Opening Doors for New Americans since 1882
Alhaji Saccoh did not feel like he had enough to do. He was working part-time, and though he ran a nonprofit supporting two schools in his home village in Sierra Leone, he still felt a sense of restlessness. So one day in 2010, he walked into a fire station and asked how he could help. It was that day that Saccoh became a volunteer firefighter at Collingdale 1 Fire House.
Very soon after he began his training, he returned to Sierra Leone for the first time in ten years. On a whim, he decided to visit a volunteer fire station. He was shocked, “they were sleeping on cardboard. They didn’t have any resources.”
At that moment Saccoh made a promise. He was going to collect 40 sets of used gear from local Philadelphia area fire departments and ship them to Sierra Leone.
Forty sets turned into over 200 sets— sets which will last for years and, as Saccoh emphasizes, “give firefighters the respect they deserve.”
Saccoh did not let the expensive price tag to ship the sets deter him. His fundraising efforts generated over $3,500, including a considerable donation from Wells Fargo.
Fellow firefighter Stynor Carter emphasizes, “He went over and above what was expected: expected by the people. Not by us. We’re firefighters. We do it because we can.”
Saccoh came to Philadelphia in 2000 at the age of seventeen, leaving behind the chaos of Sierra Leone’s civil war. For Saccoh, life in the United States was tough: “I only had about a 10th grade education, and they put me in 12th grade, so I didn’t do well in school.” However, he did not let early frustrations keep him from pursuing his dream to succeed and make a difference.
After high school, Saccoh was conflicted about his future. He did not know what he wanted to do. An aunt suggested he move to Dallas and start community college. Community college would later turn into a Bachelor’s degree and volunteering at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Dallas. The IRC is a non-profit agency that works where there are crises all over the world and does refugee resettlement work here in the United States.
Marriage took him back to Philadelphia, where he now works at HIAS Pennsylvania connecting newly arrived refugees to the healthcare they need. In 2014, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Master’s in Economic Development. His dream is to move back to Sierra Leone, “There is so much need in Sierra Leone. I can make a bigger practical difference.”