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Park grad recalls grandmother's lessons in new book of poems

Sheka Mansaray (Submitted photo)

When Sheka Mansaray got in trouble as a child, his punishment would be to extract the moral from one of his grandmother's stories and tell her how it applied to what he had done.

"She raised me when I was in Sierra Leone and she was like my best friend," said Mansaray, a Park High School graduate who came to the United States in 1998 to live with his aunt due to the fighting in his home country. After leaving, Mansaray never got the chance to see his grandmother again before she died in 2006, but her memory will live on in his latest book of poetry, "Desert Rose: Words for Thoughts," in which he weaves her lessons into his poetry.

"She taught me how to respect others a lot," he said, and, "how to be self-controlled with a lot of crazy stuff that's going around."

In addition to his book, Mansaray's also hoping he can pay his respects to his grandmother by visiting her grave in Sierra Leone. He hasn't had the money to visit his home country since he came to the United States 11 years ago, but he's now $600 away from a $1,400 plane ticket to see his mother, sisters and aunts in May.

That first time seeing his mother in more than a decade -- "It's going to be an emotional and powerful moment," he said. "I'm sure my mother will be very surprised to see me."

He has contacted his mother by telephone, but he said the reception was very bad. During his trip, he will also visit the grave of his father, who was killed during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Mansaray said he is excited to tell his mom about what he has been doing. He's currently studying English and speech communication at Mankato State University with the hopes of being a teacher.

Mansaray dreams of someday funding a school in Sierra Leone to teach the children who lost limbs or were otherwise hurt by the civil war.

"Desert Rose: Words for Thought" is available at To donate toward Mansaray's trip to see his family, mail donations to Sheka Mansaray, Gate B Tower No. 505, 710 Ellis Avenue, Mankato, MN 56001.