Thirty-three members and guests attended the club meeting on Tuesday September 14th to hear perhaps one of the most extraordinary and absorbing Member Behind the Badge addresses in recent memory. Rotarian Isaiah Lahai recounted his remarkable story, from refugee in Guinea, fleeing bitter civil war in Sierra Leone, to his arrival in Australia with wife Lovet and a growing family. In his talk, Isaiah described the horror of life as a refugee, his personal struggle to gain a foothold in his new country, his rise to prominence and his considerable philanthropic contribution, both here in Australia and in his country of birth.
Underpinned by deeply held religious convictions, Isaiah's story is one of resilience, courage, inner strength and a generosity of spirit that most would find very difficult to emulate.
Isaiah and Lovet  met in a refugee camp in Guinea when Isaiah was 18 years old. "She was the cure of much trauma in my life"
Sierra Leone, a country of almost eight million people on the west coast of Africa, possesses rich natural resources and one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. It was a British Colony, achieving full independence in 1961. The country's two largest ethnic groups are the Mende and TemneThe Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone estimates that 77% of the population are Muslim,  21% are of Christian faith and about 2% follow traditional African religion.  Historically Muslims and Christians in the country have been highly tolerant of each other. Lovet, who was born a Muslim, adopted Christianity when she married Isaiah, who came from a Christian background (his father is a pastor). Isaiah is a highly committed Christian and his family is equally committed.
Conflict in Sierra Leone erupted in March 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with the support of forces from Liberia, intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the All People's Congress (APC) government of Joseph Momoh. The rebels, aided by special forces troops from Liberia, were absolutely brutal, murdering, raping and disfiguring people with abandon, destroying villages and spreading terror throughout the country. In 1991 at the age of fourteen, Isaiah together with his parents and siblings, fled to neighbouring Guinea, seeking sanctuary.
Isaiah's Story on the ABC's 7:30 Report in 2013
Isaiah spent fourteen years in five refugee camps in Guinea, during which  time he received no formal education and had to live with the memories of the horrific events he had witnessed. Despair overwhelmed him during this time , there was no hope, there was no future, life seemed meaningless. But then something wonderful happened. He met Lovet.
Isaiah and Lovet were married in the refugee camp and together they began their family with the birth of their first three children. Sadly, they lost one to illness in 2003. In 2006, with the help of Isaiah's sister Ms Hawa Lahai who was by then living in Tasmania, they were granted entry visas to Australia, settling in Hobart.
Isaiah learned during this time the power of his faith, the importance of family connections  and the critical part played by education in helping to prevent despotism and alleviate poverty. He went on to complete studies at the University of Tasmania, graduating in 2014 with a Bachelor of Social Work. From his salary as a taxi driver in Hobart he helped fund and equip a school in his native country. 
Unfortunately Isaiah's introduction to Australia wasn't without its dark side. In 2010, while driving his taxi, Isaiah was racially abused and bashed by two young brothers, aged 18 and 20, both of whom were subsequently convicted. One received a suspended sentence while the other was jailed for nine months. Isaiah campaigned for his immediate release and, in a very moving moment captured on video, met the brother who had received the longest sentence. That young man had come to visit Isaiah and say thank you. He had learned something, as did all of us who listened to Isaiah's story and watched the video of that reunion; the power of love over hate, the strength of forgiveness over revenge, and the enduring value of a generous life.
Welcome to Rotary, Isaiah. We look forward very much to working alongside you in the year's to come. You have already amply demonstrated through a lifetime of service your commitment to Service Above Self, and your absolute willingness to Serve to Change Lives. There can be no better example to follow.
Isaiah and Lovet now have five beautiful children. All smiles at home in Australia.And with an old friend of the family!
A Living Philosophy
Isaiah actions in working hard for the release of his tormentor are deeply rooted in his religious philosophy.
(I )seriously campaigned for their immediate release as (I) don’t believe in punishment for those who hurt (me).
(I) believe forgiveness is not for the perpetrators alone. Forgiveness is mainly for the victim. If you don’t forgive people when they hurt you, it is hard to heal from a bad experience. Because each time you see the person that wrongs you, your heart and mind is bitter and can lead to stress and depression. But when you forgive people, you are free of the hurt and stress.
Video of Isaiah meeting the young man convicted and imprisoned for racially abusing and bashing him