sierra leone
Sierra Leone has adopted a new method to facilitate discussions about corporal punishment and the violence it perpetuates. Supported by UNICEF’s Learning for Peace program, groups of performers write original plays that deal with the consequences of violence.

One theater performance is titled “The Stepson.” The lead character is a young boy who is beaten by his stepmother before going to school and being physically punished again there. This leads him to run away from home. The goal of the play is to educate and open up dialogue about corporal punishment in Sierra Leone, while providing alternatives for conflict resolution.

Performances like this are not new to development efforts. Other programs around the globe are using theater to effect change in their communities. The Bedari Theatre Programme in Pakistan builds on the Punjabi tradition of street theater to facilitate conversations and change in regards to child marriage. A group in Timor-Leste, called Damas, consists of an all-female ensemble that challenges gender stereotypes through their subject matter and by turning Shakespeare on his head to cast women in male roles. The Theater of the Oppressed, which has spread from its Brazilian heritage to the far corners of the globe like India and Australia, works to give marginalized persons a voice through performance.

In all of these participatory programs, education is key. In Sierra Leone, school is part of the problem. Corporal punishment scares children away from the classroom; a group of students enlisted by the rebels in Sierra Leone’s civil war came back after fighting and killed their teachers because of the violence inflicted on them in school. Theater provides a way to educate the population in a safe and engaging way that challenges the conventional classroom culture.

The performances also educate the performers. PETA, a Phillipine group, found that when children who scavenged in the garbage to survive were involved in theater workshops, they became more confident and articulate. Often, the cast of a performance will include local volunteers, and groups will interview community members to create a realistic, relatable script. This allows the performances to be culturally appropriate and to open up dialogue.

The community will often not respond well to people in authority, but a grassroots conversation fostered by entertainment creates opportunities for people to engage with each other on a topic.

There are other advantages to using theater for development. It is portable, recordable, and cost-effective, particularly when enlisting volunteers from the community to help write and act. It is also public, so people do not feel invaded by the message, but instead volunteer to come see the performance. A major advantage is that understanding and engaging with the performances does not require literacy, so performances are accessible to all.

Theater binds communities together in appreciating each other’s talents and having conversation. It is fun, so people want to be involved, which allows more advocacy efforts to reach more people.

Despite the good work theater does in initiating change in communities, there are some drawbacks. One drawback is the time involved in creating a work. When volunteer writers and actors get together, it can take a lot of time to construct a coherent, rehearsed play. This is a disadvantage when a new topic becomes immediately relevant. The large groups involved can also sterilize the message in order to please everyone.

The government can be another issue. Since governments often provide funding, they sometimes attempt to use theater performances to push their own agendas. Or, in the case of Ghana, the government will shut down programs out of fear the performance will not support current political systems.

People also expect theater to make drastic changes on its own. Theater works best when coupled with other advocacy efforts, like the dialogue sparked by the Sierra Leone performances.

The 20th annual conference for Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed began on Thursday, July 3. Hosted by the University of Nebraska, the conference will aim to improve the development work done by theater performance and give marginalized people a stronger voice.

– Monica Roth

Sources: Oxford Journals, UNICEF Girls Not Brides, Jana Sanskriti, ActNow,
Photo: Girls Not Brides

An outbreak of Ebola has been linked to more than 330 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.

The outbreak, which is ravaging West Africa, is “completely out of control,” says a senior official of Doctors without Borders, who also notes the organization is stretched to its limit in response to the epidemic. Bart Janssens, the director of operations for MSF in Brussels, reported that the epidemic is now in its second wave and, more than ever, the international organizations and governments providing aid need to send in more health experts, as well as increase the public educational messages regarding how to stop the spread of the disease.

The outbreak, which began in Guinea earlier this year, appeared to slow before ravaging in recent weeks, including spreading to the Liberian capital. With multiple locations of breakout and movements across several nations, the outbreak shows no signs of slowing. Janssens noted, “I’m absolutely convinced that this epidemic is far from over and will continue to kill a considerable amount of people, so this will definitely end up the biggest ever.”

This is the highest number of deaths associated with the Ebola virus, which is considered one of the most virulent in the world. At this point, Liberia has declared a national emergency.

