Recently, we got an email from a young man named Fombah Kanneh. The subject line read “LIVE TO GIVE: Transforming Obstacles Into Opportunities.”
Although he has never visited our office, we’ve all heard about Fombah before. His story begins with his childhood, growing up in a slum where his family lived off of less than $2/day.
Fombah’s father passed away when he was very young. At age 10, his mother moved their family to Monrovia and into a community called “Sonawein.”
Her goal was to seek a better life, but Sonawein turned out to be a notoriously violent slum community riddled with drugs, violence and teen prostitution.
Fombah and his family lived in a makeshift ramshackle home just around the corner from the public toilet.
Fombah described his childhood as full of pain and suffering. He constantly felt the peer pressure of doing drugs and joining gangs. Many times, he considered giving up.
“As a boy, many days I drove flies off my food. My childhood life was full of pain and suffering. I almost gave up on my dreams due to peer pressure from my friends and the harsh realities of life. Thanks to my mother for her discipline. She encouraged me every night to focus on my studies and to help her sell charcoal at the back of the Rally Town Market to get money to pay my school fees.
I graduated from the G.W. Gibson High School in 2003 at the end of the Liberian civil war. In 2004, I got a diploma in Mass Communication from the Liberia Institute of Journalism. My goal of being a journalist was to give slum dwellers a platform to have their voices heard. Still determined to gain higher education, I enrolled at the University of Liberia and later earned a BBA in Management.”
According to Fombah, the turning point in his life was when he met Juan Casimiro at a seminar in the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, who introduced him to the 7 Mindsets.Juan is a legend around the 7 Mindsets office, and was instrumental in helping us build our company and the program we implement at schools today.
Juan’s team and ours share a dream: Somewhere in the Congo is a kid who can change the whole world, and it’s up to us to help that child fulfill his or her potential.
Live to Give: A Way Of Life
Live to Give isn’t just a mindset, it’s a way of life.
Fombah is, in many ways, that child. He graduated high school and went on to be the first person from his family to graduate college. But it didn’t end there. Fombah worked with Juan to be recognized as one of 300 young African leaders. Through this program, he was able to travel to the United States, participate in a town hall discussion with the US President and even meet Barrack Obama himself.
Now if it ended there, it would be a great story. A young boy coming from some of the most oppressive conditions our planet has to offer who somehow overcame everything to get a degree and create a living and purpose for his own life.
But Fombah had bigger plans.
He went back to Africa and began spreading the 7 Mindsets in impoverished villages all over the African continent.
His message was the same one that Juan Casimiro had taught him that day at the US Embassy in 2011:
You can and will change your life, if you change the way you view yourself, the world around you and the future in front of you.
Inspired by the impact he was having, Fombah went on to create his own foundation called Gift to Change.
With a number of other folks, they created a Live To Give movement called “No One Behind,” the sole purpose of which is to instill in young impoverished youth the inspiration he himself received just 5 years earlier.
In 2013, he was appointed as an Advisor to the US Ambassador to Liberia. Today, his work impacts children across Africa – from Liberia to as far away as Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Lesotho and recently Tanzania. He is also a Mandela Washington Fellow.
We wanted to share this Live to Give story with you this holiday season so each of you can believe that everything is going to be okay. Our children will grow up in a world much different than ours, but they will have great opportunities to be happy and live in a better place than the one they inherited. We will overcome the problems we face, and it will come from an often overlooked place: the hearts and mind of our youth, one student at a time… like Fombah.
Fombah ended his email with a mantra he often shares with himself:
“How far we’ve come means nothing, but how far we can go to make our world a better place means everything.”
Thank you 7 Mindsets,
Fombah Lasana Kanneh
From Monrovia, Liberia, AFRICA