Saturday, March 21, 2015

An Amazing Story!

This story is from the blog of Ron and Nina Jones, who are serving a mission at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.

Walking Among Giants - Sery Kone from the Ivory Coast

The more we are here at BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center, the more we recognize that we are walking among giants.  We are getting to know more and more students, many of whom sacrificed everything to be here. We think we know sacrifice. Elder Jones and I carry on about giving up our home and our possessions in order to serve the Lord. We worry over being separated from families for a period or lament the loss of a steady income.  We talk about aching bones and mental exhaustion after a long day at the PCC. These may well be considered a sacrifice.  But they are nothing compared to our students.  Our students would give all that they have to take on those blessings that we foolishly call challenges.

Let me tell you about Sery Kouma Kone.....


We have known Kone since we started attending the Laie Married 4th Ward.  He is the First Counselor in our Bishopric. Even still, we knew nothing about him or his personal story until this last Monday when he came to speak to the missionaries at their weekly Family Home Evening program. Sery is from the Ivory Coast, or as they refer to it, Côte d'Ivoire, a West African county that sits between Libya and Ghana.  It is the world’s largest producer of cocoa.

Sery was born in the large port city of Abidjani.  When Sery was 4 years old, his parents divorced. His father decided to pull him away from his mother, so he took him 1,200 away from his home and placed him with a woman he didn't know in a small village by the name of Kolia.  His father left him there, never to see him again.  The woman that he lived with was very poor and the only way to survive was for Sery to work.  He became a child slave.  

The woman was wise enough to know that children deserved an education. She insisted that the children in her home went to school. But when Kone was not in school, he would go to work, sometimes walking as much as 35 miles to a cocoa farm. He would work 10 hours. He was beaten if he did not work hard. He was not well fed. He had no choices, no protector and no hope.  He worked hard for 6 years. And then, the woman died, and he lost even the comfort of food, clothing and supervision. Still, he kept working.  

After a particularly hard beating by a rancher when he tried to encourage a tired little boy working next to him to rest, he said "I have had enough". He got onto a bus heading to the big city where he was born. He said to the driver, "I have no money, but my family will pay for me when we get there". The bus driver refused and told him to get off, but he was not going to go back to slavery. "I would not get off," he said. "I would not go back." After much arguing, a kindly rider paid for his fare. Kone went to Abidjani, a two day ride, to find his family. He stayed in the streets for 4 weeks. Then he was taken in by an orphanage and worked odd jobs as he could. He lived there for 6 months.

One day, a man came up and called him by his childhood name. "I am your uncle," said the man. Kone did not believe him and he ran away. But the man persisted in finding him. It turns out that he really was his mother's brother. He was a school teacher and he took Kone into his home. Later on, Kone asked him “how did you know it was me?”  His uncle answered “you looked so much like your mother, I knew it was you.”  

Kone found out that his mother had passed away, in great sorrow, because her only son had been taken from her. This left Kone embittered and frustrated. He felt deeply that God had been so unfair to him, and his anger boiled out of him. Now a teenager, he found entertainment in arguing with Christians, especially Jehovah Witnesses. For some reason, he found them an easy target for his anger.

Kone remembers a day when two LDS missionaries were walking by. He thought they were Jehovah Witnesses. "Hey," he called out. "Why don't you come here and talk to me?" He meant it more as a challenge, but the two young men replied that they were happy to share their message. They came to his home and began to present the Plan of Salvation. This struck Kone to the heart. He knew their message was true and could see from the truths they taught that Heavenly Father did care about His children and had provided a clear path for them to find happiness and someday to return home to Him.

Kone joined the LDS church and found much peace in being a member. His uncle supported him while he went to public school. When he was 20 years old, he went on a mission in the DR Congo, where he worked very hard. Following the completion of his mission, Kone was accepted to BYU-Hawaii, where he is about to complete his studies in Finance. He will soon be heading out to obtain an MBA at BYU-Provo. His goal is to become an Investment Counselor

Kone has served Heavenly Father in many ways, and he was blessed for it. He married a beautiful daughter of God in a temple of the Lord and is raising an eternal family. He has a beautiful baby boy named Kenneth.

With all of these blessings poured upon him, Kone had finally found a peace and joy he never thought possible. But he was not completely happy. He wanted more. This desire was not born out of greed but rather gratitude. He wanted to reach out to other children trapped in child slavery. He wanted to help communities to become stronger. He even wanted to reach out to the cacao ranchers and help them improve their systems so that they would not need to depend on utilizing low wage workers in order to make a profit.

Kone has organized a movement called WELL Africa (World Education for a Legacy of Liberty). Since 2012 WELL Africa has taken 300 children out of cacao farms to receive an education and over 250 women have received micro financing loans to start businesses. They have trained men in bee keeping. In 2014 WELL Africa completed the construction of its first school.

The next goal is to build a self-sustaining hospital in order to provide healthcare services to the poor communities in Ivory Coast.

Kone returns home in between semesters to plan, educate and build. “It is always an interesting experience for me to be back in the villages and to see what used to be my life. It helps me appreciate the blessings that I got. It also represents a great source of inspiration and humility as I see what I was and what I have the potential to become now that I am going to school.”

He knows that the key to permanent change is education, support and concern.“When a community is empowered and included in the search of solutions regarding problems it faces, this is the results! The 50/50 Partnership initiated By WELL Africa is working” he explains.

Kone shares that WELL Africa's mission "is to provide long term solution to the issue of child labor in the chocolate industry." My goal with WELL-AFRICA is to tell to those kids that they can rest, dream, and hope for a better future. I stand today as a driving force to get those kids out of the farms, offer them an environment where they can reach their potential, and build schools where they can make their own dreams come true.”

Sery Kouma Kone has asked us to help him tell the story of WELL Africa and to join him in the movement to end child labor. I am very blessed and humbled to know that I may have – in some small measure - the means to help.  I have connections. Those who know me well know that I have gone on a few medical outreach clinics to 3rd world countries. One of the organizations I worked with, Project Cure, has a program to donate medical supplies, including beds, and medical machinery to these types of organizations. I am trying to see if we can match these two programs up. It won't be easy.  Although the equipment is free, the shipping costs can be astronomical. Kone and I are working together to see if we can satisfy all of the clerical and monetary requirements to make this important goal become a reality. I'm asking for your prayers and faith that we will be successful.  

Kone would be the first one to say that he is only a part of an amazing group of people who love the children of the world and want them to be safe, happy and educated.  The members of WELL Africa are working hard to unite all parts of society - the haves and have nots, the workers and the consumers, the government and the medical personnel to make a change that affects everyone positively. It thrills me to use this blog to bring these important stories to my friends and family.  I hope that you share this with others not only for educational purposes, but also to for inspiration!

If you are interested in in learning more, please go to:

or to view WELL Africa’s Facebook page, go to:

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