Technology in Sierra Leone
Ranking as one of the least developed nations in the world, Sierra Leone aspires to increase development through investments in advanced technologies. President Julius Maada Bio’s ambitious plans for digitization center around the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation led by Dr. David Moinina Sengeh. The creation of DSTI could have a revolutionary effect on the government’s capabilities to help its citizens and progress the technology in Sierra Leone.

What is DSTI?

DSTI is the main element of the Sierra Leone National Innovation and Digital Strategy. It emerged in 2018 and is based on the philosophy of “digitization for all.” Its primary mission is to use science and innovation to promote the Medium-Term National Development Plan, which strives to improve people’s lives through education, inclusive growth and a strong economy. Furthermore, DSTI hopes to make Sierra Leone a country where innovation can thrive and where people of all ages can come together to lead their own start-ups and initiatives.

Headed by the country’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Sengeh, DSTI has created an opportunity for the development of technology in Sierra Leone for its citizens. One of those opportunities presents itself in the form of a partnership between UNICEF Sierra Leone Country Office and DSTI. The organizations have come together to create government processes that revolve around the use of data for successful decision-making. The UNICEF Office of Innovation team provides its expertise and advises DSTI regularly. This support will strengthen and secure the partnership and aims to improve the lives of Sierra Leone’s women and children.

Current Technology in Sierra Leone

In 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported DSTI with a grant of $131,130. This grant assisted the plan for a viable and cost-effective drone-delivery system for Sierra Leone’s medical supply chain. Drones could potentially provide access to places in Sierra Leone that others previously thought were too remote or too difficult to navigate. The efficacy of these drones allows authorities in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation to have on-demand delivery for essential medical supplies; restock rural community health centers and hospitals in a timely, cost-effective manner; extend limited diagnostic coverage and decrease response time to pathogen outbreaks. DSTI has joined forces with the National Medical Supply Agency and development partners and intends to plan a five-year project that integrates a nationwide medical delivery service in Sierra Leone using drones.

In April 2019, Sierra Leone became a drone-testing site to better the lives of children in the more rural areas of the nation. UNICEF and the government of Sierra Leone established a drone corridor aiming to develop and test drones for “aerial imagery and transportation.” DSTI and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation lead the project for the drone corridor. In addition to aiding Sierra Leone’s medical system, the drone initiative will set up education programs. These programs will help locals build the skills needed to use and maintain the drones.

The Importance of Technological Advancement

In September 2019, President Bio revealed the first portable DNA sequencer. This sequencer can provide quick, efficient information in multiple fields such as medicine, agriculture, food, water and education. Additionally, police can utilize the sequencer for investigating sex crimes. This is a huge breakthrough for Sierra Leone because President Bio had declared a national rape emergency earlier that year.

All these technological and scientific breakthroughs have a transformative effect on Sierra Leone’s government and its ability to meet the needs of its citizens. Along with improving the nation’s development, Sierra Leone could provide a blueprint for the rest of Africa and recognize the nation’s economic potential.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Sierra LeoneAs the COVID-19 pandemic emphasizes the importance of protecting vulnerable people from human trafficking, the need for a global solution has never been greater. Preliminary research shows that Sierra Leone acts mainly as a country of origin from which traffickers move individuals; this refers to victims trafficked within the country and abroad. Traffickers traffick both adults and children from Sierra Leone for a range of different purposes, including prostitution, labor, service as child soldiers and adoption. The government of Sierra Leone does not fully meet the minimum criteria for the prevention of human trafficking, but it demonstrates increasing efforts to do so.

Trafficking as an “Emerging” Issue in Sierra Leone

Civil society groups regularly comment that trafficking is “an emerging issue” that has existed in Sierra Leone for a long time, but now has a fresh identity as a form of exploitation. Traffickers move a large proportion of Sierra Leoneans internally from mostly rural areas to cities and towns. This form of trafficking impacts a significant amount of children who experience exploitation for sexual or labor purposes.

However, the population generally did not have access to knowledge about internal trafficking. Many people understood this term only in a very limited sense involving the abduction of children for adoption abroad. Overall, there was a great deal of uncertainty about what did and did not constitute trafficking. As an emerging issue, there is an urgent need to clarify the subject among civil society, the government and the population. This will require comprehensive awareness-raising and sensitization activities, as well as technical training. Addressing trafficking problems efficiently can help people make wise decisions about counter-trafficking interventions. Child protection agencies across the globe will therefore benefit from the successes and lessons learned from counter-trafficking efforts.

