Meet the team: Head of Rural Programs in Sierra Leone, JMK

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Eight years ago, JMK, Street Child's Head of Rural Programs in Sierra Leone, arrived in a village called Bendugu, at the end of a long dirt track in the Tambakha region.

There was a group of children sitting under a mango tree, with a young man teaching them the alphabet and numbers in English. There were well over 100 children in that village but this was the closest they had to a school.

One child in particular caught his attention, a little boy on crutches called Salieu. He was determined to become a teacher and would sit under the mango tree every day, committed to learning to read and write.

Today if you go to Bendugu, you'll find a beautiful school built by Street Child, with qualified teachers and hundreds of children in attendance. It's wonderful to see how the school under a mango tree has been transformed.

Over the years, Salieu moved through elementary and junior school, passing his exams and doing well. Now that same boy from under the mango tree has realized his dream to become a teacher. He has returned to Bendugu to teach at the school that helped him.

FREETOWN 6 MONTHS ON: STREET CHILD STUDY SHOWS 44% OF VICTIMS OF VICTIMS HAVE NO INCOME

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On Monday August 14 an estimated 1,000 people died when an entire mountainside collapsed in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Huge boulders, dislodged by rain, left a two-mile trail of destruction – flattening everything in its path.

Immediately after the disaster the international community kicked into gear. NGO Street Child was one of the first on the scene providing emergency food with support from a variety of international donors and funders. Street Child’s team of 86 national staff worked 12-hour days for over a month providing over 85,000 meals, water, clothing, blankets and trauma counselling to those who had lost everything.

Six months on from the disaster and most international NGOs have left; but there is still much to be done.

Our latest report shows that almost half of families impacted by the mudslide still have no source of income. Following a survey of over 300 households, Street Child discovered that 44% of families affected by the flooding and mudslide have no current source of income – a drastic increase from the 5% of households who were in this position prior to the mudslide. 

The survey also found that 41% of families surveyed were identified as having children either already out of school, or at risk of dropping out of school.

Overall the study has provided a much-needed indication of the impact of the mudslide on families in the post-emergency context. It has demonstrated there is significant work to be done to help families rebuild their livelihoods in order to provide for their children and send them to school.

Street Child specializes in supporting mothers to set up sustainable businesses so they can afford the cost of feeding and educating their children. In Freetown, where after losing everything, so many families face uncertain futures, this work is vital to giving them a brighter future. The results from our report will guide our program design over the coming weeks so we can effectively support those who need it the most.

Hawa Sesay, Girls Speak Out beneficiary

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Hawa Sesay, age 52

5 children in her care: aged 13, 10, 9, 4 and 2 years à  the eldest three are enrolled in school

Situation before business grant: Things were very tough for Hawa. She struggled to provide the basic materials to enable her children to go to school. She could not afford the fees for her children to attend extra classes which they needed to progress in school.

Situation after grant: Through the profit she has made from her grant Hawa can now afford to pay for extra tuition, meaning that some of her children have been able to progress to the next grade. Those who haven’t are still working at it, and she believes with enough encouragement they will succeed.

Her business: Hawa has set up a condiments shop at her home selling a variety of products including palm oil, onions, rice, paper, and sugar. She stocks her shop with products in high demand, and if she doesn't have a product when her customers ask, she makes a note to stock it in the future so that she can build a regular customer base. Through this business model, Hawa has been able to generate a stable income. She also works alongside Street Child’s Business Officers to add weekly profits to her savings collection, which she can then collect at the end of the month to reinvest in her business. For those larger investments, Hawa has joined a women’s money borrowing organisation called Slick, in which the members share money among themselves, and return with interest when they can.

Hassamatu, aged 9, is Hawa’s eldest child. Previously, she was struggling to progress in school and needed extra tuition to help her move into the next grade. Since the success of Hawa’s business, and the extra schooling and school materials Hawa can now afford for her, Hassamatu has now moved into grade 4.

Naomie Morris, Paynesville Elementary and Junior High School

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Aged 18, Naomie Morris is now in 6th Grade at Paynesville Elementary and Junior High School in Monrovia. Living with her parents, she is the oldest child of three boys and three girls, and so has to shoulder a lot of responsibility to help support her family.

Her father has been out of work for over two years with illness, and so with their financial struggles, they usually only manage to eat once a day. Naomie says that 'sometimes it is hard, we live by the grace of God, and sometimes my sister’s family helps give us some food'.

Two years ago, Naomie had a child of her own named Tama. Tragically, in June 2017 her partner and Tama's father drowned in an accident while crossing the river in a canoe. Now she must support Tama alone, as well as her siblings and parents.

While Naomie is at school, her mother helps look after the baby, and she is determined to still continue her education and do well, studying hard when she gets home. Naomie says: 'When I graduate, I want to become a nurse, anywhere God gives me the opportunity, and later, I want my daughter to work alongside me as a medical doctor'.

Currently, Street Child covers the costs of Naomie’s school fees and her uniform. This gives her the opportunity to continue her studies and work towards entry at the competitive nurses’ colleges, a chance she otherwise would not be able to afford.

