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Barrier Breaker of the Month of August 2020

Barrier Breaker of the month of August Is….

Dr. Marcella Ryan-Coker from Sierra Leone

Jois: Nice talking to you. Welcome to the Barrier Breakers Corner. Thank You for wanting to do this interview with me, I am super grateful.

Marcella: No problem, thank you for having me.

Jois: My friend Desta gave me the link to your blog and after reading it I was so inspired and encouraged by what you were doing. It’s awesome having faith in God and seeking Him. I mean you’ve done so much in a little time. How did you manage to do that?

Marcella: To be honest, I would say I just put myself out there because initially like I said in my blog, I used to be very reserved. I was afraid to fail. For me it was better to stay in a shell or bubble, and do whatever I was doing but after I got to UCL (University College London), I realized that everything is possible so let’s go for anything and then I wasn’t afraid anymore. UCL is such a good school and sometimes I play the UCL card to see what life would offer me (lol). There were times I didn’t even believe it myself. I was like “OMG I’m actually doing this”. I think it was just down to me trying to actually push myself and not being worried about failing or being rejected. 

Jois: Okay

Marcella: I am  going to tell you one thing a professor told us when we just started our course. He said “when you go into the world of research or whatever it is you are doing, be prepared to be rejected” and everyday I think about that. Whatever you’re doing, whether you’re applying for a job or scholarship, Masters Degree or just funding for your business or whatever it is, there is a chance that it would fail and you would be rejected. I just keep that at the back of my mind when I try different things.

Jois: I think that is important to know, because I didn’t know about rejection; no one teaches that. Most parents try to give their kids everything and even when the kids ask and they do not have it, they try to provide. When you become used to that and you go out there and are rejected you are surprised because your parents or close family never did that to you. How come this person is doing this to me? And then you feel horrible.

Marcella: Like a shock, like a wake up call.

Jois: Yeah. Exactly. I think people need to learn that; Even when you become parents or in your circle of friends. People need to enlighten others about rejection; That it is normal, it’s not something you should commit suicide or go crazy over. 

Marcella: Society just demands perfection and the real world is not perfect. The real world is cruel, it’s brutal, it’s nothing close to perfect so I feel we have to do better with our kids, letting them know that they will win some and lose some but we all just have to keep moving. 

Jois: You are right. It actually helps you think of other ways of doing things. You become creative. It shifts your mindset, you have a different way of thinking, you become an open minded person and it’s not really a shock to you anymore. But OMG that part about failing I still struggle with that. I am afraid to fail. 

Jois: What made you afraid of failure?

Marcella: I would say part of it is just the way I was trained growing up. My dad used to jokingly say “if you are expelled from school, I will expel you at home and if you are suspended from school, I will suspend you at home”. My brother and I joke about it now but growing up that was always at the back of my mind. I also think I was a bit worried about what people thought about me.  Most of the time we really care about public perception and so to be seen as a failure, it’s like well this one is not doing well. You always think about what others will say, how they are going to look at you and even though it’s completely normal, people still look at you differently when they think or know that you failed.

Jois: Yeah…

Marcella: So I think those things kept me from actually blooming. I did not want to be looked at differently, I didn’t want people to think that I am stupid or that I don’t work hard enough neither did I not want my parents to look at me and say this child has been a disgrace to the family etc. I have realized that all those things are just what I thought and they were not actually the case.

Jois: I always used to say I don’t care what people think about me but when I think about it, I actually do care especially when you are going through a difficult time and thinking about how this person would feel and how that person would feel. For a very long time I used to be a people pleaser. I was always there for people, I would be doing so much stuff for people and then my schedule would become crazy, doing one thing or the other. I am learning to say ‘NO’ when I should and to say ‘YES’ at the right time because I am also important to myself. When you know you’ve made a mistake, you need to accept it and do better.

Marcella: Yes I agree.

Jois: So Dr. Marcella Ryan-Coker, lol, have you always wanted to become a Doctor?

Marcella: No. I was not one of those people who had this fancy childhood dream of becoming a doctor because they were inspired by other doctors around them, I wasn’t one of them. For me it was just a matter of choice, something that will give me a job, a good reputation and something that will make my parents happy. Back then in Sierra Leone there were not too many options, but now it’s sort of changing. When I was in the Sciences, the only actual professional jobs that one could get were Engineering, or Medicine and I knew that engineering would be a huge mess because my Math and Physics were not that great so I chose medicine instead. Along the way when I started, I realized that I loved the idea because I’m someone that is quite passionate about people and helping them. 

