Sierra Leone is a small, tropical country of savannahs, farmland and rainforests on Africa’s west coast. Despite having abundant natural resources, it’s estimated as many as 70% of people live in poverty, and life expectancy is among the lowest in the world.
This beautiful country is plagued with poverty and illness, made worse by an 11-year civil war that ended in 2000, and from which the country is still struggling to recover. That war destroyed vital infrastructure like school buildings, hospitals, water facilities and businesses.
More recently, Sierra Leone was hard-hit by the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Sierra Leone ranks low on the United Nations Human Development Index, a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.
In Sierra Leone, our goal is to give communities the knowledge, skills, tools and resources to combat poverty. We work with war-affected communities to give children a safe space to be kids, to gain an education, and to heal.
We currently focus on our education pillar.
Education is free and mandatory for all Sierra Leone children, but a chronic shortage of schools and teachers has made access to education nearly impossible for many children. The civil war, which destroyed 1,270 schools, only compounded the problem.
Nearly half of all Sierra Leone children between five and 14 are involved in child labor, while 36 percent of primary school-aged girls don’t attend school, and 52 percent of girls aged five to 14 are illiterate.
This is where WE Charity helps by building schools to support higher quality education and providing libraries and administrative offices.
The people of Kono District in eastern Sierra Leone fill the word “resiliency” with meaning, and their ability to pull through the trauma and destruction of this country’s brutal 11-year civil war is remarkable.
WE Charity first began working in this district in 2005 in two villages: Sukudu and Yomandu. When we arrived, people here were still reeling from the psychological and social trauma of the war—youth delinquency, illiteracy and unemployment were on the rise—and people were struggling to re-build their lives.
Since the Kono District partnered with WE Charity through Free The Children’s WE Villages, huge improvements have been made to the lives and wellbeing of the people who live here. Here’s how:
In 2005, the literacy rate among men in Kono district was 20 percent, and 10 percent among women. And only about 10 percent of children were enrolled in school.
At the time, there were no schools in Sukudu village, and only two schools in Yomandu were open. Overcrowding was a major concern, and there was only one teacher for every 67 students. Since then:
During the war, most of the wells in Sierra Leone became polluted. Since then:
Lack of clean water and sanitation contributed to the spread of diseases in Kono District, and malaria was one of the most common illnesses in the region.
When WE Charity began working in Kono, the community’s primary source of income, its farms, had been destroyed. In response to the overwhelming need in this area, we launched an animal husbandry program for women. Women were provided with goats and trained by experts in rearing and breeding them. This proved to be a steady and sustainable source of income for the community. This program has had a direct impact on 140 women and their families.
Adama G. Sesay stands in the shadow of a tall, lush tree outside a bright new school building. Although the desks inside are vacant and the campus is quiet, the construction has been cause for great excitement. These are the first four schoolrooms WE Charity has completed in Magburaka—news we have been thrilled to share with the community.
Adama, the nine-year-old president of Magburaka’s R.C. Girls Pre-School, is dressed in her bright blue uniform. She stands looking over the completed construction like a contented foreman.
“The work went well and fast because the workers are many,” she says.
Before the construction finished this month, Adama was in charge of relocating students away from the construction. The pre-schoolers studied in a temporary classroom, getting excited whenever they heard the rumble of trucks passing by with loads of materials. Adama visited every few days to survey the progress on behalf of the class. She was even part of a question and answer session where students asked the renovation crew questions about the construction.
Workers have also added new corrugated zinc roofing, which will keep out the rain. The bright blue paint on the roof, visible for great distances in the countryside surrounding Magburaka, is a local symbol of pride. It’s widely considered the best pre-school in the district. And what matters most: the whole community was engaged in the process.