HAWA, THE ASPIRING LAWYER WHO USED TO BEG ON THE STREETS

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Hawa is one of 15 siblings. Her father is blind. From the age of eight, instead of going to school, she spent her time begging on the streets.

A Street Child social worker met Hawa on the streets last year. Through our Girls Speak Out program, we gave her mother a grant and supported her to set up a sustainable business, so she could afford to send Hawa and her siblings to go to school. We also helped Hawa with a uniform and learning materials.

“I want to say thank you to Street Child supporters for what you have done. I want to be a lawyer so I can help the people of my country.”

COPING WITH CONFLICT: SUPPORTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN EDUCATION IN EMERGENCIES CURRICULUM FOR NIGERIA

  December 2017. Education in Emergencies working group (EIEWG) members (including NGOs, government representatives, and major donors such as USAID) attend the first working group of the Street Child-funded Nigeria Education in Emergencies Curricula project

 

December 2017. Education in Emergencies working group (EIEWG) members (including NGOs, government representatives, and major donors such as USAID) attend the first working group of the Street Child-funded Nigeria Education in Emergencies Curricula project

Emergency education interventions often involve building temporary classrooms, until schools reopen or are rebuilt. But a return to normality can take years – especially in on-going conflict. What children need to learn in an internally displaced people / refugee camp setting can be as much about dealing with trauma, and understanding basic hygiene and landmine risk, as it is about reading and writing.

What should be taught inside those temporary classrooms? What should formal schools be teaching in addition to the formal curriculum to help children affected by crisis?

When Street Child arrived in North East Nigeria in late 2016, this was one of the key questions facing the local ‘education in emergencies working group’  (EiEWG) – consisting of international and local charities, as well as government agencies.

Non-formal education in the North East crisis response is not standardized. 73% of schools in the North East are teaching nothing outside the formal curriculum. Only 1% of children demonstrated any awareness of landmine risk, despite the deaths of two children so far this year (NE Nigeria Joint Education Needs Assessment, 2017).

Nigerian EiEWG devised a groundbreaking solution. It has proposed to standardize education in emergencies in Nigeria, not just for the North East context, but for any current and potential emergency situation across the country, where children’s education may be affected.

In early 2017, Street Child agreed to make it one of its early priorities to help the EiEWG source funding to start putting this huge idea into practice. Just before the end of the year, we were delighted to deliver on that commitment and confirm to the working group that a generous funding partner, equally motivated by the prospect of a ‘systems-level’ change, had pledged $100,000 to Street Child for this purpose. The project can begin!

The development and roll-out of a standardized EIE curriculum is an incredibly ambitious project. The barriers to education in the North East include a chronic lack of trained teachers, ongoing security risks, and a very low level of basic education even before the conflict. The scale is huge - Nigeria is a federal republic, with the second largest population in Africa.

But if it succeeds, millions of children affected by emergencies in Nigeria will receive an education appropriate to their individual context. Standardized basic education will improve their chances of returning to the formal system, while standardized emergency-related education will increase the resilience of all children to the worst effects of their situation, and help them deal with the increased risks to their physical and mental health and safety.

Street Child is extremely proud to be supporting this initiative. When the project was proposed to the Education in Emergencies working group, the project was a pipe-dream without funding. Now we are helping to make it happen!

The project is rightly led by the appropriate Nigerian government agencies: the Ministry for Education, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and the National Educational Research and Development Committee (NERDC) – but Street Child is helping to plan and drive the project. Our first job was to gather and inform the stakeholders who would be essential to the project, from teachers’ unions to international funding partners, working towards the development of a curriculum.

Though ambitious, the potential to learn from this project, not just in the Nigerian context but in other global emergency contexts, is enormous.

Education in emergencies is a uniquely forward-looking intervention, one which deals not only with the present crisis, but maintains hope for the future.

COPING WITH CONFLICT - WHY 'EDUCATION IN EMERGENCIES' MATTERS?

35% of out-of-school children in the world live in conflict-affected countries. Street Child is increasingly working in areas of the world where health emergency (Ebola in West Africa), natural disaster (the Nepal earthquakes), or conflict (North East Nigeria) are preventing children from accessing education.

One of our first tasks in these situations is to argue the importance of education in emergencies.  Traditional humanitarian work centres around the basics - food, medicine, shelter. In a rapid onset emergency – a flood, an earthquake, an outbreak of conflict - this makes sense, certainly in the first few days and weeks, and can save the lives of millions of affected people.

But what happens when conflicts drag on, when thousands of children are out of school months or years after the crisis began?

In Nigeria, an estimated 2.5m children are out of school - in large part due to an eight-year conflict with the extremist group Boko Haram (meaning ‘Western Education is Forbidden’’). 1 in 5 schools have been destroyed across three North Eastern states. Education has been drastically set back – in a part of the world where it was already weak.

Education is an essential part of the humanitarian response, providing a safe space for children in crisis contexts to learn to read and write, to play and - crucially – to receive lessons that keep them safer and more healthy inside and outside the classroom.