To be honest my early years were just about passing, I won’t even lie to you, it was about making it through that year and making myself and my parents proud. But then after my Pre-Med years, I realized that this is actually really nice and I became fascinated about the body in all the anatomy that we studied and I sort of found my way along the way to be honest. And it has been amazing. 

Jois: Congratulations. Well Done. I think that is important because some people sit and they want to do this, and do that and they are waiting for the right opportunity meanwhile you just have to take a step of faith and I think that’s what you did. 

This happened to me as well, I was not that kid that knew what I wanted to become. I was once in a youth meeting at church in London, I think my first year or so when the Pastor asked the youths “what do you want to become” and everyone was saying what they wanted to be. I did not want them to ask me because I didn’t know what I wanted. In ninth grade, I don’t know how you guys do it in Sierra Leone but in Gambia when you are going to tenth grade you need to choose what class you wanted to be in; Arts, Business or Science class but all I did was constantly pray that God show me where He wanted me to go because I did not know where to go or what I wanted to become. All I knew then was if you are in the Arts class you want to be a Lawyer, Science class was for the Doctors and I didn’t want to be any of them.

I did not want to be a Lawyer because I thought it was for people that were bold and outspoken and I was not. I did not want to be a Doctor because I hate hospitals, seeing blood and operations. Some people have told me severally that that’s a great place to make a lot of money but I know that’s not where I am called to. I admire and appreciate people in that field and what they do but I just can’t work there; the reason being, I am a very emotional person and I easily get attached to people and I do not want to be close to patients that are going through physical pain or who may not make it. I feel I will be in an emotional state all the time. They tell me ‘Oh you will get used to it’ but I know I can’t handle that all the time because that will always be the topic of discussion at home. I feel I would be affected by it so I’d rather not do it at all. 

Back to my story in Ninth Grade. So I prayed and I think I got my answer. I went to the Business Class and I have been in the Business/Finance world since then. Even when I moved to the US I was told to do Nursing, I refused because that’s not where God led me to when I prayed. I know I am going to be a business person, I don’t know what kind of business but I am just grateful for that. I am able to take the steps needed to move in the direction  where I have to be and that’s exactly what you did as well. Taking that step made you find your way along the way which is very good. I think people need to know that you just have to start, it might not be your favorite thing but you would find your way along the way.

Marcella: It’s all about the first step, then you start to realize your likes and dislikes and then you figure life out. It’s not a one day decision, it’s a lifetime of paddling and finding your way around.

Jois: Yea that’s true. So how did you gain your confidence? Because you said in your blog that you didn’t have any confidence after you finished medical school. What made you gain that confidence?

Marcella: So I found a mentor. I am going to say that it’s really important to have someone that inspires you and someone that you want to impress (laughs). When I started working, I found a mentor, he was a surgeon at the hospital that I did my first rotation. After medical school I used to stutter a lot, for example in this conversion that we are having right now, I would have probably lost my words a thousand times just because I was really nervous. This used to happen a lot and he sort of felt that I was always nervous about something and so he used to tell me ‘Marcella calm down, just calm down and breath you will be fine, this is not anything super hard that you cannot do, just remember all the time that you can do it if you want to’. I am not going to say that it was an easy journey, it wasn’t and to this day I still struggle a lot especially with crowds but I am way better than I used to be.

Back in school my friends used to feel so sorry for me when I had a presentation in front of the class. It was hard but now I laugh about it. It was proper anxiety, I had palpitations, my tummy will just be completely messed up. I will be so nervous my voice will break and it was horrible but then I found someone who just kept reminding me everyday that I can do this. He let me do surgeries, he let me say what I wanted without screaming even if I was saying the wrong thing, he would just let me say it and then he would let me know where I was right or wrong instead of just shouting back at me. 

Slowly, I found the confidence to speak up and reach out and that’s how I started and then I got to UCL. UCL is not friendly to people who don’t talk. We had all these small group sessions, it was calm and with no tension at all but you just had to say something because it was sort of like going around the table and so everyone had to make a comment or contribute to a discussion. One day at a time I got better and better and then I realised well as long as I breathe and not think about all these people I would be fine somehow. I am not a great public speaker but I am way better than I used to be and for me that is okay, as long as I am making some progress it’s fine.

Jois: I agree. It’s one day at a time. I used to be the same way; I would never answer a question in class even if I knew the correct answer. I felt that it could be wrong and probably the way I would say it people would laugh at me. It was real anxiety; I wouldn’t say a word. I was very quiet from elementary to junior school but somewhere mid high school I met a friend. I always tell her she was the one that made me talk. Also while studying in London, my classmates were always asking me questions about Math, Economics, Business Management etc and I was surprised. Why me, I could never understand. They said, ‘you know the answers you are always getting everything right’. I was like God how? 

