GROW WITH VAFIE KONNEH: SIERRA LEONE’S BUDDING PHARMACEUTICAL GENIUS

Google Education in Africa and it may unveil a tirade of long discussions with strings of endless negative words such a poverty, lack of access, aid and inequality. For years in developing countries, it’s the ultimate dream for parents to offer their children educational opportunities elsewhere. It is most often conceived as the formula to ensure that one’s child becomes better at whatever they choose to become. Very often we would hear of the exploits of academic excellence celebrated in the media, leaving a trail of adulation and perhaps more important to us, an avenue for other people to be inspired. What we celebrate as overnight success is often dotted with a lot more effrontery, persistence, focus and intentionality than we usually choose to discuss or admit to. Imagine how empowering it will be, if we took the time to catalogue our experiences be it good or bad with the intention of sharing with others.

This is the value that we saw in the educational pursuit of Vafie Konneh – studying in Africa and achieving record breaking excellence all the same. We couldn’t help but want to know the choices that he made, how he thinks and who he admires. This gave us a beautiful opportunity to meet with the genius Pharmacist – 2021/2022 graduate from College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) Sierra Leone. Vafie Konneh was the best graduating student of the year, he won six (6) medals and got the best grades in the following subjects: 

1) Anatomy 

2) Biochemistry 

3) Pathological Sciences 

4) Pharmacology

5) Pharmacognosy

Getting to Know Vafie Konneh

Vafie Valentine Konneh is a 23-year-old gentleman, born in Freetown. He is a practicing Muslim, the eldest of seven with a Mandingo – Mende heritage. He was enrolled at Zenith International Academy in Bo for his junior school years and did his senior school at The Sierra Leone Grammar School.

Vafie, graduated from high school in 2015 and moved on to the University of Sierra Leone, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences. Most often this is the dream for many families, a child that’s interested in education to such an extent that they ace it. Most often than not such goals remain unfulfilled for many, due to a host of simple to complex reasons.

 As a boy, Master Konneh was confused as to which career path to embark on. Initially he thought of becoming a policeman by the time he got to junior high school he was thinking about becoming a pilot. In his penultimate year of high school, he finally decided that he wanted to be a medical practitioner (he was quite uncertain which one in particular). Then according to him, he woke up one morning and he was pursuing a pharmacy degree!

Vafie has observed that there are many roadblocks that derail successful young people in achieving their dreams. He believes that it could be unique depending on a number of factors. Highlighting focus as such a small but key word, one that could be difficult to keep hold of especially when your discipline demands long years of knowledge pursuit or certification.

 

We asked him what advice he would give to someone who is struggling through professional development or school? He quickly said that he would refrain from giving an abstract but a feasible advice; that can be seen below:

 ‘Whatever it is one could be struggling with whilst in school (finances, depression, comprehension etc). I would say to that individual that there is always someone out there who has survived what you might be going through. Find that person and get some coping tips. If you can’t find one, then be one. Bottom line, if you don’t like the life you are living, you owe it to yourself to do something about it. Don’t get me wrong, the long hours of studying or being the cleverest with little or no effort is not the key to academic excellence. You shape your path with even the people you talk with outside of the classroom’.

 

In Pursuit of Education: The Experience so far

‘The highlight of my academic experience covers the two (2) months prior to my WASSCE and all through my Pre-pharmacy year in college. This period required a whole lot of sacrifices from me, way more than anticipated. Truth be told, those few months anchored my best of memories in the university.

Thankfully, I tackled peer pressure effortlessly and I haven’t really had very close relationships with people bearing opposing energies as that of mine. In fact, I would say I am immune to that! (Please do not tempt me to present my back log of facts). The circle of friends I made through school, tag me as stubborn and controversial. Ironically this has contributed to making me a very selfless and committed young man.’