Sierra Leone as a Source Country

Information collected from various destination countries reveals that traffickers have trafficked Sierra Leoneans abroad for different forms of exploitation. Much trafficking to the E.U. appears to be for prostitution, as data shows that all assisted trafficked persons in the Netherlands were working in the sex industry. In the Middle East, Lebanon underwent identification as a key destination for Sierra Leonean children. Traffickers generally recruited them with promises of education or well-paid jobs. However, in reality, these children worked as domestic workers and often experienced sexual exploitation from their employers. Available data suggests that traffickers trafficked children to West Africa for working in plantations in Guinea and on the Ivory Coast, begging, committing petty crimes and prostitution. The presence of Sierra Leonean unaccompanied minors (UAMs) in various destination countries is arguably a signal of trafficking risk.

It is important to be aware of the extent to which human trafficking is an issue and how trafficking cases occur. Baseline information that one can use to evaluate the further growth of the problem, as well as the effectiveness of the policies and programs in place to tackle trafficking must also emerge. More in-depth qualitative research is necessary to understand the nature of trafficking in the country, including the recruitment process, the routes and destinations, victim profiles and the forms of exploitation.

Government Action

The government has demonstrated substantial efforts to prevent human trafficking; therefore, Sierra Leone has received an upgrade to Tier 2. These efforts included the increase in investigations and prosecutions, the arrest of traffickers for the first time in 15 years, increased training for trafficking officials, the commitment of an NGO center to the development of victims’ shelters and the establishment of anti-trafficking task forces at the district level.

However, the government still did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Shelter and services, especially for male trafficking victims, remained inadequate. Law enforcement did not investigate past reports of corruption and complicity which impeded law enforcement efforts. Sierra Leoneans remained susceptible to traffickers as labor migrants. The government had to rely heavily on NGOs and private shelters, including UNICEF — a large advocate against child trafficking in Sierra Leone.

Recommendations to Stop Human Trafficking in Sierra Leone

The key to stopping and addressing human trafficking in Sierra Leone will be the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation. The police must learn about the recent trafficking law and its required elements, and the judiciary must receive training regarding how to enforce the law. Enforcement of policies and legislation on child protection needs to undergo urgent development. The porous nature of the borders of Sierra Leone requires attention in order to tackle trafficking and other forms of crime. Moreover, awareness-raising campaigns and income-generating programs must target rural areas that many trafficked children originate from. While human trafficking in Sierre Leone is a serious issue, the increased counter-trafficking efforts are a step in the right direction.

– Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

Wheelchair DonationThere are 100 million people in the world who need a wheelchair. However, of this number, an estimated 75 million can not afford one. A low-cost standard wheelchair costs anywhere from $100 to $300. In countries where families live on less than a dollar a day, that cost is astronomical. Therefore, they rely on wheelchair donations.

From genetic disorders to infections that require amputation, people need a wheelchair for any number of reasons. In Sierra Leone, 1,600 people are amputees due to the devastating civil war that ended in 2002. Countries in Africa that have been hard-hit by Ebola, Malaria and other diseases are home to thousands of people that need wheelchairs but can’t afford them.

These people regain their sense of dignity and self-worth when they can move freely on their own. Without the assistance of a wheelchair, they have to rely on others to get from place to place. This makes school and work extremely difficult. With a wheelchair, people with physical disabilities can bring themselves to work and school, breaking themselves out of the vicious cycle of disability and poverty. Here are three organizations that are helping to make mobility a reality for people through wheelchair donations.

Walkabout Foundation

The brother and sister team Luis and Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster founded Walkabout Foundation in 2009. In 1994, Luis suffered damage to his spinal cord in a car accident. The injury paralyzed him and doctors told him he would never walk again.

Since its creation, Walkabout Foundation has donated 17,400 wheelchairs to people living in poverty in 25 countries. The foundation has also raised $1.642 million for research and founded two rehabilitation centers, one in India and the other in Kenya.

“Walkabout Foundation restores dignity, freedom and independence by providing wheelchairs and rehabilitation in the developing world and funding research to find a cure for paralysis,” the foundation’s homepage reads.