With a real political commitment from the governments of the infected nations and a more effective response, the epidemic could perhaps be controlled. However, currently the Ebola outbreak is the worst it has ever been, “It’s the first time in an Ebola epidemic where [Doctors Without Borders] teams cannot cover all the needs, at least for treatment centers,” Janssens said.

The underdevelopment of these countries plays an important role in the spread of the virus. “The affected countries are at the bottom of the human development index,” Janssens noted. “Ebola is seriously crippling their capacities to respond effectively in containing the spread.”

— Elizabeth Malfaro

Sources: CBS News, USA Today
Photo: CNN

Of the deaths of children under 5 in Sierra Leone, 57 percent are the result of malnutrition, and both the ministry of health and government officials in Sierra Leone have begun work to reduce this horrifying statistic by joining Scaling Up Nutrition and by signing the Nutrition for Growth agreement.

As Sierra Leone recovers from its civil war, which ended in 2002, officials are attempting to shift the focus from malnutrition treatment to malnutrition prevention. Officials have been tracking the correlation between sanitation, education and malnutrition in order to improve prevention techniques.

In an interview with The Guardian, Aminata Shamit Koroma, the director of food and nutrition at the ministry of health in Sierra Leone, noted that women with a higher level of education were more likely to have access to adequate sanitation and less likely to have malnourished children.

In his efforts to prevent malnutrition in children, Koroma has been centering her campaign on breastfeeding and emphasizing to mothers the importance of breastfeeding their infants during the first six months of life. She has been spreading awareness through radio commercials and mother support groups.

Koroma has also been encouraging grandmothers to attend these mother-to-mother support groups so that they can impart their knowledge of child nutrition onto new mothers who might not be aware of the nutrients their children need. The Sierra Leone National Food and Security Food Policy of 2015-2016 also targets fathers so that they support their wives in breastfeeding. Besides emphasizing the future health of their children as a motivating factor, the initiative informs the families that if the mother is breastfeeding her child, they do not have to buy extra food for the child during the first few months of life.

The nutrition policy will also regulate the marketing of supposedly comparable and superior breast milk substitutes in order to ensure that mothers are not tricked by false sales promises. While Koroma knows it is unlikely that infant malnutrition will be eradicated within the next year or two, she recognizes the importance of the steps she is taking as she encourages the people of Sierra Leone to begin to change how they view infant health.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Guardian, WHO, ACDI VOCA, Scaling up Nutrition
Photo: Mission News Wire

Since March, increasing numbers of West African countries have joined Ebola’s list of victims. The outbreak started in Guinea earlier in 2014 where it had the most cases, a reported 258 infected. There were 146 cases confirmed positive by laboratory results, and 174 patients died. It has since spread to Liberia and, most recently, there are signs of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Ebola, a type of hemorrhagic fever, spreads rapidly through contact with bodily fluids, contaminated corpses or vector animals like fruit bats. Without proper infection control, hospitals, villages and treatment centers can succumb to the disease, poisoning many people in a short amount of time. With no cure or vaccine, Ebola is reaching a mortality rate of almost 90 percent in these West African nations.

Ebola infiltrated the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone earlier this week, with the confirmation of its presence on May 26. This marks Ebola’s first presence in Sierra Leone since the outbreak. Following its arrival, the disease has infected upwards of five people, killing at least four or five with one laboratory confirmed case, according to the Center for Disease Control.

It is quite obvious the disease itself poses enough of a problem, but why could Sierra Leone potentially be at greater risk?

The main concern is whether Sierra Leone will respond correctly to the gravity of the outbreak. An article from May 28 in the Sierra Leonean paper, Sierra Express Media, showed concern for the potential relaxed approach citizens will take toward the growing disease. The author of the article attested to the tendency for the nation to “downplay” the potential danger of such catastrophes and called upon both the citizenship and the government to take the threat of Ebola in Sierra Leone seriously.

While it is difficult to know whether the author’s fears are substantiated, it is important to consider the recent removal of an Ebola patient from a hospital and the implications such actions illuminate. Despite protests from health officials, relatives checked out a potential Ebola patient from the local health center on May 27 for fear of complications in an upcoming move to the hospital.

In doing so, the family risked substantial spread of the highly infectious disease. Whether this shows a lack of concern for the outbreak, we cannot be certain. However, it does indicate that the speed at which Ebola spreads and its high mortality rate is perhaps not understood fully.