The shift was just too much for me, students started looking up to me. That meant I could do this? I had to believe in myself and I think that’s one thing your mentor has taught you to believe in yourself, don’t look at what other people are saying or thinking or how they are looking at you. Some people are actually looking up to you and can’t wait for you to do well and so the onus is on us to always do right and always do what’s great so that we can impact other people’s lives. You talked about mentorship and I was gonna touch on that as well. How important is it for one to have a mentor?

Marcella: I would say it’s super important. For me that literally changed my life. It made all the difference in my life. I already mentioned this doctor who was really supportive but then I also had another doctor who was a woman who also just let me be; I looked at her and thought one day I want people to look at me the same way. That constantly motivated me to do better and then every time I did a case right or I did something right they just went around the whole hospital celebrating me, they would tell everyone in the hospital ‘oh today Cella did this, oh today Cella fixed this fracture’ etc and it literally made me so happy and wanting to do more. So I kept pushing myself to be better, I stayed up hours reading stuff and just trying to be better because I want them to look at me and think ‘Okay we are actually making a difference in her life’. They taught me so much, had the patience to listen to me and guide my dreams and support the things that I loved and it was really life changing for me.

So looking back I would say (even now) I have a few people that I look up to including these mentors that I’ve talked about, we still stay in touch. They don’t work in Sierra Leone anymore but we keep in touch. I still tell one of them about the progress that I make everyday or every couple of days. It’s really nice because he helps me look at the bigger picture. Sometimes I think about things and its not totally correct and he would say but have you thought about this other option. It’s nice to have someone that you can talk to like that, someone that supports your dreams, someone that sees that you can be better and lifts you up.

Jois: Yeaaaaaa

Marcella: Mentorship is something that is so overlooked and underrated in our setting. I look back and feel so really bad because I met some other people in my course and a lot of them had mentors that inspired them, that they looked up to and I feel like that is something that we should do more in Africa. I don’t know about other countries but in Sierra Leone we are trying to make strides in that area. A lot of organizations try to foster mentee and mentor relationships and they get people to coach others and that’s really nice. This makes my heart smile. It is really needed because if you have someone that inspires you and someone that encourages you, you’ll be a better version of yourself. 

Jois: Yeah I think it’s important. I also think one of the reasons why in Africa as well people do not have mentor(s) is trust issues, you are scared of who to tell what, you don’t know who is gonna expose you. People are really afraid of telling someone anything. Once they have someone that they trust they can always reach out to them. That’s one thing people need to do as well;  to find someone that they trust, someone they can share anything with that would not break their trust. 

You know in this part of the world some of these mentors that work under a company will have signed a document (I think an oath of silence) with the company they work for and you can go to them and talk about anything. Obviously if they go and say something about you, the company can be sued. Even at that they have other people that are really trustworthy that you can reach out to and I know even in Africa we have people that are really trustworthy, open minded and understanding. One just have to look for them and be able to speak to them because people face a lot of things and if you don’t have someone that you are actually talking to about anything, you will just bottle a lot of things inside, that’s why people commit suicide. Some people have committed suicide and others have said ‘Oh God allowed it to happen’. No! someone must have been going through a lot of things and they just couldn’t share it and they just covered it up. Sometimes families know but they just cover things up. Whether it is education, relationship, family etc. Whatever it is I think one needs a mentor or someone they can talk to and be able to move on in life. It is really awesome and is great what they did with you as well.

Jois: I saw that you met Prince Harry, How did you feel?

Marcella: It was amazing, it was absolutely amazing. They say that sometimes the whole universe just aligns to give you what you want. Well that was one of those situations. It was a Commonwealth event and usually scholars get to apply for them, and they’ll select a few people because not everyone can go to every event. I hadn’t applied for any event because I was struggling with school and deadlines so I thought I will just leave all these things for when I didn’t have any pressing classes at school. Towards the end of the school year right about May, they emailed and said there’s a garden party for the Commonwealth’s 70th anniversary celebrations so I thought well it’s the end of the school year I don’t have anymore classes, all I had left was my dissertation so I could skip a day to go for one event and that’s how I applied for it. I didn’t even know the Prince was going to be there.

Jois: I was just about to ask you if you knew.

Marcella: No. In the initial email they didn’t mention it and then in the email that they sent back to say we have accepted you to come to the party, they didn’t mention it either. It was the last one with the address and the final details that they said that the Commonwealth Ambassador His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex will be at this event.  I’m like ‘wait are you freaking kidding me’, I could not believe it, It was amazing. 

