Growing up with my parents, they instilled in me three life virtues:
The huddles of life growing up did not stop Mr. Christian Martyn Kamara going for his dreams. He spoke to Mustapha Momoh, Communications Volunteer, Sierra Leone YMCA where he shared about his upbringing. Here is a glimpse of his leadership journey
Can you kindly introduce yourself please?
My name is Christian Martyn Kamara,National General Secretary of Sierra Leone YMCA (YMCA-SL) and also the West Africa facilitator of Africa Alliance of YMCAs where I am tasked to coordinate the work of YMCAs in West Africa.
I became a member/volunteer of the YMCA in 1987 from the Kissy Branch in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 2005, I served on the board of the YMCA-SL as the National Youth Chairman where I represented the interest of young people on the board. I also became the project coordinator at the Kissy Branch. Subsequently, I became the first Development Secretary of Sierra Leone YMCA and later became the National General Secretary.
I am a development and Management Specialist; and I have served in different organizations working either as a project officer or project manager. I have also worked as consultant for organizational development for a number of organizations. I am happily married with two children
Tell us about your educational qualifications?
Ans.: I hold a BSC (Hons) Degree in Development Studies, a Master’s Degree in Development Studies and Business Administration (MBA) for Executives from the University of Sierra Leone. I have completed a number of professional short courses in Community Development, Financial Management and youth development in Canada, USA and the United Kingdom.
What programs are you currently implementing as Sierra Leone YMCA?
Our programs are anchored on the vision to empower young people for the African Renaissance. In this regard, we have transformative programmes that unlock the potentials of young people. This has to do with programmes that develop the mindsets of young people around the S2C philosophy. But our flagship programmes have to do with livelihood, entrepreneurship development, advocacy and governance. So we are doing quite a lot of work around livelihood and entrepreneurship with young people. We are also doing a lot of work around civic competence wherein we build the skills of young people to engage stakeholders or duty bearers on their rights and governance issues.
We are also service provides for kindergarten, primary, secondary and vocational education across the country. We provide quality education to young people especially from poor background.
How was your childhood? Did it ever occur to you that one time you will be the CEO of the YMCA?
My journey has been interesting. When I was in primary school, I was appointed a prefect in my school. Between the ages 6 and 10, I organized lessons for my peers even though we played a lot of games. But at the end of the day, I had the ability to get them together for studies. On graduation to high school, I was also appointed a school prefect and a class monitor. During my university days, I was president of our social club and also a grand master of our fraternity to the extent that I rose to the rank of grand master for coalition of fraternities and sororities.
I have had the fortune to find myself in leadership roles. In wherever social or formal setting I find myself, there is a tendency for me to become a leader within most of the groups, clubs or organizations I find myself. Even when I joined the Rotary club, I had the opportunity to serve as the past President. I am currently the vice president. I have also been a trainer of Presidents, Secretaries and Treasurers of the Rotary clubs within West Africa in District 9101.
I have been a chair and head of most committees and boards I have served. For instance, in the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone (CCSL), I was a member of the standing committee and chair of Finance and Human Resources Committee. I also served as Treasurer of Radio Democracy, 98.1 a leading good Governance radio station. I served as an executive Committee member of the World Urban Network of Chief Executive Officers. So that’s how things worked out even in the YMCA. I came to the Y as a young person, became a secretary in our local branch, then dominated by adults, it was very strange to see a young person serving in such an adult dominated branch. I also became secretary of United Y and later became president of the National youth committee. So I have experienced leadership roles since my childhood. For me, that is why it has never surprised me being the NGS of the YMCA-SL.
Do you have mentors?
Yes I do! One of my key mentors is presently my boss, Carlos Sanvee. He has an ardent belief that you go where your heart is. In terms of the Pan Africanism, there is no doubt that Carlos has promoted this ideology over the years. I am not a Pan Africanist in every sense of the word, but I love the ideology and love to empower young people not just taking them through transformative processes but to also impact their lives and the others they live with. So Carlos is one of those mentors that have really served as a model to me. His passion for young people and transforming them through the Subject to Citizen Philosophy has been outstanding. His dream for the Africa Renaissance resonates with my vision to see Africa take the lead and be transformed as reflected in the agenda 2063.
Secondly, some of our international partners like Tom Coon (Canada) and Tom Valentine (USA)in the USA have served as mentors. At the local level, one of my mentor is the former chairman of Sierra Leone YMCA. Mr. Desmond George Williams has been a mentor and guided me through my professional career.
Tell us about your background and the roles your parents played in shaping your background. Are they proud of all your achievements?
Yes! They are proud of the achievements and the man I have become. I came from a family of seven. My father worked in the mines and later worked as Human Resources person. My mum of course was a teacher but later on went into the NGO field where she worked for the Catholic Reliefs Services (CRS) as programme person and she worked there for the most part of her life. So my desire and passion to do social work actually emanated from my mum: I used to see her going to the field and writing her reports on her field assignments. I got inspired by her commitment and her work.
From a family of seven (7), I have elder brothers, a sister and a younger brother. Well within our confines, we were seven but the family grew to 15 as extended family members came on board as part of our African culture and heritage. I have elder brothers who are Bank managers and mangers in some of the organizations in Sierra Leone and I also have brothers who are out of the country as well. I came from a Christian oriented background. My parents are both fervent Catholics so I was born in a catholic home but later had a Pentecostal religious faith.
Growing up with my parents, some of the virtues I inherited from my mum are: to be God fearing , share with one another, never to look low upon someone no matter his/ her status in society, to be respectful , to be tolerant; but over and above all, humanity is something that you could always play a part in. These are the ways I was brought up and I was also brought up to share with others no matter how little. My mum also instilled in me that I should be content with whatever little I have and should never ever be jealous or covetous.