Education also provides normality and a sense of hope for children caught up in crisis, and their families. Despite the dangers, parents in the conflict affected communities where Street Child works place education for their children in their top three priorities for international support.

In an emergency setting, it is often not possible for children to go to formal school, or to learn using the national curriculum. When schools are destroyed by an earthquake, when they are occupied by soldiers or – most tragic of all – where schools never existed in the first place and have now slipped even further down the local priority list, a generation of children stays out of school. This is not OK. Humanitarian responses that sustain life but do not nourish hope for a better future, are desperately inadequate.

Education in emergencies is about being brave and foresighted enough to build for a better tomorrow even when today is desperate. This is not a luxury. This is vital. And this is why it's a priority for Street Child.

STREET CHILD MOVES INTO SOUTH EAST LIBERIA - THE FORGOTTEN CORNER OF LIBERIA

Liberia has the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world. In fact, it is currently expected to be the last country on earth to achieve universal education. The south-east of Liberia has the worst educational outcomes in the entire country, meaning that children born in this region have the lowest chance in the world of learning to read and write.

Earlier this year, as part of the Partnership Schools for Liberia program, Street Child began working with the Liberian Government to improve education quality in this forgotten region of Liberia. 

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The six counties in Liberia's south-east – Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, and River Cess – are extremely poor and marginalized. Poor infrastructure has left them isolated, and the road network is unpaved, thick with mud, and often impassable in rainy seasons. It can take three days to travel a distance of 700km to reach Maryland, via a circuitous route around the far north-west of Liberia.

In River Gee, Grand Kru, and Maryland, 65% of the population lives in food poverty. Gold mining is one of the few livelihoods available, and children as young as seven or eight can be seen working in the small-scale mining sites.

'When I see young boy children come to the market to buy a shovel, I know they are going to the mines,' says Hawa, a market woman in Maryland. 'Sometimes I try to talk them out of it, but they will just go somewhere else to buy a shovel. They should not be going, but some of them don’t have a choice.'

This context will be a new challenge for Street Child, but the sheer number of children at risk means it cannot continue to be ignored. We will be working in both urban and rural areas, each with its own significant difficulties.

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In urban settings, there are simply not enough schools to cater for the number of children. Many classrooms are dangerously overcrowded and in the worst cases, children are missing out on education altogether.

'We want to take all the children, because we want them to get an education, but the rooms are too small,' said the Principal of one public elementary school in Harper. 'There are too many children and not enough learning materials for effective teaching. It is a problem for us.'

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In rural settings, the problem is the opposite. Enrolment and attendance is generally low across the rural schools. Teachers and principals report that many communities place little value on education. Early marriage, domestic duties, and teenage pregnancy further reduce the number of girls attending school.

Those few children who do attend school are unlikely to receive a quality education. Poor infrastructure, a lack of trained teachers, and a lack of essential materials hinder even basic learning. Many schools can use only a small number of the classrooms available, because of leaks in the roof, damaged flooring, and a lack of desks and benches.

Going forward, Street Child hopes to change all this. We will be working with local government, school leadership, teachers, and local communities to improve children’s learning by tackling the social as well as educational issues that affect children’s lives in this forgotten corner of Liberia.

DAWNUS AND STREET CHILD EXTEND THEIR SCHOOL BUILDING PARTNERSHIP INTO LIBERIA

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Recently the Street Child team in Liberia was delighted to attend the opening of the new Dawnus school building at C.H Henry Public School in White Plains, a deprived area on the northern outskirts of the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

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Completed in just seven weeks by a team of community volunteers supervised by Dawnus, C.H. Henry used to be a large complex that catered for all grades from Kindergarten to Senior High School. However, during the Liberian Civil War, the site was largely abandoned.

Since its re-establishment in 2005, the school has only been able to offer elementary grades because of space constraints, so students who wanted to further their education were previously forced to walk over 12km into the city reach a Junior High School.

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The administration has announced their intention to use the new building as a Junior High School facility, and so it will make a huge difference to students and the community as a whole. 'This is just the beginning. Dawnus has given us the building, and we now have a responsibility to create a school for generations to come', said the District Commissioner at the opening.

Dawnus International is a long-term supporter of Street Child's school building activities in Sierra Leone, but this is the first collaboration in Liberia. We would like to thank them for their contribution, and their efforts on behalf of the school community. Thanks to their support, hundreds more children will be able to go to school.

Ramatu's story

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Ramatu, above left, the 70-year-old caring for 18 grandchildren after Ebola

Over 12,000 children were orphaned during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Grandparents like Ramatu not only lost their own children but have taken on the responsibility of caring for and educating their grandchildren - often at great personal cost. Ramatu lives in a small community just outside the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown with her husband Alusine. She now cares for her 18 grandchildren, six of whom lost their parents to Ebola. Before Ebola hit, she was already caring for 12 children after their parents passed away.

Surviving has been a serious struggle for the family, but she is determined to care for each child and support them through their grief. Despite her years, two years on from the crisis, and with the support of Street Child, Ramatu has set up a business so that she can feed and educate all 18 of her grandchildren. She is a truly remarkable woman.