By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Born some 25 years ago in Cassell Farm, Kissy, Freetown and raised by a single parent (her mother), it was not until at age nine that she was diagnosed with sickle cell.
Sickle cell is a disease that causes severe pain, acute chest syndrome and even stroke. It is estimated to affect around 2% of Sierra Leoneans and considered a major public health concern with about 80% of children with sickle cell anaemia not reaching their 5th birthday (credit: Medical Assistance Sierra Leone-MASL).
But Margaret Cassel is a fighter; a warrior with an indomitable spirit. And there’s no stopping her; not even this dreaded disease. On the several occasions she had been admitted, she had come out stronger and ever determined to live her life. The most severe was at age 21 when she almost lost her life, but Margaret would never give up. She missed many exams at the N’jala University while battling with the disease, but she persevered and eventually graduated with a BSc in Home Economics and Community Development together with her batch of Class of 2017.
“Margaret Cassell has always proven in class, as well as in community outreach programmes, to have the ability and capability to proceed with her educational pursuit amidst the huge challenges that confronted her health. Having known her for over four years now, she is certainly studious, courageous, out-going and very diligent in her academic and personal aspirations,” says her former Supervisor, Raymond Rashid Momoh, Lecturer, Department of Agricultural Extension & Rural Sociology School of Agriculture, Njala University, Njala Campus, Sierra Leone.
Margaret’s mother, Florence Sesay, says it’s difficult to explain how she feels as a mother every time her daughter is knocked by the disease.
“All I can say is that Magaret is a different breed of sickle cell patients. She’s a very strong lady with a special will power and she has demonstrated that since she was diagnosed with the disease. Every time she’s knocked down by the disease she will get up stronger and determined to defy all the odds,” explains Florence.
Now, Margaret will be representing the Western Area Urban in this year’s Miss Sierra Leone Beauty Pageant (2019). She says she’s in the competition to represent the voices of the less-cared for, the unforgotten and the underprivileged. Over the past few months, as a volunteer at the Ola During Children Hospital, she has seen children battling with the sickle cell disease, and like herself, they have shown the fighting spirit to defeat the disease.
“It is because of those kids, people with disabilities, women and babies that have been sexually abused, the underprivileged and all of you that have suffered from one cause or another that I am in this competition.
“I want to stand at the international stage and be your voice; the voice of the voiceless. Because I know your pain,” says Margaret.
On World Sickle Cell Day 2019, Margaret found time to screen kids and adults for the disease at the Ola During Children Hospital. She also featured on local television talking about the disease and her life as a Sickler. Her message urged people to know their genotype and to marry someone compatible, which is the only way to prevent the disease.
Margaret has been passionately pursuing her dreams of becoming a model, a role model and a super model. She was 2nd runner-up at Miss West Africa Sierra Leone, held at the Radisson Blu Garden, on 26th December, 2018. She also participated in the FACE of AFRICA 2019 Modelling competition held in the Gambia on the 3rd of May 2019. Out of 28 models, she was in the top 5 selected for commercial category and the model with the highest votes. Magaret grew up in the Gambia between 1999 and 2012.
“I want to use my voice to advocate for those who are not being able to go through what I have been through. I want to tell them that, yes it might be difficult, it might be challenging, you can be raised by a single parent, you can go through different types of terminal illness but you can triumph over all. There’s so much I want to tell the world about my story and that I am a warrior,” says Margaret.
And for Margaret, winning the Miss Sierra Leone 2019 Crown will give her the right platform for her advocacy and will represent the beginning of a new chapter of her awesome story of survival.