Meet Dominic Yambasu

After 25 years as a physical education teacher for the Lake Oswego School District, Dominic Yambasu retired in 2004. Dominic retired from teaching only to take on a much greater, more personal mission – providing aid to his war-torn home – the village of Motema, Sierra Leone in western Africa.

Dominic came to Oregon in 1975 and married a peace corps volunteer. He had taught physical education in Sierra Leone for three years, but the country did not offer a degree in physical education. Dominic knew he would have to leave the country to obtain proper certification to teach high school, assuming he would finish his degree and then return to his family in Sierra Leone.

Things soon began to change for Dominic. He and his wife started a family and not long after, Dominic found a job in Lake Oswego. When he returned to visit family in Sierra Leone, he realized that his three daughters would have more opportunities in the United States.

He started teaching PE at Bryant Elementary School and worked in nine of the district’s 13 schools during his 25 years in the district. Although he retired from teaching, Dominic continues to serve as head coach for the girls’ varsity soccer team at Lake Oswego High School.

Civil War

Dominic has fond memories of growing up in Sierra Leone. He says the country was often referred to as the “mother country” because the people there were so loving. He says if you asked someone for directions, they would walk you to where you wanted to go. But all of that changed after Dominic left.

Until late 2004, Dominic had not been able to return to Sierra Leone because it had been ravaged by civil war. Tens of thousands of people were killed in the small West African nation during the past 20 years and millions were displaced from their homes and their livelihoods.

The war took a huge toll on Yambasu’s family, whose village was near a large diamond mine. In order to gain control of the mine, the rebels decided to ransack the village, at which point rebel fighters killed his father and younger sister in separate incidents. His father died when raiders looted and burned the village. His sister was shot in the back by rebels while fleeing the village with a toddler she was babysitting at the time. In all, 18 of Dominic’s relatives died in the senseless violence.

The Return Home

With the country at peace in November 2004, Dominic returned to Sierra Leone for the first time in nearly 20 years. War had ravaged the country, leaving thousands homeless in the streets and many without work. In a country with a less than 40% literacy rate and a per capita income of $540, Dominic is considered a wealthy man and a tremendous success.

His first order of business was to hold a proper funeral for his relatives who died during the conflict. Once the large, elaborate funeral was over, Dominic and his surviving family members felt they could move forward again.

After the funeral, Dominic got to work rebuilding his late father’s house, which had been demolished during the conflict, and helped his fellow villagers with a number of projects to rebuild their community. Conditions in the village were at times deplorable when it came to the toilet situation as well as sleeping conditions. Most children sleep on dirt floors with leaky roofs.