Free Wheelchair Mission

Free Wheelchair Mission is a faith-based organization that raises money for and donates wheelchairs to developing countries. It celebrates its official 20th anniversary this year.

The organization builds its own wheelchairs, which engineers have designed with cost efficiency and availability in mind. For example, the wheelchairs’ wheels are bicycle wheels because bicycles are a common mode of transportation almost anywhere in the world, making replacement parts for the wheelchairs easy to find and install.

In the 22 years since Founder and President Don Schoendorfer started producing and donating wheelchairs, Free Wheelchair Mission has donated more than 1.2 million wheelchairs in 94 countries.

Latter-day Saint Charities

Latter-day Saint (LDS) Charities is the humanitarian section of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among its many charitable outreaches, it provides not only wheelchairs but also education on how to maintain and build wheelchairs so that community members can build their own wheelchairs.

In 2018 alone, LDS Charities made 53,800 wheelchair donations in 40 different countries. Volunteers work together with local governments and non-governmental groups to distribute wheelchairs and provide training for those receiving wheelchairs, their loved ones and their communities. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, LDS Charities made 21,365 wheelchair donations in 2020.

Vulnerable groups receiving these wheelchair donations from the three organizations and others alike have their lives changed forever. The gift of mobility is irreplaceable and invaluable, improving the living conditions of those with physical disabilities.

– Holly Dorman
Photo: Flickr

American Peacekeeping
The role of United Nations peacekeeping forces – impartial troops that the U.N. deployed to ensure the promotion of human rights and democratic ideals – has been in question for years, especially due to concerns over their efficacy in situations where decisive military action is necessary. It is partly due to these concerns, as well as general opposition to international organizations from the Trump Administration, that American contributions to peacekeeping efforts have waned over the last five years. However, recent evidence shows that American peacekeeping not only plays an important role in the stability of many fragile democracies but that it often serves American interests more efficiently than U.S. military action could.

Controversy Over American Peacekeeping

U.N. peacekeeping efforts have long been the subject of controversy over their efficacy in conflict zones. Peacekeepers bind themselves to neutrality and may intervene only when the country in question invites them and use force exclusively in self-defense.

Traditional peacekeeping operations had the intention of maintaining demilitarized zones between warring parties in order to prevent either party from taking advantage of the other through abuse of cease-fires. An example of this includes the U.N. peacekeeping operation based in Jerusalem to prevent violence between Palestine and Israel. Peacekeeping’s detractors often point to this example as proof of the endless and ineffective nature of peacekeeping, given the failure of the Jerusalem mission to produce a peaceful regional agreement despite being implemented over 70 years ago. A better-known example of inefficacy in peacekeeping is the Rwandan genocide, where U.N. blue helmets – rendered powerless due to orders forbidding them to intervene – became witnesses to the slaughter of over 800,000 people.

Given the failure of the Rwandan peacekeeping mission and the fact that the kind of territorial conflicts the peacekeeping program intended to prevent are becoming less common, many believe that peacekeeping has no future in an era that ideological conflict and extremism define. This perspective, however, ignores blue-helmet successes and peacekeeping’s cost-efficiency in comparison to military interventions.

The Success of Peacekeeping

Blue helmet successes in East Timor and Sierra Leone point towards a new kind of peacekeeping that includes the mandate of military force where necessary in combination with the promotion of locally-led sustainable development initiatives. In East Timor, a country that integration with Indonesia and a desire for independence once tore apart, pro-integration militias began a bloody campaign which resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of many more. After successfully registering hundreds of thousands of citizens to vote in a poll that demonstrated overwhelming support for independence, the U.N. provided peacekeepers with a mandate to restore stability to the region and assist in creating a local government. The multinational forces were successful in their use of force to quell violence in East Timor, and worked with local leaders to implement a new government that the Timorese designed rather than having Western nations force one upon them.

One can also see the efficacy of peacekeeping in the example of Sierra Leone, where a bloody civil war raged over the last decade of the 20th century. In the wake of a conflict that human atrocities characterized, U.N. peacekeeping operations (though initially modest) eventually brought nearly 18,000 troops into the region with the intention of restoring peace and disarming the country’s warring parties. In 2000, the U.N. negotiated a cease-fire under the Abuja Agreement, at which point peacekeeping operations shifted to prioritize the facilitation of fair elections and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. Peacekeepers remained in the region until 2005 to ensure stability, and later surveys found that over 80% of Sierra Leoneans approved of the U.N.’s response to the conflict.

