FEATURE: Why the African kids all chanted at Leonie!

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When 19-year-old Leonie Taylor arrived in Africa as a foreign aid worker earlier this year, her host town still didn’t have electricity.

Everywhere she went, she was gawped at by curious children waving and chanting ‘aputo’ (white) at her.

And a low point was when she was admitted to the local hospital with stomach flu.

Nevertheless Leonie, from Theddingworth, near Market Harborough, said: “I would recommend anyone to go there, with an open mind. It was a really good experience.

“I think I would definitely like to go into something like this in the future and work in international development.”

Leonie spent three months living in Sierra Leone, on Africa’s Atlantic west coast.

Most of that time was spent in the town of Makeni, about two hours from the capital Freetown, living with a local family called the Sesays.

The town only got electricity about a month after Leonie arrived there.

Leonie was working alongside young British and Sierra Leonean volunteers in a region that was badly affected by Ebola two years ago, and by the country’s vicious, 11-year civil war which ended in 2002.

Leonie was helping young people develop employability skills and find work in an area of high unemployment.

She also helped run health and hygiene sessions to raise awareness of how to prevent the spread of disease.

She told the Mail: “I was quite nervous, because I had no idea what to expect.

“It was harrowing to see people live without so many things that we take for granted in the UK.

“Also because of Ebola and the civil war, a whole generation of people missed out on education.”

Leonie said at first she found the poverty quite challenging - as was the high profile she got simply by being white.

“Every time I walked down the street, children would wave and chant ‘aputo’ at me” she said. “At first I found that rude, and then funny. It was just curiosity.”

She said her host family was kind , and she grew to feel like a big sister to the family’s eldest daughter.

“Living with a host family has really allowed me to immerse myself in Sierra Leonean culture” she said.

“It has given me first hand insight to the daily challenges that people face, like cooking meals on coal and fetching water from the well to wash.

“I have also shared many happy occasions with my host family, joining them at weddings, sports days and birthday celebrations.”

She said she went to bed at 9.30pm exhausted - not by the work but by answering so many questions from local people about her life in the UK.

Leonie went to Sierra Leone with the government funded ICS, open to people aged 18-25.

She summed up: “There are so many issues that affect people around the world and it’s great that ICS offers young people the chance to help. ”

Now Leonie is going on to study politics and international relations at Nottingham Trent University.