Being the NGS must be having many challenges just like any other job. How do you push through your worst times?
I am a very determined person and so I like challenges. In my worst moments, I engage in things that keep me busy and up at night. One of the things I do when I have worst times is to seek God’s intervention. I commit each and every struggle that I go through to God because for me, He is the author and finisher of our faith. He has his own will and therefore, I always put my trust in God.
Secondly, I am one person who is always optimistic. Nothing that goes wrong will stay wrong. Therefore, whenever I feel challenged, I seek solutions to those challenges. I believe that whatsoever happens, do happen for a purpose. But again, I don’t believe in quick fix, I believe in everlasting solutions to problems.
Would you kindly tell us an accomplishment that has shaped your career?
Well the issue about empowering young people. The thousands of young people I have worked with. When I walk along the streets of Freetown and in the provinces, I see young people who could walk up to me and say thank you Mr. Kamara: you cannot remember me but YMCA supported me to acquire skills. Here is my shop; here are the people I am working with. People give testimonies of how they were before and how YMCA has helped transformed their lives. This keeps me in this job and gives me a lot of joy and inner fulfillment that I have been able to change lives that will impact the lives of others. And if every Sierra Leone and could be a mentor or could just move out of their comfort zones to support others, I think Sierra Leone will be a better place. So for me, what really keeps me in this job is the transformation we have done when it comes to the lives of young people. Today you see some of these young people very productive and useful citizens in this country. Without the interventions of Sierra Leone YMCA, I wonder what their lives could have turned out to be!
What are you hoping to achieve this year as Sierra Leone YMCA?
What we are really putting our focus on is social enterprise. We have been able to accomplish and done quite a lot, but as an institution, we need to find a way of how we can sustain the organizations over and beyond programmes funding.
Funding may be provided for some core programmes but at the institutional level, YMCA is here to stay. Therefore, we hope to embark on social enterprises wherein we could generate more revenue internally to be able to support some of our programmes and ideas that might not attract external funding. But over and above all, we should be able to keep our staff together, because most often, we get good staff but when project/program funds ends, the staff will have to move out. But if we have the capacity to generate funds within the organization, we could be able to retain that staff over and beyond programme funding. So for me, what we are really going to focus on in 2018 is the need to generate support for our social enterprise: the businesses that we have, how we are going to add value to those businesses so that they could generate much more revenue that we could use in our organization to support young people in areas that we might not get external funding
During your free time, what do you usually do?
I am a sportsman though I don’t do sport for competition. I do sports for leisure. I play golf, I play squash. On Saturdays, I do some jogging around the beach then I also do a little bit of fitness at home. My day starts at 4am when am up, then I walk around, take a cup of tea, then go to the gym where I have a treadmill and tricycle that I could exercise for about 45 minutes. After this, I go for family devotion, and then go to showers and off to work.
I have been part of the Golf club for over 15 years now. The job it self comes with lots of stress so I am always mindful about the need to keep myself fit and mentally alert.
I do participate in social events with my peers. We have a group called a conclave of colleagues, some of them are lawyers, Heads of Organizations and some are medical doctors. So sometimes we meet at each other’s home where we share jokes, share drinks and socialize as well.
What is that one advice that someone ever gave to you that you still hold on to date?
Two! One is to always trust in God no matter what you might be going through because He is the author and finisher of everything. Second, never look down upon anyone. If you cannot help anyone be the best support to that person. For me, it resonates with me when I see young people who want to be like me, I will always tell them that they can achieve more than I have achieved in life. I am a team player and do respect every member of the team. I always tell people that if my drivers and cleaners had the opportunity I had, they could have equally become a CEO. It doesn’t matter your condition or state that you find yourself. What matters to me is that you are a human being and as long as you have life you have hope. Today I am NGS, tomorrow I might not be and the younger folks that are coming after us would be those that we have to empower to take over from us.
What is your favorite TV Show?
I like Football and News so I watch football matches especially Manchester United. In the morning and late at night I watch CNN to have a glimpse of some of the things happening around the globe. My favorite local TV show is Africa Young Voices (AYV) on Sundays. This program brings a lot of people together as they debate on some of the governance issues happening in my country
What worries you about what is ahead?
What worries me is that most young people do not want to take advantage of the opportunities that they have. My fear is that we might end up having a country that might not have more young people in very competent positions. For this not to happen, young people need to change their mindsets, be positive and make of the best of opportunities available to them. There are a lot of brilliant young people in the University but some of them cannot afford to pay their university fees. That shouldn’t be stumble block for them in pursuing their goals but rather there should be systems and structures in place that could actually support those students. Secondly, the problem in our country is that young people are being misused by politicians especially when it comes to governance. I think those are the things that keep me worried a bit. There should be a way to incorporate and capacitate young people and they should as well know that there is a social contract between them and the politicians. So if I give you my vote it is like I am giving you my life and at the end of the day, young people should be able to hold politicians accountable when they fail in their mandates rather than giving them drugs and alcohol to vote for them
Any piece of advice for young people?
They should be focused, and committed to whatsoever they are doing no matter the huddles or challenges they face. They are the leaders of today and for them to be able to get this done ,there is need for them to adequately prepare themselves for transformative leadership role.
If you were to change one thing about your life, what would that be?
The one thing is to have more time for myself because am giving up quite a lot of time to work. If I should change one thing in my life as I said, it might be a little bit of balance between my family life and professional life. This is to enable me spend more time with my family, doing sport for fitness and also just having a relaxed mind when I do my work.
Is there a place that you have always wanted to go for a holiday either alone or with your family and where is it?
Yes! I want to go to Mauritius and the Caribbean with my family. Mauritius being an island is very similar to some places in Freetown or to go and visit some places in the Caribbean.