SALPACT African Excellence Awards 2019 – Gipu Felix George and others recognised

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 April 2019:

Over one hundred guests from across the UK, including the Sierra Leone High Commissioner to the UK – Mr Tamba Lamina and his wife – Salma Lamina, attended the launching of the Annual Fundraising Dinner and African Excellence Awards organised by the Trustees of the Sierra Leone Poverty Alleviation Charity Trust (SALPACT) in Leeds on Saturday, 9th February 2019.

Photo above: Right to left: Abdul Rashid Thomas – founder and chairman of SALPACT, Davina Cole, Patrice Wellesley-Cole, Dr. Fawzia Thomas, Dr. Mohamed Zubairu, Mr. Alpha Kalay – Grand Chief Patron of the event, and Dr. Victor Labor.

Guests came from Manchester, London, Birmingham and other UK cities, dressed in their flambouyant African couture and tuxedos.

Delivering his keynote address as guest of honour, High Commissioner Lamina spoke about the achievements and challanges facing the newly elected government of Sierra Leone led by president Julius Maada Bio. (Photo above: Mr Tamba Lamina and his wife Mrs Salma Lamina)

This is what High Commissioner Tamba Lamina said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, good evening to you and I bring you greetings from his Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.

“When I was first approached by the Trustees of SALPACT to honour this event, it took me no time in agreeing to it. Interestingly, I made it one of my first engagements or outings outside of London. I am so honoured to be here, and I want to thank the trustees for inviting me to this event.

“We have had a sumptuous meal, entertainment and above all was the fashion show, wherein it came in all sizes – anti discriminatory fashion show. I say it came in all shapes and sizes, all ages, because I have been to fashion shows before and all we see are young people having a catwalk. I was so proud to see all ages and all kinds of people showing off their God’s given gift. So, I want to thank you all for actually doing this.

“SALPACT was born out of a sad event; the 2016 Freetown mudslide. I have been to that environment and actually stood on Mount Sugar Loaf and chills ran down my spine. For up to 1000 people to have met their unexpected deaths at a time when they went to bed, was such a sad event.

“Many Sierra Leoneans were engulfed with grief and asking, ‘why Sierra Leone again?’ Sierra Leone has had to face many challenges over time. We were just about to forget the memories of the civil war, and then Ebola struck. And then from Ebola, we had the mudslide. These were all catastrophic events that have left an indelible mark in the minds of Sierra Leoneans.

“One of the reasons why I appreciate what SALPACT has done today, is that they have started removing the negative aspect of Sierra Leone, so that Sierra Leoneans can start thinking again that their country can do better.

“Tonight, we have listened and heard what illustrious sons and daughters of Sierra Leone have been contributing to UK and Sierra Leone. From the legal profession, medical profession, teaching, and broadcasting.

“When I was growing up, I listened to Gipu Felix-George. He was one of those guys who presented the SLBS  radio Saturday night show.

“It was a great show and lingers in my mind. You always wake up, just as you listen to 98.1 now – at that time it was Gipu Felix – George.

“So my congratulations to all of you who have received awards tonight; you are flying the flag for Sierra Leone and you are the true ambassadors. (Photo above: Awards given to the awardees)

“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am clearly impressed and feel quite chuffed when I hear about organisations contributing towards the path they are now treading in Sierra Leone.

“Many Sierra Leoneans have similar thinking, but they have had bitter experiences as happened in the Ebola and mudslide, as they have raised a lot of money, but selfish individuals take the money and not forwarding it to the beneficiaries but swindling it into their personal pockets. What a shame.

“We have a new government in Sierra Leone which is about ten and a half months old; and the government is in a hurry. We have no time to waste.

(Photo: Veteran broadcaster Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service- Mr. Gipu Felix – George)

“Many of you like myself (I have spent 29 years in the UK) have always been longing to go and contribute. But because of the situation in Sierra Leone, we have always found it very difficult, wherein cronyism and the issue of not recognising talent has pervaded the seas of Sierra Leone.

“We have to change that narrative, so that every Sierra Leonean is recognised by what they can bring to the table.

“I want to tell you that Leeds is my first place of visit, and to let you know that during my tenure as High Commissioner here, I am going to engage all the other areas in the UK. It is not only London that should have the High Commissioner. The High Commissioner should be coming to Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and various other places in the UK.

“There is a lot that Sierra Leoneans can contribute, and I am appealing to you all to be resilient and not give up. We now have an open door and I welcome everyone, as long as you make an appointment. I even see people who have not made an appointment.

