During the country's 10-year civil war, thousands of children were used and abused as combatants. In 2014, the Ebola epidemic brought even more hardships to one of Africa’s poorest countries. Against this background, SOS Children's Villages played a vital role in helping the country's most vulnerable segments of population: children and young adults.
Shattered by war
The Republic of Sierra Leone is a country located in Western Africa. Since gaining independence from former colonial power Great Britain in 1961, the country's history has been rather turbulent.
SOS Kindergarten in Freetown (photo: C. Lesske) (photo: C. Ladavicius)
A cruel civil war that lasted from 1991 until early 2002 cost thousands of lives and resulted in the displacement of more than two million people - about one third of the country's population.
Although Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in Africa, its soil is home to ample resources. The country is extremely rich in diamonds, gold, cocoa, coffee and bauxite.
One of the richest countries in Africa remains one of the poorest
Despite significant natural wealth, Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in the world: around 80 per cent of its population live in crippling poverty. Semi-arid rural areas tend to be more affected than the urban centres of the country. The average Sierra Leonean can expect to live to 48 years, one of the lowest life expectancy figures in the entire world
Nearly half the population is severely undernourished as regular access to food and drinking water remains scarce. HIV/AIDS remains a persisting public health issue in Sierra Leone, a country that is home to 49,000 people who suffer from the disease. Although noticeable progress has been made over recent years, HIV continues to be a significant problem in rural areas which are generally more affected than urban centres.
In 2014, the Ebola epidemic disrupted all aspects of life in Sierra Leone. Many families were negatively affected: the price of fuel and most basic food went up and in areas where movement was restricted, adults couldn’t go out to earn a living.
Children are in need of protection
During the Ebola epidemic, SOS Children’s Villages gave local families food and basic medical supplies (photo: SOS archives).
The psychological effects on children that were exposed to the atrocities that occurred during the country's civil war go deep. According to estimates, 310,000 children in Sierra Leone grow up without their parents, many of them as a result of the war. 18,000 of them have been orphaned due to AIDS. The Ebola epidemic, which started in 2014, left many more children without parental care.
Children who have lost parental care often face the challenge of being the breadwinner for an entire family at a very early age. Thousands of Sierra Leonean children work in the country's mines in order to make a living. They have to carry out physically challenging tasks like digging in soil and gravel or shifting heavy masses of mud.
At 119 per 1,000 live births, Sierra Leone also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Access to food remains a challenge for the majority of Sierra Leonean families. One in four children is either moderately or severely underweight.
A shortage of schools and teachers heavily affects the education of Sierra Leonean children. During the war, thousands of schools were partially or completely destroyed. In spite of recent efforts to make education more accessible, more than half of the school-aged population don’t go to school. The country continues to have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world: only 42 per cent of Sierra Leoneans aged 15 and over know how to read and write. In mid- 2014 the situation worsened, as schools were shut in order to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.
Child-trafficking has become just another growing problem in Sierra Leone. Poor families, predominantly coming from rural areas, are often lured to give away their children under promises that later turn out to be false. In some cases, these children end up as domestic slaves or they are forced into prostitution by their "benefactors".
SOS Children's Villages in Senegal
SOS Children`s Village has been working in Senegal since the mid-1970s. Because of increasingly high levels of poverty, the organisation started an SOS Family Strengthening Programme, aiming to protect children who are at risk of losing the care of their family. At present, SOS Children's Villages is supporting Senegalese children and young people by providing day care, education, vocational training and medical assistance. When children can no longer stay with their families, they are cared for by their SOS mothers in one of the SOS families.
SOS Children's Villages has also been running a number of SOS Emergency Programmes, providing food, medicine and school material to young people and children in need. During the Ebola epidemic, SOS Children’s Villages worked with other agencies to provide advice, food, protective equipment and disinfectants to the local communities. The focus of our activities has been on children who have lost parental care, or who are at risk of losing it.
In 2015, we started a project to protect "talibés" who are forced to go out to beg. We work in close partnership with local groups to ensure that the children are safe, can go to school and, wherever possible, can return to live with their families. We give children counselling and material goods to improve their living conditions. We provide school kits and uniforms and pay for the children's school and medical fees. We also run workshops on children`s rights and support parents so that they can make enough money to look after their children.