American Support for Peacekeeping

Under the Trump Administration, American contributions to the program have decreased from 29% of the American peacekeeping budget to under 25% over the last five years. Despite being the only organization for effective “burden-sharing” in the international effort for security, the Trump budget cuts stemmed from the belief that American contribution to the U.N. was unfairly large. The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations. Each country’s participation, however, depends on its size, wealth and veto power.

Despite claims that peacekeeping does not benefit American interests, recent studies show that it can be more efficient than American military intervention. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that, though U.N. peacekeeping operations cost roughly $2.4 billion (USD) over three years in the Central African Republic, a hypothetical American military operation with similar objectives would cost more than twice as much. When one factors this cost-analysis into the benefits to the U.S. from the global security gained by peacekeeping operations, it becomes clear that continued contribution to peacekeeping is in the best interest of American security.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: United Nations

Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone

Maternal mortality may not be a constant fear of yours if you think about pregnancy. However, this threat has not been eliminated in many parts of the world. Simply because developed countries have significantly decreased this issue with medical advances, many women in various regions must contend with this terrible plight. Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone, specifically, is still considered to be of high risk and something women should consider prior to pregnancy.

The Most Dangerous Place to Become a Mother

The most dangerous place in the world to become a mother, in fact, is Sierra Leone. This country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates globally. Around every one in 17 pregnancies end in the death of the mother- an overly alarming statistic. An endeavor that is supposed to be filled with joy and excitement is now clouded with fear as mothers worry about their health instead of being able to focus on their babies. This worry is not one experienced globally: Sierra Leone women are 300 to 400 times more likely to die with each pregnancy in comparison to women in Sweden, Finland, and other high-income countries.

Factors That Contribute to Higher Rates of Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone

Postpartum hemorrhaging has accounted for 32% of deaths along with bleeding, hypertension, abortions, obstructed labor, and infections. Hemorrhaging is problematic because a blood transfusion is required immediately to resolve the issue. However, when a woman gives birth at a local clinic, it can take hours to transport her to a hospital for the procedure. Unfortunately, many women bleed to death while waiting. However, most of these conditions can be treated with the correct healthcare, but due to extreme poverty, an overwhelming percentage of families do not have access to the necessary care.  This has resulted in unnecessary deaths.

Another significant factor that contributes to higher maternal mortality rates is that women in low-income countries tend to have more children. As a result, this increases their risk of complications. On average, women in Sierra Leone have five children, which, is considerably high when looking at countries like the United States whose average is 1.73 children. More children typically mean earlier pregnancies. In a 2016 report, researchers found 20% of deaths were girls ages 15 to 19 years old; a grim statistic especially when considering a 15-year-old is three times more likely to die during childbirth than a 22-year-old.

The Good News

Although the facts appear troubling, all hope is not lost. The United Nations has recognized maternal mortality as a serious issue. Thus, it has begun to combat the risk of death during pregnancy and the six weeks that follow.

The UN agency called the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) has started supporting midwifery through three government-run schools that graduate 150 students each year to tackle the high mortality rates. This alone will not improve the situation, as the majority of women in Sierra Leone already have midwives. It should result in better outcomes as these midwives will be better trained and even more common.

The UNFPA also focuses on family planning which reduces mortality by 25 to 30%. This UN organization provides 90% of the country’s forms of contraception through an annual $3 million budget. They estimated that from 2015 to 2017 this service prevented 4,500 maternal deaths and 570,000 unplanned pregnancies.

Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone may be among the highest rates in the world, but the country is taking imperative steps to diminish the risks, steps that have been working thus far. By 2023, UNFPA hopes that they can reduce adolescent births to 75 per 1,000. This, in turn, will massively decrease maternal mortality.

Victoria Mangelli
Photo: Flickr

FGM in Sierra Leone
People in Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia frequently practice the archaic custom of female circumcision or female genital cutting. The act involves the cutting away of the external genitalia from young girls for non-medical reasons and often results in severe pain, bleeding, infections, and in the most severe cases, death. Moreover, victims of female genital mutilation also frequently suffer from fertility issues, pregnancy and childbirth complications and mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorders, that inhibit their individuality and sexuality throughout their youth. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone remains a common practice throughout the country as only 10% of Sierra Leonean women have been able to evade the tradition. Here is some information about FGM in Sierra Leone.

