FROM the living room of his Garmouth home, Lansana Bangura watched in despair as news broke of hostilities in Sierra Leone.
It was the start of a civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002, bringing widespread destruction and claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Lansana (71) left his home in the North-west of the African country in the early 1960s, aged just 21, to make a new life in the North-east of Scotland.
Half-a-century on, he and his wife, Moira, are focused on helping young students achieve an education as the country continues to rebuild itself after a decade of bloodshed.
Lansana’s remarkable journey – from striving to get an education and building a successful career to playing a major role in Moray community life – has been chosen to feature in a new book, ‘Scottish Memories: Immigration Stories’.
Buckie businessman Nemat Ali, whose story was told in last week’s ‘Scot’, also features.
The publication highlights the troubles and achievements of older minority ethnic people who, like Nemat and Lansana, arrived in the Scotland more than half a century ago.
Lansana was born in 1942 and raised in the community of Kassirie, where his father was head of the largest section in the chiefdom.
While junior education was provided locally, secondary schooling required a three-day journey to a far-off, Government-run boarding institution.
Lansana’s education came to a standstill in 1949 when his father died and he was called home to help his mother. “It took some time, but a few years later I went back to school,” he said.
By chance, an Aberdonian civil engineer named Dennis Garvie was working in the area and the pair struck up a friendship.
“He had a project in my mother’s village and had asked me about what I wanted to do. When I explained, he said he was quite prepared to help,” Lansana said.
A trip to Scotland was duly planned and after nine days at sea, he stepped ashore at Liverpool, before the friends travelled North by car to Aberdeen.
“I can remember clearly that as we approached Aberdeen, I saw the hills covered in snow ..... in July. We had hailstones at home, but nothing like that,” he said.
At first, Lansana stayed with Dennis’ family and attended Aberdeen College of Commerce to achieve his Highers. “It took some time, but I did it. Then I went on to university and did civil engineering.
“It was hard work, I was a young man coming to a different country and having to go through all the rudiments of trying to be educated. Anyhow, I survived it.
“But looking back, I was given a lovely welcome, I can assure you of that. It was a different way of life, of course, but I was quite happy,” he said.
In his final year at university, Lansana worked with a company at Aberdeen Harbour – then preparing for expansion following the discovery of the North Sea oil fields. On graduation, he secured his first full-time job with the same engineering firm.
It was during his student years that Lansana met Moira, who was from Garmouth but studying in the city. “We got married and then I got a job in Newcastle, where we stayed for four or five years.”
In the late 70s, the chance of a job in Sierra Leone was offered and the couple moved to Africa, where they remained for about 10 years.
While there, they helped with the establishment of an agricultural project aimed at helping locals to create cash crops.
Returning to Scotland in 1989 with their three children, Lansana enrolled for a Masters degree at Strathclyde and went on to work on a number of projects across Moray and beyond.
It was within two years of their return that his nation became embroiled in a bloody civil war.
“It was hard because I have a very big family all over the country and we didn’t know exactly what was happening. I think even if you were there, the situation being what it was, it would have been a problem to know what was going on,” Lansana said. “In 2007, I went back to the plantation where the agricultural project was started and not a single crop was left. They had burnt everything. There was nothing to be seen at all, not a single indication of the work that was done there.”
While the country has gone on to achieve substantial economic growth, the impact of the war is still felt, and the couple have dedicated themselves to helping with the education of youngsters in Lansana’s home village.
He recently delivered a container of donated computers and printers for use in the school, as well as other goods such as clothes, shoes, jotters and books.
“The school has now been upgraded to become a senior secondary school, which is very good as it means the children don’t have to travel, as I did, to achieve their education.”
They have now set out to raise £7,000 so the school can receive a solar energy system to ensure a sustainable source of power for the new equipment.
“It is a project which we hope we will succeed with very soon as it is important,” Lansana said.
For more information about the Mateiti Agricultural Development Project or ways to help, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Since returning to Scotland, the couple have been based in Garmouth, where Lansana enjoys active community life as a member of the local community council and chairman of the Muslim Community of Moray. A keen fisherman, he also carries out work for the Spey Angling Association.
“I don’t regret the decision to come here and believe I was very fortunate because I had the family of my friend Dennis to turn to if I needed help or support. I felt different from everybody else and I got the odd remark, but I was very lucky as Dennis’ family were always there; the door was open if anything happened,” he said.
‘Scottish Memories: Immigration Stories’ is published by the Trust, Hanover (Scotland) and Bield housing associations’ Equal Opportunities Programme, with support from the Lottery Heritage Fund, and is available from RSharma@trustha.org.uk