Technological Innovation in Sierra Leone
After a civil war in the 1990s and early 2000s and an Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone is slowly recovering by investing in its future through technological innovation. The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, stated that “Science and technology is the bedrock for the development of any modern economy.” With its labor force consisting of more than 60 percent of subsistence farming and its GDP being agriculture-based, the West African country has its sights on technology to help diversify its economy. UNICEF, Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and businesses are working together to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans.

UNICEF and DSTI

President Bio created the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in 2018 to further his vision of developing a technology sector in the country. Dr. David Sengeh is the first Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI. UNICEF and DSTI have partnered to support the use of digital data. One result of the partnership is the Free Quality School Education Initiative. The initiative uses data science to help grant free education to every child and give fast feedback on test scores and the quality of education. MagicBox is an open-source data-sharing platform that UNICEF is investing in which includes partners such as Google and IBM. People can use MagicBox to map epidemics in order to reduce the spread of disease and it has helped Sierra Leone since 2014. Its first use was during the 2014 Ebola Crisis in West Africa. It can also collect private and public data on education and poverty.

Drone Medicine Transportation

UNICEF and the DSTI are also testing drones that could deliver medicine and vaccines. Drones could also send pictures and digital data of natural disasters to mitigate hazards to the public. Sierra Leone is the fourth country that UNICEF drone-tested. Aerial imaging, used for mapping infrastructure, transportation and agriculture, helps elevate the country’s development. Since it is one of the least developed countries in the world, drone data pertaining to infrastructure is a good first step in development. For example, only 10 percent of the roads are paved, making transportation slow and difficult. During the rainy seasons, rural floods cut off communities for up to six months. Drones could reach the communities, especially those with HIV and AIDS.

GEN-350

The GEN-350 is a new technological innovation in Sierra Leone that produces drinking water out of the air. Watergen created the generator called GEN-350 in its mission to provide affordable water to countries that lack clean drinking water. The generator simply needs electricity to operate. The GEN-350 can produce up to 900 liters of water a day. About 50 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water, so the generator reduces the possibility of waterborne disease. Waterborne diseases are one of the main causes of death in the country. Water sources for Sierra Leoneans include ponds, puddles and wells that chemicals from mining and agriculture have contaminated. Watergen’s GEN-350 is a long-term solution to clean and affordable water for those in poverty in Sierra Leone and the world.

Technological Innovation Ongoing

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $773,000 grant to DSTI’s GIS Portal in 2019 expresses increased interest in Dr. Sengeh’s goal to provide “real-time information for timely access and receipt of services, and optimize service delivery specifically in the provision of maternal healthcare services.” Although technological innovation in Sierra Leone is in its infancy, the government shows initiative with the creation of the DSTI.

A civil war between 1991 and 2002 tarnished its economy, but the country is seeing development as companies such as Watergen and organizations such as UNICEF provide solutions to alleviating the effects of poverty, such as poor education and polluted water.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

All As One is Fighting Child Poverty
All As One is an orphanage fighting child poverty in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world – 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The 340,000 orphaned children feel the disparities of this country in particular. They have a one in five chance of dying before they reach the age of 5 and a 57 percent chance of never learning to read.

Recently, The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak to the Executive Director of All As One, Deanna Wallace. During the interview, Wallace noted that All As One has been working in Sierra Leone over the past 20 years and that the orphanage has impacted “the lives of over 35,000 children and young adults, helping to bring change to a generation of children.”

How All As One Fights Child Poverty

Four main factors cause poverty in Sierra Leone including corruption within the government, insufficient infrastructure, lack of education and inadequate civil rights. Children often die at birth due to low-quality health care or starvation. The problem of child poverty worsened after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which left thousands more children orphaned and impoverished.

All As One is fighting child poverty in Sierra Leone by taking care of its most vulnerable children and young adults. The orphanage provides them with a home, education, medical care and other amenities as needed. While All As One does not offer adoption services, the amenities it does provide help these children establish a healthier lifestyle.

Wallace stated that, “All As One helps fight poverty on the ground level, mainly through education, so that their children can find jobs and support themselves as adults.” The organization also gives micro-loans to entrepreneurial young women with dreams of starting a business. In addition, All As One provides nourishing meals to 100 children every day, with hopes that these children escape the grips of poverty.

The organization currently has about 45 children in care and about 55 daily patrons from the surrounding community, who visit for schooling and food.

Life At the Center

Life for a child at All As One involves going to school, doing homework, completing small chores, having playtime in the afternoons, attending church on Sundays and occasionally going on outings. Reflecting upon these offerings, Wallace said that “the children we care for have it better than so many [children in Sierra Leone] like those who are forced into the workforce as a child.” A staggering 51.3 percent of children in Sierra Leone are subject to child labor.

Recent Strides in Fighting Global Poverty

Recently, five All As One students received the opportunity to take a university entrance exam. Although the test typically has a 95 percent failure rate, all five AAO students passed the exam and were able to continue on to attend university. Victories such as this encourage All As One to continue its fight against poverty in Sierra Leone.

– Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Flickr

Infection Prevention and Control in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone did not have an existing infection prevention and control program before its 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic. However, infection prevention and control is an essential element aiding in eradicating and preventing cross-infection among the community, patients, health care providers and hospital visitors.

The Current Course of Action

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation, with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has made significant strides in an attempt to get Sierra Leone’s health sector back on the right track. This partnership involves the implementation of the National Infection Prevention and Control Action Plan (IPC) to prevent future infection and disease. The IPC will enable the equipping of health facilities and open up conditions for the resources required for standard and transmission-based precautions. Further, the goal of the IPC aims to prevent and contain health care-associated infections.

The CDC’s Involvement

Disease threats are spreading faster than ever before but the CDC’s efforts in Sierra Leone have helped improve the country’s prevention, detection and ability to respond to infectious disease outbreaks. These abilities remain especially key before outbreaks become epidemics with the potential to affect global populations.

The CDC has played an important role in infection control in Sierra Leone, even establishing a country office in 2015 to focus on global health security. The CDC has been diligently working with Sierra Leone on surveillance, emergency management, strengthening laboratory and the workforce capacity to respond to disease outbreaks.

More than 700 CDC staff members served on over 1,000 deployments to Sierra Leone after the Ebola outbreak. Further, this makes it the CDC’s largest outbreak response ever in a single country. Sierra Leone, as of November 2015, is Ebola-free.

Keeping Infection and Disease Under Control in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has taken a different approach to sustain the infection prevention and control. The country has invested in ongoing training for its health care workers. These efforts have helped ensure a safe working environment for all, with lower health care-associated infection risks. Health care workers and hospitals have improved their disposal of waste practices, hiring individuals to clean, along with disposing of the waste.

In addition, Sierra Leone has heightened awareness of infection prevention and control with the aid of supported sanitation and hand hygiene campaigns. These campaigns aid in the creation of a culture of hand-washing and have drastically reduced cross-infection among patients, thus eradicating Ebola.

As Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO Assistant-Director General, states, “When health workers are infected at work, this puts other health care workers at risk. Understanding where the breach in these measures is occurring and taking the steps needed to fully implement infection prevention and control measures can put an end to these infections.”

Na’Keevia Brown
Photo: Flickr

Maternity Crisis in Sierra Leone
There is a maternity crisis in Sierra Leone. The country has the highest maternal death rate in the world, with one in 17 women dying from pregnancy or birth complications. This number could be even higher, as Sierra Leone’s 2017 Maternal Death and Surveillance Report estimated that seven in 10 maternal deaths go unreported. Below are seven facts about the maternity crisis in Sierra Leone.

Top 7 Facts About the Maternity Crisis in Sierra Leone

  1. The Majority of Maternal Deaths are Preventable: The top causes of maternal death in Sierra Leone are bleeding, pregnancy-induced hypertension, infection and unsafe abortions, all of which are preventable through adequate medical treatment, according to the World Health Organization. Bleeding is a particularly difficult problem for under-served rural areas where mothers do not have access to health care facilities. Another issue facing mothers is infrastructure. People poorly maintain many roads between towns and clinics and these make for a difficult journey for sick and laboring women. Again, road maintenance is a simple problem that can help reduce maternal death in Sierra Leone.
  2. The Majority of Mothers are Under 20: One hundred and twenty-five out of 1,000 mothers in Sierra Leone are under age 20 according to a 2017 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study. Maternity in Sierra Leone is particularly dangerous for adolescent mothers and 20 percent of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone were among teenagers. Beyond maternal death, pregnant teenagers in Sierra Leone lose out on life prospects – a 2015 law banned pregnant girls from attending school, and parents describe teenage pregnancy as the “ultimate shame” for a family.
  3. The 2014-2015 Ebola Crisis Halted Progress: Before 2014, Sierra Leone was making progress in reducing maternal death – from 2000 to 2015, maternal deaths dropped by 4.4 percent. However, the Ebola epidemic caused an immediate increase in maternal death through 2015. Sierra Leone planned to meet many Millennium Development Goals by 2015, but the May 2014 Ebola outbreak reversed progress, particularly in maternal health. Not only did Ebola put a strain on general health care in Sierra Leone, but it also dramatically reduced the number of health care workers in the country. A 2016 World Bank report estimated that maternal death could increase by 74 percent due to the extreme shortage of health care workers in the country.
  4. Programs for Maternity Care Still Need Funding: There is a dearth of doctors in Sierra Leone. For example, in the district of Bonthe, there are nine doctors for 220,000 patients and only 44 percent of births receive support from a nurse or midwife. Unfortunately, between the civil war from 1991 to 2001 and the 2014 to 2015 Ebola outbreak Sierra Leone, the burgeoning health care system in Sierra Leone lost momentum. The E.U., the U.N. and UNICEF have all devoted funds to maternity in Sierra Leone in addition to Partners in Health and other nonprofit organizations. Donations are critical to moving forward with maternal health.
  5. Sierra Leone’s Government has Committed Itself: President Julius Maada Bio announced in October 2019 that Sierra Leone increased its health budget from 8.9 percent to 11.5 percent of the country’s national budget to help combat dangerous maternity in Sierra Leone. On October 18, 2019, Sierra Leone opened a $1.6 billion maternity facility in Freetown to better serve the country’s largest city. Sierra Leone also launched a free health initiative in 2010 to help improve pre- and post-partum care. The government’s goal for maternity in Sierra Leone is to meet Millennium Development Goals by 2030, reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.
  6. Nonprofits are Deeply Involved: Multiple nonprofit organizations, including UNICEF, Partners in Health and the Borgen Project have covered issues with maternity in Sierra Leone. Partners in Health has been particularly successful, building a maternal waiting home and opening a health clinic in Kono in 2018. UNICEF provided safer water for mothers to help with illness and sanitation. These nonprofits prove that the crisis is not insurmountable.
  7. Celebrities are also Getting Involved: In October 2019, vlogbrothers, run by Hank and John Green, pledged $6.5 million to Partners in Health as part of his family’s initiative to bring awareness to maternity in Sierra Leone. John Green discussed how he traveled to Sierra Leone and saw first-hand the lack of hospital electricity, medical equipment and transport. He praised the efforts of the Partners in Health in developing a large-scale hospital system and making systematic changes and he asked anyone who can donate to do so. Currently, the vlogbrothers have a goal of $240,000 per month in donations – so far, they have approximately $194,000. The vlogbrothers are also providing updates on their donations and work with Partners in Health in Sierra Leone.

Motherhood should not be a gamble. Families around the world deserve to look forward to pregnancy and birth and not feel distressed. Multiple organizations are pushing for progress, but more is necessary. Support in any form, from awareness to donations, can only help the crisis of maternity in Sierra Leone.

Melanie Rasmussen
Photo: Flickr

Sierra Leone Health Care
Access to quality health care in Sierra Leone has been an ongoing struggle for many people in the country due in part to a history of war and conflict. Poor living conditions also have an impact on the percentage of the population with access to essential, life-saving health care services. Of note, in Sierra Leone, 73 percent of rural citizens live in poverty. Fortunately, both local and international powers are making attempts to change the status quo in order to create a more promising future for Sierra Leoneans. Keep reading to learn more about efforts to improve.

5 Ways Health Care is Improving in Sierra Leone

  1. In September 2017, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation proposed the National Health Sector Strategic Plan. The plan outlines how years after the Ebola outbreak of 2014, the disease still impacts survivors’ daily lives. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation proposes a long-term recovery plan to last until 2021. The proposal states its vision of “A well-functioning national health system that delivers efficient and high-quality healthcare and ultimately contributes to the socio-economic development of the country. This care must be of high quality, accessible, affordable and equitable to all Sierra Leoneans.”
  2. In 2017, the International Organization for Migration began the Strengthening Sierra Leonean National Health Care Capacity through Diaspora Engagement project. This project connects health care professionals in Sierra Leone with residents in rural areas, providing them with free health care assistance. Over 1,000 people living in the Moyamba District benefited from it because it provided surgeries, dental care and examinations to those who needed them. Although the project lasted for only two years, ending in March 2019, a new Mobile Health Clinics campaign began shortly afterward in May 2019 in association with the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health calling to continue to serve those in need of health care in rural towns.

  3. In March 2019, The United Nations Development Programme distributed 15 vehicles to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Because the country has many roads and other areas that are difficult to travel on foot, the vehicles allow people to deliver health care supplies to those in need more safely and quickly. The United Nations also trained Sierra Leoneanese, including 360 women, in the management of the Health and Sanitation facility. “Health-related issues shouldn’t be restricted to one agency,” said the UNDP’s Resident Coordinator, “there should concerted efforts from all stakeholders. Development starts with healthy people.”

  4. According to the World Health Organization, hand hygiene has served as a major issue within the country. Many people in Sierra Leone do not have access to clean water to wash their hands, which aids in the spread of diseases. In response to this and to support World Hand Hygiene Day each May, Sierra Leone now has handwashing stations near hospitals. WHO has also held events educating locals about the importance of handwashing to keep both individuals and communities disease-free.

  5. In September 2019, Sierra Leone’s government opened Rokupa Hospital in Western Urban District, Freetown, aiming to improve health care services for women and children. An estimated one in 17 women in the country dies due to complications from childbirth and the facility aims to provide women with access to better maternal health care. The hospital has added 4,000 new health care staff and increased the financial investment for health services by 2.1 percent. On top of the Sierra Leoneans government, the U.K. government and the United Nations Population Fund also funded the construction of the new facility.

Sierra Leone may have a long way to go to improve its health care, but its significant progress is impressive. With increased efforts, the country should be able to provide even better care in the future.

– A. O’Shea
Photo: Unspash

Food Insecurity in Sierra Leone

More than 40 percent of Sierra Leoneans experience food insecurity. This largely stems from the nation’s high poverty rate—53 percent of the population lives below the income poverty line—and the fact that 60 percent of the population performs low-paying subsistence agriculture work.

Efforts to address food insecurity in Sierra Leone, including those by the World Food Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Action Against Hunger, concentrate on combating these root causes and providing food to those in need.

Even though the food insecurity rate in Sierra Leone is still high, it has improved over the last several years, declining from 49.8 percent in 2015 and 43.7 percent in 2018. The percentage of households that are severely food insecure also decreased significantly, falling from 8.6 percent to 2.4 percent between 2015 and 2018. Still, approximately 3.2 million Sierra Leoneans continue to be food insecure and 170,000 are severely food insecure.

Furthermore, malnutrition in Sierra Leone is a persistent problem because of food insecurity. A 2018 survey found that 24 percent of households reported consuming food from less than three food groups in a week. This diet can have a dangerous impact, especially on children as malnutrition affects their physical health and making educational attainment more difficult.  Of note, 31.3 percent of children in Sierra Leone suffer from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition.

3 Organizations Combating Food Insecurity in Sierra Leone

  1. The World Food Programme
    The World Food Programme (WFP), active in Sierra Leone since 1968, works to provide aid to those experiencing food insecurity and malnutrition, as well as addressing some of the causes of persistent food insecurity in Sierra Leone. Some of the organization’s main goals are ensuring access to food for all, achieving lower malnutrition rates and helping smallholder farmers become more financially prosperous. To accomplish these goals, the WFP provides food assistance to those affected by disasters and emergencies, provides cash assistance to the chronically food-insecure and trains smallholder farmers to strengthen their market access and profits.One of the WFP’s most impactful programs is its school feeding program, which was launched in 2018 in Pujehun and Kamiba, two districts experiencing some of the worst food insecurity in the nation. A significant side effect of food insecurity in Sierra Leone is low schooling rates, especially for girls. To reduce the number of children a family needs to feed, parents sometimes arrange child marriages for their daughters. This effectively ends their education because girls who are married are rarely able to continue going to school.Providing meals at school helps encourage families to continue sending their children to school and helps reduce the associated cost for the family. It also ensures vital nutrition and can help reduce malnutrition and its effects, including stunting of growth. The Pujehun District has a stunting rate of 38 percent, one of the highest in the country, which reflects a significant need for a program like this.The school meals are not meant to be a substitute for home-cooked food, but they help ensure that children do not go hungry during the day and provide a consistent source of essential nutrients. The school feeding program reached more than 29,000 children, including 14,000 girls, in its first year.
  2. Action Against Hunger 
    Action Against Hunger has been active in Sierra Leone since 1991. Their programming is focused on improving sanitation, hygiene and water access, as well as food security. To decrease food insecurity in Sierra Leone, Action Against Hunger grows leguminous plants and vegetables to help diversify food and income for farmers. They also develop savings and credit groups to increase financial opportunities for smallholder farmers.In 2018, Action Against Hunger helped a total of 215,433 people, 8,000 of which benefited from food security and livelihood programs. They also strengthened 32 health facilities and helped improve nutrition for mothers and children under 5.
  3. The International Fund for Agricultural Development
    In March 2019, the government of Sierra Leone and the U.N. reached a $72.6 million deal to improve food security and rural income in the nation. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is providing a $5.9 million loan, a $5.9 million grant and allocating an additional $40.8 million to use for the deal between 2019 and 2021. The additional funds are being provided by the government of Sierra Leone and the private sector. This project seeks to tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sierra Leone by strengthening agricultural systems and empowering farmers.  Women and youth are hoped to make up at least 40 percent of the project in an effort to promote gender equality and provide opportunities for young people.IFAD will invest in agricultural mechanization, water management and irrigation, as well as create field schools for farmers and provide them with opportunities for greater financial security. The goal is to increase production and expand markets to raise smallholder farmers’ incomes, thereby tackling one of the root causes of food insecurity in the nation.

Sara Olk
Photo: Wikipedia

Community Healing Dialogues in Sierra Leone
There are historical misunderstandings and under-investments in social care for people with mental health problems. This is even more prevalent among people living in poor countries like Sierra Leone. People in Sierra Leone do not treat mental health as seriously as other physical health disabilities. Sierra Leone has a population of more than 7 million people and there are only two psychiatrists, two clinical psychologists and 19 mental health nurses. There are also only four nurses that have specialization in child and adolescent mental health. With a clear need for psychological professional help, there has been a rise in community healing dialogues in Sierra Leone.

Mental Health in Koindu

Like many towns in Sierra Leone, Koindu struggled after the Ebola epidemic. Some say that mental disorders and anxiety affected many citizens even after the virus outbreak. Koindu citizens go through similar psychological effects as war veterans.

After experiencing stigmatization and discrimination from within their communities, many survivors of the Ebola outbreak became stressed which increased mental health problems. Koindu’s community suffered distress with only a few mental health providers and little information about psychological pain. The USAID Advancing Partners & Communities project initiated community healing dialogues (CHDs) to provide care to the people.

Community Healing Dialogues (CHDs)

Trained facilitators lead the community healing dialogues. They unite the community members together to vent their concerns and come up with ways to solve them. The success of community healing dialogues in Sierra Leone is raising awareness about serious problems affecting group members. Community members are discussing economic and livelihood challenges as a group, and creating solutions. People, who formerly discriminated against Ebola survivors, are now accepting them back into their communities.

Once a week, the CHDs gather between 15 to 18 community members to talk about and promote the mental health issues in their communities. There are at least two social workers and two nurses per district to organize and facilitate Community Healing Dialogues. More than 705 community members in 45 communities benefit from this psychosocial care. Depending on the situation, people refer some members to higher-level mental health services.

Higher-Level Program Aid

The World Health Organization (WHO) developed the mental health gap action program (mhGAP) to provide more specialized services. The program trains higher-level health care workers and medical doctors around the country. The workers and professionals use procedures within the program to identify and diagnose possible treatment options for mental disorders.

The African region is widely using mhGAP. It is pursuing professionals who may provide more specialized care at the local recommended hospitals; Kissy Psychiatric National Referral Hospital, Connaught Hospital and Ola During Children’s Hospital. The WHO is collaborating with other partners within the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to provide technical support to continue strengthening mental health services.

There is now a better understanding and acceptance of how to treat mental health within the country. Advanced care solutions along with the community healing dialogues in Sierra Leone are improving the quality of care for the people in need of help.

– Francisco Benitez
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF Soccer AidFor over a decade, UNICEF has hosted its annual Soccer Aid, a charity soccer match featuring both professional and celebrity players to raise money for keeping kids around the world happy, healthy and safe. This year, the match was held in London on June 16, and raised a record-breaking £6,774,764 ($8,577,528.70 USD) in one night alone and £1,000,000 more than last year. The UK public, ITV and STV users all contributed, and the UK government matched each donation up to £3,000,000 to defend play for every child.

Helping Sierra Leone and Zambia

The money raised from the match will support the work of UNICEF to ensure that over 80,000 children in Sierra Leone and Zambia can have a childhood of play. The funding will help to provide lifesaving food, vaccinations, clean water, support for caring for mothers and babies and protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse.

Sierra Leone’s under-five mortality rate is in the 2nd percentile, having one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. The many causes of death in children are preventable. Most deaths are due to nutritional deficiencies, pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases, anemia, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Some of the attributable factors include limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, poor feeding and hygienic practices, and limited access to quality health services.

Zambia is a country with many adolescents. 53 percent of the population is under 18 years old, and many of these children–45.4 percent–are affected by extreme poverty. Almost 65 percent of children in rural Zambia are affected by three or more deprivations: access to nutrition, education, health, water sanitation, adequate housing, and physical and emotional abuse. While the infant mortality rate improved by 37 percent between 2007 and 2014, it is still in the 25th percentile. However, with the help of UNICEF Soccer Aid, these conditions can be improved.

UNICEF’s Impact

UNICEF has worked in 190 countries and territories over 70 years to fight for the lives of children around the world. Through their projects, including child protection and inclusion, child survival, education, emergency relief, gender discrimination, innovation, supply and logistics, and research and analysis, the organization saves the lives of nearly 3,000,000 each year.

UNICEF believes in the power of play and the joy of a carefree childhood. However, millions of children around the world are unable to be included in this objective due to disease, conflict, hunger and poverty.
Through play, children are able to learn how to interact with their peers and learn abstract concepts. Just 15 minutes of play can spark thousands of connections in a baby’s brain, and playing before they enter school has an impact on how they will perform.

Since its first match in 2006, UNICEF Soccer Aid has raised more than £35,000,000 and through projects funded by Soccer Aid and the UK government, they have improved the lives of 2,000,000 children and 903,000 pregnant women.

Over the last 13 years, UNICEF Soccer Aid has been able to change the lives of children by helping them reach their full potential. By bringing people together to watch a match and encourage donations, they are able to change lives in many in parts of the world.

– Alexia Carvajalino
Photo: Unsplash

Child Labor in Sierra Leone
Child labor is defined as work that harms children mentally and physically and deprives them of their childhood. Child labor is illegal in many countries, but some countries have found loopholes in their legal frameworks which enables the use of children in some of the toughest work environments. Sierra Leone‘s minimum employment age is 18, but it lacks the ability to enforce its laws. Here are 10 facts about child labor in Sierra Leone.

10 Facts About Child Labor in Sierra Leone

  1. Child labor affects 72 percent of children in Sierra Leone making the grand total almost 900,000. The children are between the ages of five and 14, and most are young boys. Employers put them to work in alluvial diamond mines and tunnels, which the world knows as the blood diamond industry. They often work in the agricultural industry harvesting coffee, cocoa and palm oil as well.
  2. Since the majority of parents cannot afford to send their children to school due to distance, costs of school uniforms and books, teen pregnancy or fear of sexual abuse from teachers, some parents put their children to work in mines, plantations and farms. In worst-case scenarios, parents may even sell their children into child labor because of poverty.
  3. Children working in diamond mines typically only make $0.15- $0.60 per day if they do not have a contract. If an employer does contract them, a child’s limit is $2.10 per day. They do not fare well as rebel groups own most of these mines and they threaten children with violence if they do not work.
  4. Pools of muddy sludgy water or puddles infest most diamond mines which attract mosquitos carrying deadly mosquito airborne diseases such as malaria. The potential medical complications for these children do not stop there. Many suffer respiratory issues, malnutrition, starvation, headaches, eyestrain, dysentery, dehydration, diarrhea, cholera and sexually transmitted diseases from their involvement in the fishing and mining industries, and sexual exploitation.
  5. The amount of child trafficking, sexual abuse and rape in Sierra Leone has provoked President Julius Maada to declare that Sierra Leone is in a state of emergency. In 2018, people reported 8,500 instances, and a third of these cases involved minors. Sierra Leone’s First Lady and other activists have suggested that that number may be higher because people do not report all instances.
  6. Sierra Leone’s economic growth heavily depends on diamond mining, which amounts to approximately half of its international exports.
  7. In the year 2013 and 2014, Tulane University’s study determined that there was a 51 percent rise in the illegal use of children working in the cocoa industry. Child labor drives the cocoa industry not only in Sierra Leone but also Cameroon, Guinea and Ghana. Some industry members claim that approximately 99.5 percent of child labor happens because of families rather than large corporations.
  8. Many disadvantages plague the process of bringing perpetrators to justice. Once a case enters to the criminal justice system for further exploration, they do not resolve. In 2017, Sierra Leone’s government identified 34 victims of sex trafficking and it did not bring the culprits forth to justice.
  9. The National Child Rights Bill has been working hard since 2007 to exterminate child trafficking, early marriages for children and enlistment in armed forces to name just a few. It has done this by providing a framework for how to care for children.
  10. Children enlisted in labor often emerge with psychological illnesses due to danger and abuse. Mental disorder is often associated with disgrace or dishonor in Sierra Leone which affects all child laborers seeking help or guidance. Lawfully adequate mental health care services are tremendously scarce resulting in a 99.8 percent treatment gap.

Hope for Lives

Ending child labor in Sierra Leone will take more than just a village. Thomas Bobby Smith, a Sierra Leone native, founded Hope for Lives, a successful nonprofit. This organization delivered seven donated hematology and immunoassay machines to a local clinic and installed them. In 2013, it revealed the Hope for Lives Library at St. Anthony’s Primary School in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. The library included 15-20 computers, open to 3,000 students upon fair rotation. It also offered constant computer lessons taught by a tech leader and computer and printing services for public use. Hope for Lives is doing all it can to give Sierra Leone’s children and youth options for success. Thomas Bobby Smith kept his momentum strict and faithful by sending another 50 computers to Sierra Leone’s remote areas in hope of creating successful computer labs.

The implementation of the National Child Rights Bill and work from Sierra Leone’s very own President, Julius Maada, are making strides to end child labor. Organizations like Hope for Lives should help revitalize the spirits of children and youth as well.

– Niesha Braggs
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in Sierra Leone

Situated towards the bottom of the bulge on Africa’s west coast, Sierra Leone sits on top of one of the most concentrated gold and diamond deposits in the world. But the country’s history as a prime subject of colonialism’s horrors explains why it consistently ranks as one of the poorest in the world. Here are eight facts about education in Sierra Leone that help gage context for the country’s current state of affairs.

8 Facts About Education in Sierra Leone

  1. Poor Education Statistics- As is typical in low-income communities, the country, now with a population of more than 7.5 million people, yields unimpressive statistics when it comes to categories such as enrollment, completion and literacy. A 2016 UNESCO report found that only 47 percent of all primary school students progressed to their last year, which is the American equivalent of fifth-grade. However this social problem is well recognized, and the country’s most recent president-elect, Julius Maada Bio, even incorporated it as one of the pillars of his campaign.
  2. Recent Switch in the System- In 2017, Sierra Leone switched its education structure from a 3-6-3-4 system. The current Sierra Leonean educational system now operates under what is known as a 6-3-3-4 structure. This means that a student’s “complete” schooling is broken into four parts: six years of pre-primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school and four years at a college program.
  3. Testing into Higher Education- Students face obstacles along the way through their education, as after the first nine years, which are compulsory education, they must take a Basic Education Certificate Examination which determines who can proceed to senior secondary school. Students that pass this test must take an additional test following their completion of senior secondary school: the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination.
  4. The Difficult BECE- This exam carries extreme importance, as its passage is necessary to be granted a spot in the Sierra Leone university system. Moreover, in 2011, only 47 percent of test-takers passed. Although alternative routes, such as trade schools, have been set in place to provide pathways for students that fail to reach this point, a general lack of funding towards them has resulted in their deterioration.
  5. New President Dedicated to Improving Education Standards- Bio’s election in 2018 meant a leadership transition from the All People’s Congress (which had been in power for the previous 10 years and had been consistently accused of corruption) to the People’s Party. In an article, the online publication Theirworld described his campaign as “tumultuous,” insinuating that the turnover was far from smooth. Despite this, Bio has since lived up to his campaign promises regarding education and is paving the way for better academic opportunities for future Sierra Leoneans.
  6. Free Education for Primary and Secondary Students- Bio recently launched a program that grants free education to the more than 1.5 million primary and secondary students in Sierra Leone, a move that holds tremendous implications towards reducing the country’s socioeconomic bias towards education completion. He also nearly doubled the country’s education budget, raising it from 11 percent to 20 percent of public spending. With the implementation of affordable education, Bio hopes to combat the low school enrollment and completion levels that have traditionally plagued the country.
  7. Free Teacher Training- The new education plan also includes increased attention to teachers across the country. The teacher competency rate currently hovers below a mere 50 percent across the board for all levels of education. Bio addresses this in his program by making teacher-education free and by opening teacher training campuses which are fairly distributed across the country.
  8. World Bank’s Positive Involvement- The last of these eight facts about education in Sierra Leone is that the World Bank is actively involved in the establishment of new programs working to remedy the aforementioned institutional problems with education. Their recent program labeled the “Revitalizing Education Development in Sierra Leone Project” has funneled $31.37 million into the education system since 2016. The fruit of this is the Performance-Based Financing (PBF) plan, where schools receive higher government grants funded through the World Bank based on “key contributors to school effectiveness”. These include student attendance, reading proficiency and school management practices. The PBF program enforces good educational practices, which in turn benefits the entire learning environment.

Even with all these improvements, it must be noted that Sierra Leone still faces significant gender discrimination in its education system, as women are currently significantly underrepresented. For instance, in 2015, the male literacy rate almost doubled the female literacy rate for the population aged 15 or older.

However, hopefully, the trend of inclusion rooted in uniform equity being promoted by Bio will soon extend to all people, especially those historically excluded. His sentiment is echoed in his own words as he said during his campaign, “Education is a fundamental right for all Sierra Leoneans.”

– Liam Manion
Photo: Global Partnership