“We Have Not Been Forsaken”
A Light to Illuminate the Hearts of Flood Victims

Kunikazu AKAO
Project Coordinator of Diaspora Engagement
International Organization for Migration

Kunikazu AKAO , Project Coordinator of Diaspora Engagement International Organization for Migration © IOM Sierra Leone

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the UN organization that specializes in handling problems related to global human migration. I manage several Japanese government funded projects, including a Sierra Leone development project contributed by Sierra Leone diaspora.

Sierra Leone is one of the nation on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. The country’s electrification rate is 13%, which is one of the lowest in whole of the world, even inside Africa. Sierra Leone’s rainy season lasts half a year, and it falls one of the highest precipitation in the world. Sierra Leone is flood prone country, which resulted in devastating flooding and landslides in both 2015 and 2017. Even today, there are large numbers of flood-displaced people still living in temporary housing.

During Panasonic’s earlier 100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project, IOM Sierra Leone thankfully received donation of solar lantern. This is the second time for Panasonic to donate solar lanterns. In the first donation, IOM provided solar lanterns to people living in temporary housing after having been displaced by the 2015 floods. IOM also provided solar lanterns to health centers, where they proved extremely useful for nighttime medical treatment and for delivering newborn babies. When the first solar lanterns were delivered, people were so happy and danced for joy. Of course, one reason they were so happy was that the solar lanterns’ light provided convenience and safety. Many snakes come out at night, making very dangerous to walk about with no light. Another important reason for their joy was that they felt they had not been forsaken. Having lived in temporary housing for over 3 years since the 2015 floods, they were in a fear and uncertainty, but the arrival of this Panasonic solar lantern through IOM — and the presence of people who were following up on that support — provided a light to warmly illuminate their hearts.

The solar lanterns are used for nighttime patrols and to maintain security in temporary housing areas. They also make it possible to work or study at night, and even to recharge mobile phones.

These solar lanterns donations were contributed by Panasonic employees who donated through “cafeteria points” as an employee benefit. We are always welcome to receive any contribution We are very grateful for generous support by individual Panasonic employees for Sierra Leone, a country not familiar to most Japanese. We will endeavor to make the best use of the solar lanterns to improve the lives of those in need here in Sierra Leone.

We plan to use them at temporary housing for people displaced by the 2017 floods.

Forty percent of Sierra Leone’s population is young, and among two-thirds of the population is unemployed. Some young people leave the country to look for work, but in many cases, they fail and end up returning after having been cheated out of what little money they have. The failure of young people to find work is an unhappy situation both for those individuals and global society. We hope to make use of the solar lanterns to also provide light for job training and employment offices, to enable more young people to find work or start a business without having to leave the country.

We will continue to provide whatever updates we can on the situation so that everyone who donated will know how much their support has benefited to Sierra Leone.

Kunikazu AKAO
Project Coordinator of Diaspora Engagement
International Organization for Migration
After working for some time as a company employee, he returned to school and entered the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School for Public Policy. Following a period with JICA (the Japan International Cooperation Agency) at their headquarters in Tokyo and at the Sudan Office, he joined IOM. In Sierra Leone he is involved in projects such as post-Ebola reconstruction, diaspora engagement in support of national development, improving the lives of people displaced by flooding, and efforts to assist in job training, employment, and business start-ups.

(Date of interview: March 7, 2019)