Jois: Lol. I can feel your joy right now. I know you couldn’t even do anything.

Marcella: I was just screaming. The best part was they put us into little groups so we could have a minute conversation with the Prince and I was the lead in our group so I actually got the honor of speaking to him.

Jois: Wow

Marcella: I was like, ‘can you believe this’, how lucky can someone be OMG. This could only be God. It was a coincidence and it was a blessing but it was amazing, like it was AMA-ZING. There were all these commonwealth alumni and people that were given awards, which was so inspiring, it was really nice.

Jois: I think this is what happens when you take a step of faith. You know sometimes we are so afraid of falling or failing but when you take that step, that leap of faith I believe this is what happens. If you hadn’t applied to UCL you wouldn’t have met the prince.

Marcella: Exactly, like all these wouldn’t have even happened. I was really blessed. I talked about meeting the Prince over and over again to my friends and my brothers until everyone got tired. I was like “can you believe I met Prince Harry, Meghan Markle’s husband”?

Jois: Lol. I definitely would have done the same thing.

Marcella: I was literally smiling, my face had no control. I was here in the moment, living it. This is just a dream I never had, but all things work according to God’s perfect will.

Jois: Yes Exactly.

Marcella: He has bigger plans 

Jois: Whether you are a Christian or not I believe that once you just take that step of faith there’s so many things that may come against you but you have to fight all the time and push forward. There are so many good things that come along the way that if you don’t take that step it would never come to you. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in life?

Marcella: Looking back when I think about how far I’ve come and all the things that I’ve had to deal with, I would say in Sierra Leone there are a lot of limitations in opportunities for people in general, in terms of jobs, career choice or anything you want to do. There are a lot of limitations. I also feel that as a woman you are even more limited.  Every time I go somewhere and say I work at a hospital someone asks “are you a nurse”? They assume that as a woman the only job at the hospital for you is a nurse. There is nothing wrong with nursing, nurses are fabulous we all work together but it’s just the little microaggressions that you have to deal with daily that is sometimes really frustrating and challenging; And if you don’t have a mind of your own or if you don’t have goals that you working towards sometimes, these things can just put you off or hold you back.

I also think that, being afraid, feeling like I am not good enough, this whole imposter syndrome, I think that was a real challenge to deal with. Even now, when I write something that I think is not good enough and I show my friends, they are really amazed. For example, when I wrote that blog post you read, I thought it wasn’t really good and did not want to launch it but then I sent it to my friend and I told her to login and see what she thought of it. She was really amazed. I sent it to someone else because I thought well she’s my friend so maybe she’s just buttering me up so I don’t feel bad. And the other person too also gave me the same response.

So I feel that just believing I am enough, I can do stuff, I can pull things off, it is something that I really had to deal with for the longest time. Even in my own successes, I kept second guessing myself but that has to do with how society is set up. You are not always encouraged to be bold to speak up. Now I tell myself everyday, you have to be bold, you have to speak up, you have to stop hiding in the shadows or being in a bubble. Those were real things I had to struggle with but I thank God we are moving slowly.

Jois: Yea one day at a time. What lessons have you learnt in life? 

Marcella: Hmmmmmmm well a lot in my short life. I would say that you have to work hard for what you want, no one would offer you what you want on a platter, it’s not going to happen. You have to really strive for it except for a few people who were born great whose parents are super rich and they don’t have to work for anything in life or they don’t have goals that they set themselves, they are just inheriting stuff which is not bad. There is nothing wrong with privilege but regular people have to really work hard for the things they want. 

The world is tough and the world is not lenient with lazy people so you have to really work hard for the things that you want and I’ve also learnt that the future is full of endless possibilities. Anything and everything is possible if you just put your mind to it, if you just set that goal and work towards it there is nothing you cannot do. 

The thing about life, there are no rights or wrongs, there are just lessons to be learnt. You can just follow that dream that you have no matter how big or small it is, it is valid. You just have to work hard towards it and everything is possible. Failure is part of the process as well, you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes because you’re going to make mistakes, we are human and its part of our being, we are not perfect so along the way you are going to take a wrong turn, you are going to make mistakes, you are going to look back and say ‘I wish I had known this or I wish I had not done that’ but then it’s all part of the process, it’s never too late to learn or unlearn stuff.