So what can be done to ensure that the Sierra Leonean public is engaged and committed to eliminating the disease from the country? So far, most patients are being treated at the Koindu Community Health Centre near the southern border of Guinea. However, because the disease has no vaccine or cure, it remains important that the main priority be limiting the spread of infection.

The aforementioned article in the Sierra Express Media lists 12 ways the nation and its people can respond correctly and with enough force. These suggestions range from limiting the practice of shaking hands to quarantining movement within affected regions to requests for aid from the African Union Health Emergency Fund.

Only time will tell how Sierra Leone handles the tragedy of an Ebola outbreak. Hopefully, with help from the international and African community and correct motivation of the citizens and government, the outbreak can be contained to limit damage and lessons on public health can be learned.

– Caitlin Thompson

Sources: BBC, Aljazeera, Aljazeera 2, CDC, CDC 2, WHO, The Advocate, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune

Poverty in Sierra Leone
Poverty in Sierra Leone is alive and well. Freetown, the capital and largest city in Sierra Leone, was founded in 1787. It was known as the “Province of Freedom” because it was a British crown colony and the principal base for the suppression of the slave trade. The Maroons were the original settlers, consisting of 1,200 newly freed slaves from Nova Scotia. In 1800, a rebellion of Jamaican slaves escaped and moved to Freetown.

The British Empire’s abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was mostly due to the efforts of William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe and Lord Mansfield. They founded a naval base in Freetown in order to patrol against the illegal slave ships that still existed, fining every British ship found with a slave onboard.

Sierra Leone was officially named a crown colony in 1808. In 1833 British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act, which abolished slavery. As a result, over 50,000 freed slaves settled in Freetown by 1855. Their descendants, known as the Krios, now live in a multi-ethnic country. Krio is a widely spoken language throughout the country that some ethnic groups speak, though English is the official language.

Since Sierra Leone gained independence from the British in 1961, the country has experienced many economic, political and social challenges. A rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front plotted to overthrow the Joseph Momoh Government, causing a devastating civil war from 1991 to 2002.

The extreme brutality of this conflict caused over two million people to be displaced and resulted in more than 50,000 casualties. The war ended as a result of a U.N. peacekeeping and British military intervention. The country has made tremendous advancements in establishing a good government and keeping peace and security since the war ended.

Three years after the war ended, Sierra Leone was considered the poorest country in the world. Today, it is ranked at 177 out of 184 countries on the Human Development Index. This minor improvement is partly due to the assistance of international donors. Officials say Sierra Leone is on its way toward securing macroeconomic stability through democratization and stabilization, but large populations of youth who are former combatants are still unemployed, threatening the peace and stability of the country.

More than 60 percent of Sierra Leone’s population presently lives in poverty. Many people are living under the poverty line at less than $1.25 per day. The literacy rate is only 41 percent and 70 percent of young people in Sierra Leone are unemployed or underemployed as a result. The poorest people live in the Northern and Southern provinces of the country and consist mostly of landless people, particularly women in rural households.

The civil war and social unrest of previous years caused a severe economic decline that virtually destroyed the physical and social infrastructure of the country, leading to widespread poverty.  Sierra Leone’s development depends on consolidating peace, democracy and increasing its economic growth.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Global Finance, UNDP, Rural Poverty Portal

Economy in Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone civil war destroyed the national economy, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. The civil war that ravaged the small west African nation from 1991-2002 was the impetus for a huge displacement of people within Sierra Leone, leading to a downturn in the economy that left almost 75% of the population living in extreme poverty.

Sierra Leone’s main export is diamonds. Diamonds have created a significant wealth gap in Sierra Leone that has benefited the rich and paralyzed the poor for decades. The country’s dependence on this single mineral resource impedes economic growth. In order for Sierra Leone to lift itself out of abject poverty, the economy must diversify. Economic diversification is exceptionally difficult, however, with around 50% of the adult working population working in subsistence agriculture. Luckily, the IMF set up a program in 2010 to deliver $45 million to Sierra Leone through 2013.

Over the last few years, Sierra Leone has developed its offshore oil resources as another source of income. This, however, does not negate the enormous need for international aid to power the development process and prevent increased in inequalit in Sierra Leone. In order for the economy to stabilize, foreign aid must be delivered on a consistent basis and domestic peace must be preserved at all costs.

– Josh Forgét
Source: BBC News, Rural Poverty Portal, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Human Trafficking Movie Project