Home > Long Beach 101 > MEETING MOSES SONKO: FINDING A WORLD WIDE WEB IN MY OWN TOWN

MEETING MOSES SONKO: FINDING A WORLD WIDE WEB IN MY OWN TOWN

ASHLEY AND MOSES SONKO

BY IRIS YOKOI

When I requested an upgrade in my Internet and telephone service, all I thought I wanted was a faster connection to the Worldwide Web. Instead, when Verizon technician Moses Sonko showed up to install my new FiOS system, I made a personal, local connection that renewed my faith in the world.

No, this is not my testament to the wizardry of modern technology—it’s a moment of reflection in which I am marveling at the magic that still exists in person-to-person communication. My chance meeting Moses reminded me that smart, inspiring, kind-hearted people are just around the corner, especially here in Long Beach.

The moment that transformed my relationship with Moses—from client-to-customer to human-to-human—arrived as he was finishing two hours of work, when he paused to admire a batik painting on my dining room wall, one of many souvenirs from my Kenya trip a few years back. We began a friendly conversation. “Where are you from?” I asked.  Moses replied, beaming, “Gambia.”

It’s been 13 years since Moses came to the United States—Miami—to study electrical engineering, nine years since he landed in Long Beach when he got a systems technician job at a construction company. He’s been with Verizon for about five.

But Moses remains intimately connected with Gambia—and this is where the inspiration begins: he returns there frequently to deliver all kinds of essential goods to the villages, part of the charity that he and his wife, Ashley, started on their own, two years ago, to help Gambian children and their families. They call it Christ’s Hands on Afrika, or CHOA.

It’s a true grass-roots, mostly personal, effort that is focused on a few projects, including:  

  • Helping children go to school, which means finding sponsors to pay school fees—averaging $25 per semester, exorbitant for Gambian families—and finding good quality schools for the students.
  • Gathering clothing, shoes, appliances, among other everyday essentials, and shipping them every few months in a huge container (which costs a couple-thousand dollars, paid largely out of Moses’ pocket) for distribution to families in the villages of Karantaba and Kaur. Once the container reaches Gambia, Moses’ family picks up the container, and the Sonkos fly out from Long Beach to personally deliver the goods.

Registered as an NGO in Gambia and as a non-profit in California, CHOA is run by the Sonkos and their families, with help from donations from about 100 Southern California Gambians.  They haven’t done much to publicize the charity (beyond word of mouth) or seek outside funding.

But this Saturday (May 15) CHOA is holding its first-ever fund raising event in order to pursue a larger project: getting a clean-water well built in one of the villages. The Sonkos have inked a deal with a well-drilling business based in Gambia—run by a retired doctor and fellow Gambian who lives in Long Beach—to drill the well at a 30% discount. For $5,000, Treasure Drilling will drill the well, build an elevated reservoir with a submersible pump, and install solar panels to power the equipment, all of which will provide clean water to 5,000 people for at least 10 years.

A pretty good deal.

The CHOA benefit luncheon is at The Reef Restaurant and includes a meal, entertainment, a silent auction and a chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to Gambia, known for its beautiful beaches, and as the birthplace of Kunta Kinte of “Roots” fame.

Moses and Ashley met while on a humanitarian trip to Belize that they took through Christ Second Baptist Church in Long Beach. They’ve been married almost five years. Ashley is a third-generation Long Beach resident who was raised in an educational environment—her parents both work at Cal State Long Beach, where she also earned her teaching credential.

It was Ashley’s orientation toward learning that sparked the couple’s activism. During one of their first trips to Gambia, Ashley was curious about the many school-age children playing in the streets during the day.

“Why aren’t they in school?” Ashley asked Moses, who explained about the fees that most families can’t afford. 

“Sometimes when you grow up in a place, you get numb to what’s going on,” Moses says now. “I’m really grateful to Ashley for being able to see the need. Coming back home on the plane, we talked about it a lot—what can we do and how can we help, realizing that both of us don’t have money, but we know if you put the combined efforts of friends and family and people who really care, we can make a little difference.”

Ashley’s heartfelt interest in schooling children resonated with Moses, whose late father was a generous man who similarly advocated and financially supported education, not only for his own five children, but for others as well.

His father relocated the family from the city to the provinces for several years when he took a job as an electrician in a peanut factory.

 “Growing up … we were more fortunate than other people,” Moses says. “I believe that’s one of the reasons why he made sure we went to the village and lived there, to really see and understand the lifestyle, because I believe he felt we weren’t being appreciative of what we have.

“My dad was so passionate about education … even though he didn’t have much, he personally sponsored a lot of kids. And my mom would sew us (five children) new uniforms—about seven, eight pairs of uniforms each. My dad would take half of those uniforms and give them out to kids that don’t have.”

So CHOA began as a charity to sponsor Gambian children’s education. But understanding that getting children educated involves a broad range of issues, the Sonkos have taken on related projects that all ultimately focus on helping get kids to school—basic essentials like clothing and appliances. Oh, and clean water.

“Even if the children are being educated, but the family doesn’t have clean water,” Moses said. “We want the children to come to school healthy.”

CLEAN WATER FOR GAMBIA: LUNCHEON/SILENT AUCTION • THE REEF RESTAURANT  • 880 S. HARBOR SCENIC DRIVE, LONG BEACH  90802 • SAT. MAY 15 NOON-3PM • $35 INCLUDES LUNCH/ENTERTAINMENT, PLUS RAFFLE TICKETS ON SALE FOR TRIP TO GAMBIA • HANDSONAFRIKA@HOTMAIL.COM • (562) 230-4043

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  1. LBCityGirl
    May 11, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I see an interesting irony between the fact that the Gambians value education so highly they will scrape together $25 a semester they cannot afford, and yet those of us who school our children at LBUSD aren’t willing to pay any tuition at all.

  2. February 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    hello I found a pile of CDs onthe street and one off them appears to be the wedding DVD off mosesand ashley. I would like to give them back these cds they look salvageable

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