once West Africa’s most prosperous region – is now coming into its own again.
All the individuals that I met, befriended and photographed were working towards a brighter future for the country. Education and entrepreneurialism are valued highly in their culture, and, consequently there is a real feeling of progress and optimism in the air. That is not to say that life is easy for your average Sierra Leonean. The country is still ranked as the third lowest on the UN’s Human Development Index, and seventh lowest on its Human Poverty Index. While these figures represent a stark reality, they should not define Sierra Leone. Aid is still needed, but it is certainly not the only solution to helping the region. What Sierra Leone now needs is foreign investment, further infrastructure and sustainable tourism. And if Sierra Leone is to grow and develop it is crucial that people’s perceptions of the country are changed.
‘Sweet Salone’ is a series of portraits of Sierra Leoneans today. It is a project that aims to give a small insight into the lives of some of the individuals that make up this vibrant country. For too long Sierra Leoneans have been depicted in a less than positive light. It is time that this outdated portrayal is finally discarded.