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A stunning small tropical country of savannas, farmland and rainforests on Africa’s west coast, 90% of Sierra Leone’s six million inhabitants are people who are descendants of tribes native to Africa, while the remaining 10% are descendants of freed slaves.
Sadly, Sierra Leone is plagued with poverty and illness, made worse by a civil war that ended in 2000, from which the country has yet to recover. The conflict destroyed schools, hospitals, water facilities and businesses. More recently, Sierra Leone was hard-hit by the 2014 Ebola outbreak. The country’s struggle with its wealth of diamonds has resulted in a “resource curse”—despite its abundance of natural resources, it is estimated that 51.9% of the population live in poverty (World Bank, 2011) and life expectancy is among the lowest in the world. It has been heartbreaking for us to witness this firsthand.
WE Villages work in Sierra Leone dates back to the end of their civil war, when the country was in desperate need of academic infrastructure. We initially focused efforts on school-building, but soon expanded, implementing projects to improve communities’ access to clean water, health care and alternative income sources. Our local partner on these projects, the Sisters of St. Joseph Cluny, have been working in Sierra Leone for many years. Through WE Villages, we have provided rural communities with clean water by rehabilitating and drilling new wells and constructing latrines directly at school sites. The centrality of these water sources ensures that girls in the communities do not have to travel great distances to access water, thereby freeing them to attend school on a daily basis. These projects have been coupled with health and hygiene education at schools.