Jois: The problem with failure is when you stay down but when you rise up people see you. I believe that’s why some get angry or upset because they expected you to stay down. Some people would start saying so many things about you but I guess they’re just envious of the fact that you could rise up and face your fears or face the world and be able to move on and be a better person. Eventually I believe that your story is going to help somebody, your failure would help somebody in the future or even the moment you stood up. So yes you are right failure is part of it.

Jois: What encouragement have you got for people that are out there that feel like they’re stuck or this life is so hard I’m just gonna stay here? What encouragement can you give to people like that? 

Marcella: They just have to keep going. It doesn’t matter how many steps you take in a day as long as you are moving. They just have to keep moving one day at a time, one feet in front of the other, follow that dream, pursue the passion that you have, just keep going because one day you are going to really achieve something and you wouldn’t even believe it. For me I celebrate every little victory. When I tell you every little one, I actually do. For example after passing a module, I would have a bottle of wine, buy myself a cake or just something to make me feel happy because I really worked hard for this and I succeeded. So no matter how small that victory is, just celebrate it. It is a small step but it is a mighty step too. It’s just you walking towards your big day, that target that you set for yourself.

I know a lot of people feel like it’s not big enough and it’s not good enough but it doesn’t have to be like that because it’s little drops of water that makes a mighty ocean they say. As long as you keep moving forward, no matter how small the progress you’re making, one day like you said, that story or that slow progress is going to be the inspiration that someone else needs to keep moving. So as long as you’re moving as long as you take that step, no matter how slow, it’s not a competition. I tell myself that, in this battle, this life is me versus me, it’s not me versus anyone else because all our stories are different. I see people and they inspire me but I don’t compare. I don’t compare myself to my age mates or friends because all our stories are different. It is between you and you. Take your steps at your own pace and keep pushing. At the end of the day it’s going to be fine.

Jois: You’re right. I hear you speak and I feel like you’re speaking to me because sometimes it’s hard. I started Barrier Breakers Corner not being confident enough. Personally, I like to be behind the scenes and push people to the light but for me to step out and just be confident or even do a video is a problem. I started Let’s Talk Tuesday on Barrier Breakers Corner and the first time I did a post, there were a lot of comments but few weeks after it was going down but I could hear God say even if it’s one person that commented on it I should still do a video, I don’t have to wait for a lot of comments. It doesn’t have to be perfect all the time but one just has to take that step of faith and be consistent. I am so encouraged, I just shed a little tear, lol. I know this is God speaking to me directly.

For me to even come across your blog, I know it’s just God ordering my steps but I was also truly inspired by you taking that step of faith, and going there. I know you were saying that ‘oh I hope this would inspire people’, I want you to know that you have inspired somebody that you never knew at all, and that you stepping out on faith blessed somebody here in this part of the world. I don’t think you would have ever known. I am truly encouraged.

Marcella: I was really overwhelmed by the feedback that I got from the blog. When I launched that blog I didn’t even want to share the link. I told my friend I put up this post on this blog that I just launched but I was just scared to share it in groups. Then she made one post and dropped it in a group chat and then people kept forwarding the post and that was how people started reaching out to me and also to know about the course. 

They felt inspired by the story. I honestly didn’t see that coming but it was really nice. I feel that was God’s way of giving a little push to someone else. I’ve read a lot of stories that inspired me dearly but I never really thought my own story would be that inspiring. Today I checked the blog because I was trying to write a blog post and I saw that the story had 900 plus views and I was like OMG, it’s unbelievable.

Jois: Yeap it has been inspiring a lot of people. Maybe you haven’t heard it from the 932 people but just know that somebody out here in the USA has been inspired and God has used you to bless so many people I am sure. I am praying that even as I post this as well it will just encourage more people. I will definitely put the link of your blog on my blog so that people can also read more and be encouraged.

Link to her Blog Post  –

Marcella: Thank you so much for that. I was so excited that I even told my brother that someone wanted to do an interview about the post I put up. I didn’t see any of this coming.

Jois: And you’re gonna get more.

Marcella: I couldn’t reply to all the messages I got.

Jois: Lol

Marcella: It was really nice hearing from all of you.

Jois: We thank God for using you to be a blessing and I know this may just be the beginning but you’re definitely going higher. Like you said, just keep pushing forward. I believe that you will get to where God wants you to be. Be an overcomer and be a light to so many people.

Thank you so much for doing this with me, I am super, super grateful. We went above time but this was an amazing interview. Thank you so much

Marcella: Thank you so much for all you do as well, it’s really nice using the stories of other people. Every little story is inspiring and that will help others. It’s really nice what you are doing, keep doing what you do.

Jois: Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.

Marcella: You’re Welcome

Jois Donkor