St. Anthony Parish and Primary School, where Hope for Lives founder, Bobby Smith attended as a child, is one of the oldest Catholic parishes and schools in Sierra Leone. Bobby’s late mother was the head teacher at St. Anthony.
As a child he has fond memories of his time at the school; the teachers, friends and learning were exciting and fun for a young boy. It was 22 years before he returned to Sierra Leone and one of the first places he wanted to visit was St. Anthony. St. Anthony Primary School has over 800 students. Class sizes are between 50 and 70 students. There are only about 10-12 teachers for all these kids.
The opportunity for an education is no guarantee in Sierra Leone. Very many kids are not able to attend school for a whole variety of reasons, particularly in the countryside. Some have to work to help feed their families. In other areas, there are just no schools or teachers. The school operates on a very modest budget. Books, paper, pencils and other critical resources are in short supply.
In January, 2012, Bobby visited the school and fed all of the 800 kids, teachers and administrators bag lunches. Standing in the middle of the courtyard with all of the kids jumping and shouting with their lunches in hand was truly one of the most overwhelming and beautiful scenes. Kids were calling him Uncle and saying “God Bless You” over and over. It brought back so many memories and the expression of gratitude, joy and hope was truly one of the most amazing experiences of his life.
Bobby talked to the kids as a group and told them; “Remember this day. The opportunity I had to go to the United States, to be as blessed as I have, and return to Sierra Leone to be with you, help you and give you hope, is the most precious gift I could ever receive. A few of you may have the same opportunity to go overseas and return to Salone to help the next generation.”* He saw some of the students later that day walking home from school with their lunch bags still in hand, taking the food home to share with their families.
*Rough translation from Krio