Sylvia Olayinka Walmina Oreshola Blyden was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone in October 1971 to a family of achievers. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Edward Wilmot Blyden, who is considered the “father of Pan-Africanism.” Her maternal grandfather is the politician Solomon A. J. Pratt, and her paternal grandfather is the late diplomat Edward Wilmot Blyden III.
Sylvia Blyden has also excelled. She graduated at the top of her class from the Annie Walsh School in 1987 and went on to obtain a Bachelor’s of Science in 1993. In 1994, in a landslide victory against two male candidates, she became the first woman to win the student union presidency at the University of Sierra Leone, a position which won her an invitation to represent the country’s female youths in Beijing, China during the 1995 UN Conference on Women. At the time, Dr. Blyden also was studying at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences at the University of Sierra Leone and she graduated with her MD in 1996.
In early 2002, at the age of 30, Dr. Blyden became Sierra Leone’s youngest National Political Party Leader and the third woman from Sierra Leone ever to lead a fully registered political party. In 2003, Dr. Blyden opened a number of 24-hour internet cafes that offered free night-time services and proved to be of tremendous benefit to Sierra Leone youths. In 2005, Dr. Blyden launched Awareness Times, a newspaper which has been critical of the excesses of government and state institutions.Awareness Times quickly became Sierra Leone’s fastest selling and most widely read newspaper. Dr. Blyden is founder and CEO of Awareness Times and the only female news publisher in the country. On April 27th, 2007, the country’s Independence Day, Dr. Blyden became the youngest ever Sierra Leonean, to be honored with the title Officer of the Order of the Rokel in recognition of her meritorious service to the nation.
Amongst her other accomplishments, Dr. Blyden is a successful journalist & socio-political commentator, women’s and human rights activist, children-appointed and youth’s goodwill ambassador, and philanthropist who takes care of hundreds of children in Sierra Leone. She is a sponsor of the All People’s Congress (APC) North America Chapter. She is viewed as someone that embraces other ethnic groups and is a fighter for justice (although the tone and specific language she uses when she has disagreements with others has drawn criticism).
In 2013, a new position was created, the Special Executive Assistant (SEA) to Sierra Leone’s PresidentErnest Bai Koroma. Dr. Blyden was appointed to the position, making her the first woman in the history of Sierra Leone to hold Cabinet rank at the State House. Only a few years ago, President Koroma, and the excesses of his APC party, and related government offices, was the subject of numerous attacks in Dr. Blyden’s press.
In 2014, Dr. Blyden visited the Sierra Leone Nationals Association of Manitoba (SALNAM), an organization based in Canada that introduced Dr. Blyden to International Hope Canada, a health charity that donated $100,000 worth of medical protective masks and high quality isolation gowns tohelp combat Ebola in Sierra Leone. Dr. Blyden has reported using $7,000 of her own funds to assist with the cost of sending all of the items by air to West Africa.
Dr. Blyden has been critical of the Ebola response in Sierra Leone, including the Ministry of Health’s statistics on the disease, and has resigned from her post as SEA. In 2015, Dr. Blyden was invited to speak about Sierra Leone’s Ebola situation at Chatham House (formally the Royal Institute of International Affairs) in London due to her being a youth activist and one of the first in her country to raise concern over something terrible happening that required immediate attention in the remote forested region of Eastern Kissi Teng chiefdom. During the question and answer session at the event Dr. Blyden spoke about the need for Ebola funds to be monitored to make sure that they reach the people of Sierra Leone that need them. In a radio address, she praised the youth of Sierra Leone for their work at checkpoints to help contain Ebola.
Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Dr. Blyden been so successful in her many undertakings?
Some key characteristics come to mind:
Although Dr. Blyden has faced considerable criticism from opposition party journalists, who tend to view her actions as self-promotion, rather than as those in defense of women, youths or others in the country, Dr. Blyden reports having tried to LEARN FROM THOSE THAT DISAGREE WITH HER. She has a strong love for her country and is very serious about investigative journalism. She works long hours for the Awareness Times and her work ethic has inspired others to do their best.
(Header Image Credit: Awareness Times)
Heidi G. Frontani is a Professor of Geography at Elon University in North Carolina in the USA and former Fulbright Scholar in Kenya. This story originally appeared on her blog on August 22, 2015. To read more of her stories, follow her blog: https://africandevelopmentsuccesses.wordpress.com/