The Social Norm

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide have experienced female genital mutilation as the practice has become so heavily integrated into the patterns of the societies they live in; the custom is often essential in traditional initiation rites and marriage rituals, and because these societies are highly patriarchal, girls have no choice but to undergo FGM due to their male counterparts dictating it. Additionally, many also view female genital mutilation as a symbol of status and honor to families, making it a social norm that girls have no choice but to abide by. Two million young girls are at risk of female genital mutilation every year as this archaic tradition lives on.

Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the 28 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation is a common practice to this day. The practice, which an elderly female figure in Sierra Leonean villages typically performs, occurs in unsafe and unsterile environments. Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone often happens without proper medical equipment; elderly women perform this operation with razor blades, penknives and even shards of broken glass without receiving any training on any medical practices. With these women severely uneducated about the gross human anatomy yet performing dangerous procedures without the proper tools, girls end up in dangerous health conditions where they experience laceration and infection without medicine to offer relief. UNICEF estimates that nearly 90% of all Sierra Leonean women have suffered genital mutilation.

FGM in Sierra Leone is particularly dangerous for young girls who are in poverty and live in poor and rural villages. Individuals in poverty are more vulnerable to the most unsafe conditions when undergoing female genital mutilation as they have little to no access to monetary means to acquire the necessary medical supplies during and after the mutilation. Moreover, classism plays a significant role in this archaic practice as more affluent families are able to afford a private medical professional to perform the procedure safely while impoverished girls must fend for themselves.

A Brighter Future

Because female genital mutilation is a practice inherently ingrained in the Sierra Leonean culture, attempting to pervade the custom is a difficult task. However, one may find a brighter future in the women who had once undergone this archaic practice. The Amazonian Initiative Movement is a nongovernmental organization in West Africa that campaigns to ban FGM in Sierra Leone and neighboring countries. Rugiatu Turay created it in 2002 with women who met in a refugee camp in Guinea during the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone. As the organization’s leaders themselves have experienced the horrors of female genital mutilation and the abuses of societal patriarchy, the activists have long searched for a resolution and discovered that the strongest combatants against the tradition are education and literacy.

With an estimated 66% of the Sierra Leonean population illiterate and 60% living beneath the poverty line, education and gender equality campaigns directed towards young girls have become some of the best ways to resist female genital mutilation. Moreover, the initiative offers a safe house for young girls who are fleeing from domestic abuse, forced marriage and genital mutilation where they can live, become educated and learn how to provide for themselves independently. The Amazonian Initiative Movement has empowered young women so that they may be capable of making their own choices with their bodies with the hopes of one day eliminating the dangerous practice of female genital mutilation throughout West Africa.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

How the Maternal Mortality Rate is Decreasing in Sierra LeoneThe capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, is historically known for being a home for freed slaves during the transatlantic slave trade, giving Sierra Leone a prominent place in history. However, the small west African country boarding Guinea has faced many adversities. One is the significant increase in adolescent pregnancies and fertility being some of the highest in the world. Women in Sierra Leone have “a one in 17 lifetime chance of dying during pregnancy, delivery or its aftermath.” This article will discuss the main reasons for the decreasing maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone.

Data Behind the Mortality Rate in Sierra Leone

For the government of Sierra Leone, keeping a consistent record of deaths was nearly nonexistent during the Ebola outbreak. According to an article by Financial Times, Dr. Sesay, who is “the government’s director of reproductive and child health,” conducts the government’s response to the maternal deaths. According to Dr. Sesay, procedures are set out to lower the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone. “We’ve put in place a maternal death surveillance and response team, and developed a technical guideline. When a death is reported, they go and confirm.”

Part of the surveillance is ensuring that reporting the deaths is imperative. This requires health workers within communities to report the deaths to major health facilities. Furthermore, this is vital to decreasing the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone as it ensures that all families are accounted for and not misrepresented in the sample population. However, the same health workers reporting the data are the same ones attempting to save these expectant mothers’ lives, which stretches on the ground workers.

