Together with an Operation Classroom team, Richard and Catherine have facilitated workshops for teachers in Makeni, Sierra Leone annually from 2005-2008. Catherine has also worked with teachers in Cambodia, Peru, and Korea. She has been active in the development of state standards for ELL in Missouri and has presented regularly at state and national conferences. She is a co-author of Reachout Stepout, an English Language series for primary students published in Singapore. Catherine and Richard are currently working on a new English language series for Cengage Publishers in Singapore. Richard has conducted workshops for teachers in Cambodia, Guatemala, Mexico, and the Navajo Nation. He has recently been co-director for a multi-year, grant funded, professional development project for science teachers in Missouri, and like Catherine, makes regular presentations at state and national conferences. Richard is on the projects committee for the Friends of Sierra Leone.
Joseph Opala served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone from 1974 to 1978. He was a rice agriculture agent in Bumbuna in Tonkolili District in the Northern Province from 1974 to 1976. Later, he was Staff Archaeologist at the Sierra Leone National Museum in Freetown. After the Peace Corps, he taught African Studies at the University of Sierra Leone from 1985 to 1991, and was an advisor to Sierra Leone’s president on cultural policy.
When Sierra Leone fell into anarchy in the 1990s, Mr. Opala joined with two Sierra Leonean human rights activists — Zainab Bangura and Julius Spencer — to found the Campaign for Good Governance, now Sierra Leone’s foremost pro-democracy and human rights NGO. After Mr. Opala was forced to flee Sierra Leone in 1997 during the AFRC military coup, he returned to the U.S. where he was actively trying to explain the country’s plight to the outside world. He delivered briefings at the US State Department and in Congress, gave interviews to the media, and wrote op-eds for major national and international journals.
In recent years, he has acted as an advisor to the US National Park Service on African American history and as Scholar-in-Residence at Penn Center, St. Helena Island, South Carolina. In 2004 he was a research fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. In 2005 he was a fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany. He teaches at James Madison University in Virginia.
He is known for his research on the “Gullah Connection,” the long historical thread that links Africans in Sierra Leone and other countries on the “Rice Coast” of West Africa with the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Events resulting from that research were chronicled in “Family Across the Sea,” an award-winning PBS documentary broadcast throughout the US in 1991. In “The Language You Cry In,” a documentary released in 1998, his research traced an ancient African song preserved by a Gullah family in coastal Georgia to a village in Sierra Leone where the same song is still sung today.
More recently, Mr. Opala found documents in the New-York Historical Society that helped link a Gullah woman living in Charleston, South Carolina with her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, an enslaved African child taken from Sierra Leone in 1756, and resulted in “Priscilla’s Homecoming” to Sierra Leone in 2005.
Mr. Opala has presented lectures at universities, museums, and other educational institutions throughout the country. His research has been covered by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press. He has appeared on CBS “60 Minutes” and CNN, and on NPR’s “The World, “Fresh Air,” and “All Things Considered,” programs. In 1991, his research was featured on Channel 7 TV in Washington, DC in a week-long series called the “African American Connection.” More about Joseph Opala on Wikipedia and about his research on the Bunce Island Slave Castle.
Margaret Larson is the host of “New Day Northwest” on KING-TV in Seattle and a four-time Emmy winner. She is also a veteran of international humanitarian work with organizations including World Vision, Mercy Corps, Global Partnerships and PATH.
Her journalistic and nonprofit work has taken her to more than fifty countries, covering events and issues including the Persian Gulf war, the Kurdish refugee crisis, the Iraq war, the South Asian tsunami, the Kosovo war, life in Afghan refugee camps, the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, and global health and education challenges for women and girls.
Margaret is on the founding Board of Directors of Burkitt’s Lymphoma Fund for Africa, a nonprofit organization dedicated to treating the most common form of childhood cancer in Africa. She visited cancer hospitals in Uganda and Kenya in March 2012. Margaret was also a long-time NBC News foreign correspondent based in London, news anchor for the Today Show, and correspondent for NBC Nightly News and Dateline NBC.
Alieu Iscandari, is a Sierra Leonean born lawyer in the San Francisco Bay area. He is married to his high school sweetheart Kipi and they have three children. He has been the principal attorney in the Law offices of Iscandari and Associates and practices in the areas of Personal Injury, Immigration, and general criminal/civil Litigation. In 2004 Mr. Iscandari closed down a thriving practice located in Castro Valley California, to work with the Special Court for Sierra Leone as a Lawyer in the office of the Prosecutor, where he served for one year. He has returned to the Bay area where he lives and practices Law. His interest is in the area of deconstructing and reconstructing the Justice system in Sierra Leone, improving the efficacy of the anti corruption commission and creating a justice system based on fairness and easy access to all. His goal is to set up an indigent criminal defense firm in Sierra Leone. His hobbies are chess, golf and canoeing.
Amadu Massally is a Sierra Leonean who resides in Dallas, Texas. He is President of the non-profit Sierra Leone Network and co-founder of the Sierra Leone-Gullah Heritage Association, an organization that seeks to lead Sierra Leoneans to re-connect with their Sierra Leonean-American brothers and sisters, and vice versa, who are descendants of slaves brought primarily from Bunce Island, but also other areas of the country. Amadu is also very involved with the Sierra Leonean Diaspora through the Council of Representatives (CORE), which seeks to serve as an umbrella representation for the Diaspora. He recently received the Diamond Award for Distinguished and Outstanding Service from the National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America(NOSLINA), to be conferred at their 11th Anniversary Fundraising Dinner/Dance and Awards Gala on Saturday, April 2.