“Under the new direction government of Sierra Leone, the president is winning hearts and minds. The multilateral partners are engaging with the government.

“I have been in post for six months, but I know what the British people are saying – ‘the confidence and ease of doing business in Sierra Leone is growing’.

“This is due to the President’s drive to tackle corruption, which, is the most single important thing that the international community was looking for.

“Since His Excellency took office, free education has started which many people thought was an impossibility. This is a long-term success. It is the president’s desire to uplift education access and quality in Sierra Leone so that every child can go to school.

“The nation was bankrupt when this government took office. However now, the government has been able to pay the salaries of everybody in the country that works without borrowing money.

“As a result of the singular effort of the president in ensuring that cleaning Saturday happens, you go to Freetown and the rest of the country and you will find that Freetown and other cities are much cleaner.

Concluding his speech, High Commissioner Mr Tamba Lamina said: “All we ask is for you to help the government to be efficient. We are not adverse to criticisms but please give praise where it is due. We should all join hands to support the government so we can uplift our country”. 

Next to take the podium was Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas (Photo), who is the founder and chairman of the Board of Trustees of SALPACT.

Addressing the guests, Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas said: “Welcome to the inaugural Annual Dinner Dance, Fashion Show and African Excellence Awards Ceremony, organised by the Trustees of the Sierra Leone Poverty Alleviation Charitable Trust (SALPACT).  As Chairman of the Board of Trustees of SALPACT, I am delighted to welcome you and hope you have a wonderful and memorable time tonight.

“I also want to thank you for your generous support for the work we are doing in Sierra Leone. By attending tonight’s event, you have shown your commitment to help tackle some of the most protracted challenges facing our people, such as poverty and environmental degradation.

“Tonight’s event is as much about the launching of SALPACT as it is about celebrating the career success of some of our most outstanding members of the Sierra Leonean community, here in the UK. The purpose of the SALPACT African Excellence Award is to acknowledge and reward the success of African men and women in the UK, whose professional and career achievements are worthy of being emulated by young and aspiring Africans.

“The Award is aimed at promoting African excellence, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering, science, technology, law and the arts, irrespective of age and gender. Take a look at the achievements of our five 2019 SALPACT African Excellence Awards recipients: Mrs Agnes Victoria Labor – the first Black school teacher in Yorkshire; Ms Patrice Wellesley-Cole – a retired Barrister and legal adviser to the United Nations; Dr Mohamed Zubairu – a retired Doctor, after working for decades as medical director of the South Yorkshire Medical Centre for mine workers; from the field of theatre performance, we bring you Davina Cole, for her outstanding roles in several theatre, TV and radio appearances; and of course Mr Gipu Felix-George, one of Sierra Leone’s most outstanding veteran radio and TV broadcasters.

“We hope their achievements will inspire young Africans to emulate their success. Once again let me welcome you to our first Annual Dinner Dance and African Excellence Awards Ceremony, organised by the Trustees of the Sierra Leone Poverty Alleviation Charitable Trust (SALPACT).

“Tonight we are also honoured by the presence of the Local Councillor for the Moortown Ward in Leeds – Mrs Sharon Hamilton.” (Photo: Local Councillor Sharon Hamilton of the Leeds Moortown Ward – taking part in the fashion show)

Speaking about why and how SALPACT was formed, and the work of the organisation in Sierra Leone, Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas said: “SALPACT is a charitable Trust, established in 2017 and registered with the UK Charity Commission (Number 1177207), after the devastating floods which took place on the 13th and 14th of August 2017 in Freetown, killing over a thousand people, leaving hundreds of families homeless and dozens of children orphaned.

“The aim of SALPACT is to pursue the advancement of education and the prevention or relief of poverty for children in poverty or need, by the provision of grants to charities or other organisations working to prevent or relieve poverty in Sierra Leone. With the generous charitable giving of our donors all over the world, we are working with local communities, schools and NGOs who are taking action to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change and deforestation, through the planting of trees and getting school children in rural communities to establish school farms – developing the farmers of tomorrow.

“Our dedicated Board of Trustees provides governance and oversight of the work of the Trust, and ensures public money is spent wisely. Our hard working Board of Trustees is comprised of myself (Mr. Abdul Rashid Thomas) as Founder and Chairman; Mrs Beryl Juma (MBE); Dr. Fawzia Thomas (Treasurer); Dr. Victor Labor; Dr. Babatunde Gbolade; Ms. Rashida Olivia Thomas (Secretary); and Dr. Abdul Anasa Sesay.

