Wednesday, 12 March 2008

At the risk of repeating myself

I haven’t mentioned Sierra Leone PEN for a while, so thought I’d better rectify that.

At the tail end of the civil war in Sierra Leone journalist Mike Butscher had the rather odd idea of setting up a PEN office in Freetown. (International PEN is the NGO for ‘poets, essayists and novelists’, founded in London in the early twentieth century by, amongst others, HG Wells. It’s kind of like a writers’ version of Amnesty International.) Needless to say, whilst the civil war continued to rage, Mike was swimming upstream against a tide of hungry sharks. But, as well as providing valuable journalism about the situation in the country, he persisted with the centre. And since the war ended, the centre has gone from strength to strength, with Mike acting as Executive Secretary and building strong ties around the world, particularly with other African nations and also in Europe.

Mike has now gone on to work for Right to Play, a sport-promoting NGO in Liberia, but the PEN centre continues to flourish It has been working with schools in and around Freetown to improve child literacy rates, whilst also providing a valuable resource to local writers and students.

Although things have improved in Sierra Leone since the war, it’s still far from a barrel of laughs. Poverty is rife and the things we take for granted as writers, like pens, paper and stable access to electricity (let alone computers), publishers, bookshops and even libraries are scarce.

The PEN centre is always exceedingly grateful for any donations, particularly to build up the stock of its own library, and don’t feel you’re being vain if the one book you can spare is your own: you will easily benefit from at least a dozen voracious readers—future poets, essayists and novelists all, if you’re able to ship just one copy.

If you would like to contact Sierra Leone PEN/send contributions, opinions, queries and general comments to sierraleonepen(at) or write or send books/equipment in the more traditional manner to:


The postal service is reliable.

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