Looking at the Numbers

Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone had reached 1,070 deaths between January to June of 2020. According to a report by the ministry of health and sanitation in Sierra Leone, from January to March of 2020, there was a total of 581 maternal deaths. And from April to June of 2020, the total was 489 maternal deaths.

Equally as important, the predominant reference of data for maternal deaths is CRVS (Civil Registration and Vital Statistics). The issue is that Sierra Leone doesn’t recognize this system of data reporting. When this occurs, other data systems are created, such as surveys and various studies, which leaves more room for inaccurate information. The organizations the World Health Organization, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, the United Nations Population Fund and the World Bank Group have collectively concluded that not all deaths can be recorded due to “systematic error.” Meaning the data presented won’t be accurate due to the actual number being lower or higher and this will impact how the maternal mortality rate is decreasing in Sierra Leone.

However, when using CRVS, “records will be systematically lower than the true number because there will always be deaths that go unreported. This is referred to as a systematic error.” Along with systematic error, there is the possibility of “random error,” meaning when a health worker records inaccurate information. This increases the inaccuracy of maternal deaths in Sierra Leone. Considering health workers are underpaid and overworked, random error is present when recording maternal deaths.

How to Improve Maternal Mortality Rate Efforts

There are multiple ways of decreasing the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone. However, today’s most beneficial way is by increasing and encouraging education for traditional birth attendants (TBAs). Undergoing childbirth for many women in Sierra Leone in the past meant being at home and having a TBA present. Usually, a TBA is an elderly woman from within the community and is often referred to as “auntie” or “mother.” Although this may sound beneficial and comfortable, such as having a midwife or doula, according to the government, TBAs were the primary reason for the country’s maternal deaths.

If patients were to have any complications during delivery, the TBA would inform the patient that emergency transportation would take too long to arrive and going to the nearest clinic would take too much time. In most cases, patients would bleed out as healthcare officials would arrive too late. The government attempted to resolve this issue by ratifying a law in 2010 forbidding TBAs to assist in deliveries outside of a clinical environment. If a TBA and anyone else taking part in the process, including the expectant mother, were caught defying this law they would face extreme retribution.

Established in 2001, the non-governmental organization IsraAID is working towards providing “emergency and long-term development settings in 50 plus countries.” The organization also has a medical care program that targets “reproductive health,” along with expanding educational opportunities. For the maternal mortality rate to decrease, the government of Sierra Leone has to establish effective maternal mortality reporting data and education for TBAs.

—Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health
John Green and Hank Green, known as “the Vlogbrothers,” started a YouTube channel in 2007 called Brotherhood 2.0. It was a place for the two brothers to talk to each other through daily videos in hope of bonding. Over 10 years later, the Vlogbrothers have gained a 3-million-strong community based around learning and activism. The Green brothers also use their platform to put their own words into action. They host a Project For Awesome event each year that sends donations to charities are based on the number of viewers. Now, the Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health partnership aims to increase access to maternal health care for women in Sierra Leone.

The Challenges in Sierra Leone

The situation in Sierra Leone has reached a crisis level. The country is in deep poverty with 60% of its citizens below the national poverty line. The beautiful terrain suffers from natural disasters and unpredictable weather patterns, which harms food production. The country struggles with health issues. There is limited access to even basic health care, a lack of clean drinking water and outbreaks of deadly diseases. A specific group that is suffering is mothers.

Sierra Leone is a deadly country for mothers to give birth. It has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world — over 300,000 mothers died from childbirth in 2015 alone. Sierra Leonean mothers die of easily preventable causes, such as hemorrhaging, lack of refrigeration for blood transfusions, unsanitary tools due to lack of clean water or lack of ambulances.

Green Brother’s Trip to Sierra Leone

In the video “The Only Psychiatric Hospital in Sierra Leone,” John Green discussed his journey to Sierra Leone’s only mental health hospital. This is a country with a population of over 7 million people. Green noted that there was no electricity, water or lighting within the hospital. The infrastructure was crumbling and the medicine cabinet had been close to empty for years. With the help of Partners In Health, a generator was able to provide the hospital with electricity, better infrastructure and hundreds of medicines for patients. Most patients that go into the psychiatric ward are now able to walk out and live healthy lives.