“The Sierra Leone Poverty Alleviation Charitable Trust has entered into partnership with the Society for Climate Change Communication – SL (S4CCC) and the Schools Green Club, to establish and deliver a Climate Change Mitigation Capacity Building Project for Schools and Communities in rural areas of Sierra Leone.

“SALPACT is providing grant-aid to enable the implementation of this pilot project, to improve environmental governance in schools across Western Rural Freetown, using participatory approaches that bring together stakeholders to share experiences on climate change mitigation and adaptation; and develop the life skills of pupils, promote environmentally friendly lifestyles so that pupils can protect their environment and mitigate the impact of climate change.

“During the life of the project, we are hoping to have establish 10 School Green Clubs, with each club comprising of 50 pupils, 2 teachers and 2 parents; each participating school to put in place a fully operational waste management system within the school; each participating school to establish a vegetable and orchards garden; each participating school to plant economical trees such as breadfruit, orange, cashew and mango.

“This pilot project will be rolled out across all districts of Sierra Leone if successful. SALPACT is planning to establish an Annual National Schools Farming Produce Competition, which will be implemented in collaboration with the Ministries of Agriculture and Education in Sierra Leone.

“The aim is to encourage school children to change their perception of farming and agriculture, and to promote the growing of crops as a business and a way of life. Above all, it is hoped that in so doing, school children can become champions of environmental sustainability in Sierra Leone and farmers of the future.”

Closing his address, Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas appealed to the guests to join SALPACT in helping to tackle deforestation and poverty – especially child poverty in Sierra Leone. He said: “Why not speak to one of our Trustees about how you can help us tackle poverty in Sierra Leone? Email us – Abdul.thomas@ntlworld.com; or visit our website: www.sierraleonepovertyalleviationtrust.online”.

But the night was not all about speeches. Guests were thrilled to a fashion show extravaganza, featuring the best of African couture designed by Ike Choice Couture, based in Leeds, UK.

This was followed by the Awards ceremony, which saw five outstanding Sierra Leoneans honoured and recognised by the Trustees of SALPACT, for their outstanding career achievements.

Meet the SALPACT 2019 African Excellence Awardees:

Mr. Gipu Felix-George received an award for his outstanding lifetime achievement and contribution to broadcasting in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Felix-George was known for his 10am ‘Saturday Shindig’, which ran from 1969 to 1985 on the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service.

Gipu was to have graced the SALPACT event as Master of Ceremonies. But unfortunately, he was unable to attend. His Award was received on his behalf by Mr. Sylvester During.

(Photo below: Mr Sylvester During receiving the award of behalf of Gipu Felix-George from The High Commissioner and wife with Dr. Babatunde Gbolade watching on).

Throughout his illustrous career in Sierra Leone , Gipu made his mark on both radio and televison – reading the news, making major public announcements, commentating live at  official government events and ceremonies.

He was a master of his craft, as well as master of the English language. But it was his deep baritone voice that will always linger in the memories of all those who listened to his programmes and shows throughout the 1970 and 1980s, whether on television or radio.

And the Trustees of SALPACT are deeply honoured and proud to recognise this giant of radio and TV broadcasting – Mr Gipu Felix George, with the 2019 SALPACT African Excellence Award.

Next to receive the 2019 SALPACT Award was Dr. Mohamed Bankole Zubairu in honour of his career achievements in the field of Medicine. Dr Zubairu is a retired General Medical Practitioner (GP), who worked for several decades as a Consultant in Industrial (Occupational) Medicine.

For over twelve years he was responsible for looking after the health of miners working in the coalfields in South Yorkshire, UK.

This was a dangerous and challenging job and he frequently had to go underground into the mines to provide care for the  sick and injured miners. There were many accidents underground, including gas explosions, roof caving and some men who needed amputations.

Dr Zubairu saved the lives of many miners. He also ran a clinic for miners seeking treatment from coal mining related diseases, such as chronic bronchitis, pneumoconiosis and lung cancer.

He was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1941. After completion of his schooling in Freetown, he taught Chemistry and Biology for three years at his alma mater – the Sierra Leone Grammar School, where he was School Cricket Captain, School Prefect, House Captain, Member of the School Quiz team which won the Inter Secondary School Quiz Competition in 1961.