Vafie says that his passion for learning peaked right at the start of his pre – pharmacy programme. At the time he was co-habiting with friends from school and they all had this enthusiasm wrapped with anxiety. Based on the statistics they heard about the passing rate being low and how hard it is/was to get an admission into the college. So, they challenged each other to study as hard as they could to ensure that they were all at the positive end of the spectrum. They watched motivational videos a lot, the DSTV channels were limited to the e-learning ones, they went on to purchase a whiteboard and marker, downloaded tutorials and bought lots of textbooks that were thrown all over the living room to serve as a reminder of THE GOAL.

Vafie and his friends even employed a phenomenon called “The Benjamin Carson approach”. They would choose a day in the week, that they would study for 17 hours straight (of course you could drink, eat and access the rest rooms but with a piece of paper with you as a symbol of commitment). At the end of it all they rewarded themselves with nice meals and shower.

Sadly, this only lasted for a year, not that they were burned out but the camp was dissolved after they were relocated to another campus. The following year the group studied individually except for exams when they reunited to share some thoughts.

Amidst all of this, textbooks were Vafie’s thing and he earned a reputation in his class for banging textbooks even at the eleventh hour. This continued through 1st, 2nd and up till 3rd year, final year of Basic Medical Sciences, which is considered by many as the most difficult class in the College. As this class finally prepares you for course specialization (Clinical Sciences for candidates of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Sciences for Candidates of Pharmacy). And here ends phase one.

 His final part one and two (Translating to 4th & 5th year) were the most challenging. Everything became much more time demanding, there was lack of coordination, inadequate support system, plus the tool employed in my dissertation was theoretically familiar but practically it caused me sleepless nights.

Through it all, Vafie is convinced that the knowledge he may have acquired today is shaped precisely not just by the books he read but stretches right to capacity building seminars, educational activities organized by our student body (NAPS-SL), trainings conducted by the faculty staff and College Administration, one-on-one mentor-mentee engagements right on to the seemingly least expected social interactions with senior colleagues and peers from a prestigious entity, called The CORE Foundation.

 

The Mind – Body – Spirit Approach to holistic development

Earlier ,Vafie had given a brief synopsis of what anxiety led him and his colleagues to do, they created intense periods of physical and mental challenges. Interestingly, most of the awards won at the end were mostly (80%) from the Basic Medical Sciences.

When things got pretty tense, he challenged it head on, even though it did wear him out. For example, on some days he had to sleep at the lab to complete his lab work in time.

Amidst of all that he kept on with what he calls his default poker face. He got involved in a side hustle (printing) to keep up with financial demands of running my day-to-day. He delved into exercising a whole lot.

He believes that this unique blend of passions, helped synchronize all of his fields of interest, be it academia or otherwise it pushed him to end every marathon victoriously.

 

Vafie says that one thing he has come to embrace looking back is that “You don’t have to see the path clearly enough to start taking the steps”. Amidst the fog, dew and mist, take the leap of faith. If you choose medicine/pharmacy as your career, let it be known that they are tough by design. Don’t be influenced or forced to get into it. You should gear up resilience, courage and prayer.

An ode to role models and mentors….

You may want to agree with us at Ariana Diaries that, Vafie Konneh’s journey so far possesses elements of a growth model in academia. A great ending would be a list of people whom he has learnt from. They have helped nurture his quest for knowledge academically, some through their research footprints and others by their social engagements.

 They are; Professor Don Prisno, Dr. (Pharm) Abdulai Jawo Bah (PhD), Dr. (PhD) Haja Ramatulai Wurie, Dr. (Pharm) Peter Bai James (PhD), Dr. Charles Senesie (PhD), Dr. Mohamed Samai, Dr. Austin Demby, (Ing)Dr Abdul Koroma (PhD), Dr. Moinina Sengeh, Dr. (Pharm) Wiltshire Johnson, Dr. (Pharm) Onome Abiri and Dr. (Pharm) Sheku Mansaray.

 Vafie believes that we live in a world where continuous learning is a prerequisite for growth, it’s his desire that every person no matter their age embraces this truth.

 

Have you been inspired to continue in your own quest to learn? If that’s the case, then tell us, which part of his story speaks the most to you?

Otherwise you can honour the years of hard work invested by Vafie Konneh by leaving a congratulatory message for him in the comments. 

Written by: arianadiaries

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