Statement by Martin Michael, Managing Director, Mercury International at the Opening of the Kadi Sesay Girls' Secondary School in Port Loko - 8 October, 2020

By: Public Relations Department, Mercury International.

 

Salutations

Let me start by recognizing the real heroes and champions of this project - the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Dr. David Sengeh, the Delivery team headed by Grace together with Mariama, Eman, Haja Isata Kamara, Resident Minister North West, the consultants, Ideas Limited, the contractors, Kolville Engineering, and of course the Management and Staff, the retailers and customers of Mercury International.

This school is your project. Your enthusiasm, passion, the way you owned the project made it a pleasure for me to be a tiny part of what has been achieved here today. This is your success, your story, your history. On behalf of the owners and Directors of Mercury International, I thank you all for allowing us to be a part of this success.

To the Mercury staff both from the managers to the cleaners and retailers- the biggest compliment I can pay you is that you are Mercury and Mercury is you. Today is a testament to your success. Be proud to say you built a school at Port Loko.

Haja Isata Kamara, my 'intelligence unit' informed me that you visited twice a day. Your infectious personality, energy and love for your people ensured that Port Loko got the best of the best, and the girls who attend this school can one day be part of an alumnus that is as prestigious as Annie Walsh, Convent, Harford or QRS.

Dr. David Moinina Sengeh. Let me make a little confession here today. After your appointment, I asked my colleague, Dawn, to set up a meeting with you as the school project had stalled. I said to her that I was not really sure what to expect.

After all, it is not always you get to meet a world-famous innovator, a rising superstar given so much responsibility, a young man with so much brains and ability and above all, a friend of Bill Gates. I was concerned that I would basically be meeting an intellectual know-it-all. After our first meeting in November 2019, I was finally convinced that the project would come to fruition and that the school will be built. Collaborating with you over the past few months has been an absolute pleasure. I look forward to continuing this collaboration in getting the other projects completed.

Your Excellency, let me firstly apologize for the absence of two of our directors and shareholders, Max Brandwain and Hassan Saad who, due to COVID travel restrictions, are currently unable to travel to Freetown. Let me make special mention of both of them and our chairman Samir Hassanyeh who is with us today. Their support has been unwavering, unrelenting and without that support we would not have been able to fulfil our pledge to the nation. They deserve as much praise as anyone else for approving the funding of this school and the other schools yet to be built but a project like this is not built on funding alone. Without passion, it becomes a lifeless soul, mere concrete block that will soon be forgotten and ignored or used to plaster advertising materials. Our heroes and champions made sure that this did not happen. You gave this school life and soul and an everlasting one at that. Its life and soul has been felt throughout the nation.

I have had calls from friends and well-wishers who have indicated a desire to help this school. Today, I can announce that my friend at Print Point, Samir Hamed, has donated 5,000 specially endorsed exercise books. I have a 1,000 copies with me now...well, actually 999 as I took one for myself... The remaining 4,000 will be printed and supplied after the school has decided on its badge and motto. Further, the staff at Mercury International have come together and purchased 350 face masks and 200 school bags which they have donated to the school. In addition, I have asked that we acquire the school's bank account number to ensure that the sum of Le 10,000,000 (Ten Million Leones) a month is deducted from my salary at Mercury and paid directly to the account of the school. This is a one-year commitment to assist the school in its formative year.

Since its inception in 2006, Mercury International has been synonymous with responsible corporate social responsibility that has delivered on its developmental commitments. From the football, cricket and volleyball playing fields to the wrestling mats; from the surgeon's table in Freetown, Senegal, Accra and Delhi to classrooms across the country; from scholarships to annual donations to the Ballanta Academy of Music, Milton Margai School for the Blind and the National School for the Deaf and to the home for the Aged, Mercury International has extended its philanthropy to give back to society and contribute meaningfully.

However, we felt that notwithstanding all that we have been doing, we were missing out on leaving a tangible and concrete legacy for our company and the people of our beloved country. The flagship programme of Free Quality Education of the Government of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio gave us that opportunity. We knew as individuals and as a company that there was a need for new schools and classrooms. Since education was now free, we utilized the funds we had allocated to a project that would create a lasting legacy for Mercury but, way more importantly, a project that would create an opportunity for our children - particularly girls - to have the best education possible in the best available classrooms and school.

Therefore, the decision to offer to build 90 classrooms and or equivalent in schools was the easiest decision we have ever had to make as a company. It is, without a doubt, the singular most important decision we have made for our country.

Despite the challenges facing the girl child in Sierra Leone, the Government's efforts to safeguard the girl child from violence through the First Lady's Hands Off Our Girls campaign and tougher laws for sexual and gender-based crimes to providing free quality education have proved to be a turning point for the nation and its female population. Through this school and others, we intend to build across the country, we hope we will contribute to a strategic national development priority, which is crucial for the empowerment of women and vital if Sierra Leone is to achieve gender parity in education and meet almost all the Millennium Development Goals.

The message to the first 100 girls who will start school today is clear- to quote the former US first lady, Michelle Obama, - You have an important mission as girls and women. And to do that, well, you've got to have your education. So no matter what anybody tells you, I want you to keep fighting. Stay in school. Go to secondary school. Go to university if you can. And then, when you do all that, I want you to continue to be the leaders that you are and come back to your communities, and find other girls just like you who are working and striving - and they need your support."

'With access to education, women can do great things: launch businesses, become health workers, run schools, and lead governments, making the world a better place for everyone.' I hope I will live to see the day when I shall refer to one of the graduates of this school as Madam President.

I hope that the fact that the Government has decided to name this school after Dr. Kadi Sesay, one of the most educated and well respect women from the north of Sierra Leone, will inspire you.

To the parents, please do not take your daughters out of school. The United Nations has identified girls' education as one of the best solutions to reversing the relentless trend of poverty and disease devastating large portions of sub-Saharan Africa.

Your Excellency, the end of our time here in the beautiful, friendly city of Port Loko, signals the start of another project. With your kind permission, sir, the Mercury vehicles will join the back of your convoy as you head back to Freetown. However, we will seek your consent to detach ourselves from the convoy and make a detour by taking a left at the roundabout at Mile 47 and head towards Moyamba Junction. Upon arrival at Moyamba Junction, we shall offload our tents and our equipment and set up camp to start work on constructing the first of its kind Early Childhood Development School in Sierra Leone. We look forward to you opening that school in January 2021.

Your Excellency, you promised the people of Port Loko a girls' school. Mercury pledged to the nation it would build schools. Our collective promises have been met. It, therefore, gives me great pleasure, and it is my honour to invite Mr. Samir Hassanyeh to now formally present you with the architectural drawings of the school, which signifies the official handing over of ownership and control of this school to the Government and People of Sierra Leone. I look forward to giving your Excellency and Madam First Lady as well as the Honourable Vice President and entourage a conducted tour of the school and its amenities.

In the words of the second verse of our national anthem, let us -pray that no harm on thy children may fall, That blessing and peace may descend on us all." May the good Lord bless this school, its students and teachers and may blessing and peace be ever thine own, land that we love, our Sierra Leone".

I thank you.