In 1965, he proceeded to study Medicine at the First Leningrad Medical Institute, in the then USSR. Returning home after his studies overseas, in 1972 he was appointed Senior House Officer in General Medicine at Magburaka and Connaught hospitals in Sierra Leone, under the guidance of Dr Abdul Afiz Hardy, who was the Senior Physician Specialist. (Photo above: Dr Mohamed Bankole Zubairu receiving his award from Sierra Leone High Commissioner to the UK, Mr Tamba Lamina and his wife Mrs. Salma Lamina).

Working in the UK, Dr Zubairu provided outstanding healthcare in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Lincolnshire in Accident and Emergency, Orthopaedics, General Surgery, and Plastic Surgery specialities.

In 1991, Dr Zubairu established and successfully managed a single-handed GP practice in Maltby, South Yorkshire, looking after 2,500 patients. Remarkably, all his patients had his telephone number to contact him at any time, meaning they did not have to use emergency or out of hours services.

Dr Zubairu has published in several medical journals and is a member of various professional organisations including the British Medical Association, Society for Occupational Medicine, Casualty Surgeon’s Association and the Royal College of GPs.

He finally hung up his stethoscope and retired in 2011 at the age of 70.

Also receiving the SALPACT 2019 African Excellence Award was Ms Patrice Wellesley-Cole, for an outstanding career achievement in the field of Law.

Patrice is a retired Barrister and a Tribunal judge. She was called to the Bar in London in 1975 and then returned to Sierra Leone, where in the 1980s, she was the Treasurer of the Sierra Leone Bar Association and President of the Business and Professional women’s Club (Zonta) of Freetown.

She returned to private practice in London in 1990 and was in the top ‘Legal 500’. In 1999, Patrice became a part- time Adjudicator and in 2003 was appointed full time Tribunal Judge in central London for fifteen years, hearing asylum, immigration, human rights and deportation appeals and bail applications. (Photo above: Patrice Wellesley-Cole receiving her award from Mrs Salma Lamina).

Patrice was the first and youngest African to become Vice President of the International Federation of University Women (IPUW) now renamed Graduate Women International (GWI). She is one of the co-chairs (along with the Canadian and American presidents) of the Triennial Conference centenary celebrations of GWI due in Geneva in July 2019.

Patrice is currently the President of the British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG), and a non-executive director of Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG) – one of the largest charities giving scholarships to postgraduate women in the UK.

She is a lifetime Patron of MUSAC – an orphanage based in Freetown; Patron of the Inter-Diocesan Association, and also of the Freetown Secondary School for Girls (FSSG) in Sierra Leone.

Also receiving an award, was Mrs Agnes Victoria Labor for her achievements in the field of Teaching, politics and civil society work.

In 1956 she became the first Black teacher in Leeds, Yorkshire, in the UK; and in 1958 was appointed the first Black peripatetic teacher in Home Economics.

After returning to Sierra Leone, in 1959 she became the Headmistress of Roosevelt Preparatory School in Freetown. Sadly Mrs Agnes Labor was unable to attend the event to receive her award, which was received on her behalf by Dr Victor Labor.  (Photo Below: Mrs Agnes Victoria Labor – M.R – Member of the Rokel).

Returning to the UK in 1963, Mrs Labor was appointed teacher in food and nutrition at East Ham Grammar School for Girls in London. Then in 1964 she became a Lecturer in Home Economics at the Milton Margai Teachers College in Freetown, until 1969 when she was promoted to Senior Lecturer and Head of the Home Economics Department.

In 1970 she was awarded a Diploma in Educational Administration at Reading University in the UK; and in 1973, achieved a Master of Education in Maryland University in the USA. In 1977 she was appointed Principal Lecturer at the Milton Margai Teachers’ College in Freetown.

And in 1978, after entering national politics in Sierra Leone, she became the first woman member of parliament, representing the Western Area.

In 1978 she was appointed Member of the University Court of Sierra Leone. And in 1982, she became Minister of State for Food Affairs – the first woman from the Western Area of Sierra Leone to serve as a government minister. 

She is the Founder member of the First Congo Town Branch of the Girl Guide Association, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Throughout her political career, she led several delegations of women’s organisations to conferences, and made official visits overseas as Minister of State, including visits to Russia, China and Germany.

She represented the women of Sierra Leone at the Preparatory Committee Meeting in Prague for the International Women’s Year. She is a Member of the Alumni Association of Maryland University, USA.

