Introducing: 2012 A.R.T. For Life Honoree, Tiffany Persons

Tiffany Persons is the founder and director of Shine On Sierra Leone, an innovative non-profit organization that actively raises awareness for Sierra Leone’s incredible needs and creates sustainable programs to promote thriving self-sufficient communities and rich cultural experiences in both Sierra Leone and the United States.

Six years ago in 2006, Tiffany, a prominent commercial and music video casting director, traveled to Sierra Leone for the first time to produce a documentary. For three months, she lived in the rural diamond-mining village of Kono and was witness to the extremely difficult living and working conditions of the community. With truly insufficient wages for mineworkers (they only earned $1.33 and a cup of rice), it became painfully clear that not only could they not provide for themselves but also not for their respective families. Furthermore, the village’s school, known as the Muddy Lotus School, was a dilapidated and roofless building that housed 416 students while torrential rains poured in the classrooms, there were barely any seats for the students, and some students hadn’t eaten in over two days. But what caught Tiffany’s attention and interest was that despite the devastating conditions, the students were fully engaged in their teacher’s lessons, with their hands outstretched in eager anticipation of being called upon. Inspired by their passion and based on the needs given to her by the teachers and village chief of Kono, Tiffany quickly raised $6,000 US dollars and rehabilitated Muddy Lotus with a new roof, cemented floors, iron doors, all new benches, and fresh paint for the interiors and exteriors. When the makeover was completed, the entire community spilled into the streets of Kono…laughing, singing, and dancing in gratitude. It was then that Tiffany decided to dedicate her life’s mission to ensuring that every child in Kono received an education and founded Shine on Sierra Leone.

Since Shine on Sierra Leone’s inception, Tiffany’s work has expanded beyond building several much needed schools. The underlying philosophy of Shine On Sierra Leone is that it’s about change and not charity and ultimately creating truly sustainable businesses and economies that will enable the local communities to support and generate profit themselves. As of 2007, Shine on Sierra Leone has created and is actively behind two comprehensive educational programs, adult and computer literacy programs, a community recreation and basketball center, and a groundbreaking microcredit-lending program.

Due to the success of previous SOSL projects, several new programs and businesses have been created. In June 2010, Shine On Sierra Leone launched their home and accessories line- a collection created from fabric in Sierra Leone that funds SOSL’s programs. In July 2010, Shine on Construction, a local construction company (comprised of men who were trained by SOSL building schools using the unique eco-conscious Cal-earth bag method) will be opening a school house which they built on their own and were hired by SOSL. In October 2010, Tribe Wanted, an eco-tourism company which is partners with Shine on Sierra Leone, is building an eco-village using the Cal-Earth earthbag method and debuting the first eco-conscious trips building the fishing communities of John Obey Beach. This December 2010, Shine on Sierra Leone will be building a maternal healthcare center to address Sierra Leone’s dire maternal fatalitiy crisis and also provide transportation and access to the center to pregnant women. And finally, Shine on Sierra Leone will be hosting its biannual trips to Sierra Leone for the purpose of cultivating a global sensitivity and true human connection between Sierra Leone and American citizens particularly youth from difficult circumstances in Los Angeles and Sierra Leone. Ultimately, Tiffany is continuing her pursuit of nurturing an optimistic, proactive, and socially responsible local and international community of youth and adults who are passionate about rebuilding the beautiful country of Sierra Leone and improving their world.

In addition to Tiffany’s role as the founder of Shine on Sierra Leone, she was recognized as a Woman of The World by 50/50 Leadership and the United Nations Association, Foothill Chapter, and has been featured in numerous high-profile publications for her contributions to Sierra Leone. A native of Detroit and a graduate of Georgia State University, Tiffany is based in Los Angeles where she runs Shine on Sierra Leone and her hi-profile advertising casting company, Tiffany Company Casting.

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