A Shift in Perspective


The inspiring story of Joseph Sesay and how he sees America

by Joseph Catrine McGregor

Imagine traveling from a small African village to Boise – blind. Joseph Sesay is an 18-year-old Sierra Leonean who is living in Boise for a year with his host, “Uncle Tony” Boatman. Sesay, who has become something of a phenomenon with his Boise High School classmates, is one of 11 children. Four of his siblings died before the age of five and three were born blind, including Joseph.

When Sesay came to Boise, Boatman took him to an eye surgeon, where they received the incredible news that Joseph’s blindness was due to congenital cataracts. In an example of the Boise community’s kindness, a GoFundMe campaign initiated by Boatman and two Boise High School teachers raised the amount Sesay needed for the delicate surgery.

I first met Sesay just 15 days after he regained his sight. He is a kind, humble young man whose smile lights up a room. Though one of Sierra Leone’s neighbors, Mali, recently came under attack by ISIS, Sesay’s home country is known for peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims. He wears a large cross around his neck as an affirmation of his faith, while embracing the Muslim community as well.

“Sierra Leone had a long civil war that ended not too long before I was born. During that time, the Christians and Muslims worked closely together,” Sesay explained.

Sierra Leone is a West African country about the size of South Carolina. Its official language is English, though many dialects are spoken there, the most popular being Krio, a form a Pidgin English. The country is the 27th poorest in the world, with an average daily salary of $2.50 USD.

My first meeting with Sesay took place at the home of Dr. Jon Bart, one of the founders of Village Hope, which has implemented a number of successful programs in Sierra Leone for the past seven years. Sesay’s assessment of what his country needs is far beyond that of the average high school student. As he listened intently to Dr. Bart’s goal of paying their Sierra Leonean employees a middle class income of $20 per day, Sesay’s response showed an amazing maturity and understanding of his country. “You will need to provide financial counseling as well. By creating such a radical change to the economy, it could easily cause irresponsible spending instead of betterment of the community,” Sesay said.

Sesay is one of 8 disabled students who came to the United States through the American Field Service organization. When asked what he first noticed about the U.S., Sesay had a one word response: “Movement.” He went on to explain that every kind of movement—how people walk, how cars drive, even the pace of life in general—was different than his home. Then, he laughed and shared something else that’s different: “The food.”

“Good or bad?” I asked.

After a diplomatic pause, Sesay replied, “Different.”

Although Sesay seems happy and well-adjusted to living in Boise, he looks forward to June 2016 when he will return to Sierra Leone to see his family, literally, for the first time. Joseph’s surgery took place on October 30, 2015—imagine Halloween being your first frame of reference of what people look like!

Sesay’s long-term goal is to return to Idaho to attend college here. He wants to work with blind students, following in the footsteps of his oldest brother, who is still blind. Sesay has also hinted at a desire to become the President of Sierra Leone.

If I could, he would have my vote.

When I asked Sesay if there was anything else he wanted me to mention, he had only one request: “I want to thank everyone who contributed to me getting my eyesight.”

I’m certain that those people are voicing a resounding “You’re very welcome.”

For further information about Joseph Sesay, e-mail c.mcgregor32@gmail.com. For Village Hope, Inc, info, please visit VillageHopeInc.org.