Located on Africa’s west coast, Sierra Leone has suffered many tragedies, including a brutal 10-year civil war that ended in 2002, and during 2014-15, the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history. During the war, tens of thousands of lives were lost, and about one-third of the population was displaced. Ebola claimed nearly 4,000 lives in Sierra Leone, and more than 14,000 people contracted the virus. Sierra Leone’s infant mortality rate is the highest in the world, with 107 children dying per 1,000 live births. With more than 70 percent living below the world poverty line, Sierra Leone’s population faces many challenges.
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Ages 0 – 5: Healthy and Secure
With malnutrition, birth complications, malaria and other conditions causing the deaths of millions of children under the age of 5, ChildFund Sierra Leone has focused on health and nutritional needs of pregnant women, mothers and newborns. In 2015, we provided a Freetown hospital with diapers, soap, balms and other resources; supported infection prevention training of caregivers, first aid responders and Early Childhood Development center staff members; and expanded our school lunch program to preschool-aged children.
During the peak of the Ebola crisis, it was even more important to provide children and family members with food supplies because of shortages at their homes. To prevent further spread of the virus, ChildFund started its hand-washing initiative in 2014. Schools and ECD centers were central to these efforts, and children learned about washing their hands thoroughly and often, using water-capturing buckets, hand sanitizers and soap.
Ages 6 – 14: Educated and Confident
During the Ebola epidemic, anyone who came into contact with the virus had to be quarantined for 21 days and watched for symptoms, like fever. In Sierra Leone, ChildFund opened six Observation Interim Care Centers in 2014 and 2015 to care specifically for children under quarantine. Some had lost loved ones, and most were shunned by family members and neighbors who were afraid of the disease. At the centers, 343 children received care, attention and close monitoring. Twelve children came down with the virus and had to be taken to clinics, but the other 331 children were reunited with parents or other caregivers after the quarantine period. We also followed up with these children in their communities and gave them books, school uniforms and other necessities before schools reopened.
In seven schools affected by the outbreak, ChildFund supported the building of new classrooms and provided new sets of furniture so children had more space to themselves, reducing the risk of future infections. In the Kailahun District, we helped rebuild a school that had been destroyed by a wildfire; the new school has running water and clean toilets, plus six modern classrooms, an office and a store.
Ages 15 – 24: Skilled and Involved
Unemployment and high dropout rates are major concerns for Sierra Leone’s youth. To keep young people enrolled and attending school in one rural district, ChildFund worked with the Daindemben Foundation to provide scholarships to local teachers and youth to pursue higher education. As the community gained more qualified teachers, the number of students attending and succeeding in school has steadily grown.
The Youth Employment Support Project, funded by the World Bank through Sierra Leone’s government and implemented by ChildFund, has given young people the opportunity to start their own businesses and receive training in practical, marketable skills. As a result, nearly 3,000 youth from impoverished households with low levels of education were able to train for new livelihoods and graduate from the program. Besides acquiring job skills, they made business contacts and reported feeling more included and heard in their communities. Young women, including mothers, took part in the Girls Livelihood project as part of YESP. They were trained in catering, baking, hairdressing, tailoring and auto mechanics, and many say they’re finding work.