In 1990, after almost two decades as an icon of Sierra Leone national life, she was honoured with the award of Member of the Rokel (M.R) by the President, for service to the Republic of Sierra Leone. Mrs Agnes Victoria Labor is the author of a book titled – “Cooking Together the African Way”. Several copies of the book were sold on the night.

Next to receive her well deserved recognition and award was the TV, film and theatre performer – Davina Cole. 

Davina has been performing on stage from a young age whilst at school, college and university. After completing her BA in Business Degree, she went on to train at the prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, where she was awarded an MA in Acting.

She has enjoyed many years performing on TV, Theatre, Film, Commercials, Voiceover and Radio.  Theatre is her first love and some of her theatre credits include; Delilah in “1867” based on the life of America’s First Black Female Millionaire – Madam CJ Walker; uptight Ebony in the critically acclaimed play “Women on Wine”; Martine in “Aid Memoir”; and Tituba in “The Crucible” (Photo left: Davina posing with her award)

Over the last few years, Davina has played the role of Sandra in Rodney V. Williams’ film ’Therapy Sessions’ and Soalaih Ez in multi-award winning director Francoise Ellong’s film ’When Soukhina Disappeared.

She recently featured in a short film – “Visitors” which won an award at the Unchosen Modern Slavery Short Film festival, judged by Ken Loach.

She also featured in the film ‘Thoughts Alone’, which was premiered on Sky 182 for the World AIDS Day campaign, and was nominated for various awards.  Davina has also featured as a ‘Nurse’ in a national advertising campaign on Channel 4 for ‘Dispatches’.

She played the role of Donna in a docudrama ‘Sinister Ministers’ for the US Discovery Channel, and is a regular on the long running radio drama series 492 Korna Klub.

She was nominated best actress at the 7th International One Man Show Solo Festival 2014 in the UK, for her self-written dramatic play – ‘All the Colours’ which follows the journey of Salimatu who has to flee her home in Sierra Leone during the war and moves to the UK.  She also took the play to the USA where she was finalist at the prestigious 22nd Los Angeles Women Theatre Festival 2015 and then  won an award for best international issue.

Davina was cast in Sky 182 drama ‘TV Footballers’ and played the role of Keke.

She enjoys working on socially conscious projects such as the play ‘The Interrogation of Sandra Bland’ at the Bush Theatre, and  – ‘As Long As You’re of African Heritage You’re An African’ which she recently performed during Black History Month.

Most recently she performed in several immersive theatre plays, including – playing Jazz club host Josie in ‘Juniper Manor’ and Tammy in ‘Motown Supper’. She can currently be seen on web-series – ‘Illusions’ as Shaz. She is also currently writing a short film. (Photo above: Davina saying a few words after receiving her award)

Closing the event with a vote of thanks, Chairman – Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas, told the guests that they have not only watched history being made, but have become part of that history.

He thanked the guests for their support and called on them to continue to assist SALPACT in its work in communities in Sierra Leone to help address deforestation and tackle poverty.  The next SALPACT Annual Fund-raising event he said, will take place in Leeds in May 2020, and hope for an even bigger success.

2 Comments

  1. Whether you like it or not, HIGH COMMISSIONER Tamba Lamina really means business. To be honest, that is the REAL DEAL. DISCUSS. I have never ever in my life seen an active duty HIGH COMMISSIONER like Mr. Tamba Lamina in my life. He is always on the GO in making sure that the country gets it’s fair share with our donors and also making people feel inclusive in whatever they are engaged in. Is that not COOL?

    Where I always disagree with the HIGH COMMISSIONER is, he speaks in a diplomatic way. For example he was talking about changing the NARRATIVE. I say, changing the ATTITUDE. On the other hand, I don’t blame him because, he is a diplomat. Forgive me for being a bit silly in my thinking.

    On the whole, many people are pleased with what you are doing in the UK Mr. HIGH COMMISSIONER. President Bio made the right choice in my view. We should thank him for that. Finally, what a lovely couple and what lovely pictures in the news.

  2. Indeed it feels really comforting that a Sierra Leonean civil organization showcasing excelled professionals of Sierra Leonean origin, in their various fields of work in the UK and back home, in such a high-rank platform like SALPACT.

    All of whom had impacted on the life of our society and had remained national icons we so cherish forever.

    You feel overcome with acute nostalgia for the glorious days of Sierra Leone. It makes me want to believe that we can relive those days again with the right leadership for the nation.

    If Sierra Leone is to achieve and relive those days again, the Sierra Leone Diasporas have the biggest role to play. They must be reckoned with as the catalyst in that journey.

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