In 2019, John Green uploaded “Why We’re Donating 6,500,000.” In the video, he discussed the trip to Sierra Leone and told the story of a minimum wage health care worker called Ruth. Her job involves identifying women who are at high risk during pregnancy. While with Ruth, Green noticed her slip $2 in her patient’s pocket. She had wanted to make sure her child could eat that day. Green reminded his viewers that “It required far more sacrifice and compassion for Ruth to make that donation than it does for our [Hank and John’s] families to make this one.”

He went on to announce a Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health five-year partnership. He outlined the plans to raise $25 million to supply health care facilities, workers and staff with adequate support. Green hopes that the Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health work will decrease the odds of maternal death.

The Vlogbrothers Road to $25 million

Since 2007, the Vlogbrothers have hosted an annual Project For Awesome event. It is a 48-hour fundraising event where the money goes to “decreasing world suck.” The project has the potential to raise thousands of dollars toward the Vlogbrothers’ Partners In Health work. Additionally, its merch store gives over 90% of its proceeds to Partners In Health. The rest of the store’s profits goes toward paying artists and employees.

Still, the goal of $25 million comes across as impossible. However, John explained that “We’re already more than halfway there.” In addition to the Vlogbrothers’ Partners in Health $6.5 million donation, a group of donors offered to match up to $120,000 worth of donations each year. Green explains that to reach his target, the organization needs to raise a little over $1 million a year.

Partners In Health Creates Progress

Partners In Health has already begun important work. It employs over 450 Sierra Leonean citizens and provides food across the country. In 2019, it marked the third year in a row where no mother died from preventable pregnancy causes. Hospitals were able to have running electricity and water as well as establish a running ambulance. With more investment in health care, the numbers will only continue to improve. With focus, resources and dedication, Sierra Leone’s mothers have a better chance of surviving.

John Green noted in his video that the solution to maternal deaths is not a simple one. “It isn’t ambulances or clean water or electricity or more health care workers. It’s ambulances AND clean water AND electricity AND healthcare workers AND much more.” Green went on to say that “systemic issues demand systemic, long term solutions.” With the Vlogbrothers’ Partners in Health partnership, the future of Sierra Leone’s mothers looks brighter than ever. Anyone can help the cause by donating to the Vlogbrothers’ campaign or visiting its merch store.

Breanna Bonner
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, located in Western Africa, has long been a question of concern to humanitarian organizations. People have widely debated women’s rights in Sierra Leone and the government has made little progress in gender equality. Gender equality is also a prerequisite for diminishing poverty in the future.

Women’s Primary Function in Society

An outbreak of the Ebola virus burdened Sierra Leone in 2014. Not only did the outbreak cause significant hardship, but Ebola also particularly affected women as they made up 59% of the deceased. The mass female mortality is due to an underlying theme of women as primary caregivers and the country’s gender norms. Historically, women have had no consensual role in marriage and family would give them away in exchange for a bride price. The traditional bride price is even more evidence of women’s objectification and use as a status symbol. Also, women hold lower positions than men in almost every field of work.

A major setback for women advancing in society is the lack of women in government. Sierra Leone’s patriarchal system has influenced the cultural boundaries that women must abide by. The identities of women in Sierra Leone are dependent entirely on male power and male-controlled institutions.

Reproductive Rights

The effect of deep-rooted patriarchy on Sierra Leonean culture is visible, especially with the limited protection of women’s bodily rights. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone have recently been more geared to gaining autonomy over their bodies. There is limited resources and capabilities to enforce punishment of domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape of adults and minors. Another aspect of women’s limitations is the lack of health services for mothers. Sierra Leone has one of the highest female mortality rates in the world with 1,165 of every 100,000 women dying.

With inadequate rights to their maternal health, women have taken it upon themselves to fund their health initiatives and groups. Many women have become health promoters to teach workshops for mothers on nutrition, hygiene, prenatal and postnatal care. The act of becoming leaders of health empowers women to demand change within communities. Women have decided that they will begin offering female healthcare if the government will not.

Change in the Future

The higher power structures must address meaningful change, but some women have already begun to start the change from the bottom. The major changes that have led up to today are the 2007 Domestic Violence Act, Devolution of Estates Act, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act and honoring the Convention the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These four acts ensure more consensual marriage practices, allowing female inheritance of property, a minimum quota for women in elected positions and more. While these are major steps forward, the road ahead is long. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone still do not have protection in the country’s constitution and need amending.

The work of non-governmental organizations has been instrumental in introducing new perspectives to the Sierra Leonean government. Evidence of change is already emerging. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone are expanding every day, and women’s function in society is continuing to evolve. The future of women relies on breaking gender norms, adhering to higher standards of protecting females, access to healthcare and inclusive politics.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Crops That Are Fighting PovertyAcross the world, agriculture remains one of the primary sources of income for those living in poverty. A 2019 report by The World Bank reported that 80% of those living in extreme poverty reside in rural regions, and a large majority of these individuals rely upon agriculture for their livelihood. The World Bank also notes that developing agriculture is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty, reduce food insecurity and enhance the general well-being of those living in a community. Potatoes in China, cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, rice in Sierra Leone, pearl millet in India and bananas in Costa Rica are five examples of crops that are fighting poverty.

5 Crops That Are Fighting Poverty

  1. Potatoes in China: In 2019, China was the world’s number one potato-producing country. With a rural population of 45.23%, the nation greatly relies upon agriculture to provide food as well as income to its citizens. In Ulanqub, otherwise known as the “potato city” of China, potato farming is one of the primary means for farmers to rise out of poverty. Due to the fact that viruses have the potential to destroy up to 80% of potato crops, potato engineers in Ulanqub have developed seeds that are more impervious to viruses. These engineers place a sterile potato stem into a solution filled with nutrients to create “virus-free breeder seeds.” The seeds are then planted and produce potatoes of higher quality, ensuring that farmers are able to generate sufficient income and climb out of poverty.
  2. Cassava in sub-Saharan Africa: Cassava is a principal source of calories for 40% of Africans. This crop has traditionally been important during times of famine and low rainfall because it is drought-resistant, requires easily-accessible tools and is easily harvestable by one family. The organization NextGen utilizes genomic technology to isolate beneficial cassava traits that increase plant viability, root quality and yield quantity. By analyzing crop DNA and statistically predicting performance, NextGen is creating cassava crops that are fighting poverty.
  3. Rice in Sierra Leone: Agriculture accounts for 57% of Sierra Leone’s GDP, with rice reigning as the primary staple crop. However, in 2011, the nation was a net rice importer due to struggles with planting efficiency. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was developed to increase rice crop yield and decrease the labor necessary for upkeep. This method requires the use of organic fertilizers, tighter regulations for watering quantities, greater spacing between seeds to decrease plant competition and rotary hoes for weeding. As of 2014, 10,865 individuals had implemented this strategy in Sierra Leone. SRI has enabled rice to become one of the crops that is fighting poverty by increasing crop production from two to six tons per hectare.
  4. Pearl Millet in India: In India, agriculture employs 59% of the nation’s workforce, with 82% of farmers operating small farms that are highly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. As temperatures rise to a scorching 114℉, crops that are able to survive extreme heat are becoming necessary. Wild pearl millet, a relative of domestic pearl millet, is one crop that can withstand such temperatures. Researchers in India are breeding wild pearl millet seeds with domestic pearl millet in order to enhance resistance to heat and the common “blast” disease. With breeding innovations, pearl millet is one of the crops that are fighting poverty.
  5. Bananas in Costa Rica: One out of every 10 bananas produced in 2015 hailed from Costa Rica, the globe’s third-largest banana producer. This industry generated $ 1.1 billion in 2017 and provides jobs for 100,000 Costa Ricans. However, approximately 90% of banana crops across the nation are at risk of nutrient deprivation from a pest known as nematode, which has the potential to obliterate entire plantations. An article by CropLife International reported that a sustainable pesticide has been created by plant scientists in order to mitigate poverty-inducing crop loss and provide environmentally-conscious methods for banana farmers to ward off pests.

Developing crop viability and agricultural technology is important for poverty alleviation as agriculture possesses twice the likelihood of creating financial growth than other economic sectors. Innovations in crop production that decrease the likelihood of failure from drought, disease and changing weather patterns are important for the well-being of rural communities across the globe. Potatoes, cassava, rice, pearl millet and bananas are just five examples of crops that are fighting poverty, but improvements in different facets of agriculture have the potential to enhance the livelihoods of those who provide the world’s food.

Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr