SUPPORTING GRANDMOTHERS TO PROVIDE A BETTER FUTURE FOR THEIR GRANDCHILDREN

Memuna Jabbie is 65 years old and lives in Makeni, Sierra Leone with her 12 grandchildren. Memuna lost four of her five children to Ebola and her surviving daughter is too ill to look after her children, leaving Memuna to adopt and raise her 12 grandchildren. The youngest is just two years old. 

Memuna’s family became part of the Street Child program when her 10-year-old grandson Ibrahim was seen playing on the street during school hours by one of the Street Child team. 

Since then, Street Child has supported the family with business grants and training so that they can afford for the children to go to school and receive an education. 

In early 2016, Ibrahim returned to the Young Muslim School in Makeni. Now, all Memuna’s school-age grandchildren are in education.

Following the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, grandparent-headed households became more and more common. Street Child estimates that more than 20,000 children were orphaned during Ebola and many elderly grandparents are now facing the cost of educating, feeding, and clothing their grandchildren.

Ramatu and her husband Alusine are both in their 70s and with Street Child’s support they have set up a family business to provide for their 18 grandchildren, the youngest of whom is not yet walking. 

While Ebola is no longer making headlines, the legacy of the disease is all too real.

Street Child's business scheme helps grandparents to set up sustainable businesses so they can send their grandchildren to school and give them a quality education. 

Just $30 a month can provide a grandmother with a business grant and training to ensure she can send her grandchildren to school. Will you partner with us to give Ebola’s orphans a brighter future? 

POST-EBOLA LIBERIA: A NEW CHAPTER FOR EDUCATION

Hawa is finally back at school. Her uniform is clean and her hair neatly braided. The excitement of the new term is felt far and wide as laughter, giggles and singing fills the school campus, when classes break for recess. “I’m so happy to be back in school and to see my friends,” she says with a big grin.

Just one year ago schools re-opened after being closed during the Ebola epidemic.

Since then, as Liberia’s recovery process continues, the challenge of getting students and teachers back into the classroom have been great. The increased numbers of teenage mothers, Ebola-orphans and street-connected children are just some examples of young boys and girls who are struggling to get an education as a result of the epidemic. Liberia recently topped UNICEF’s ranking of the 10 worst countries in the world for access to elementary school, and it remains clear that many children will not be going back to school this week.

Hawa, who is 13 years old, lost both of her parents to Ebola and is now living with her auntie and 4 siblings. She explains how her aunt struggles to provide for the family and that many times she and her siblings go without eating for a whole day. “It’s hard to focus in class when I haven’t eaten anything,” she says. “My auntie often can’t afford to pay for all the extra costs of me going to school such as buying notebooks and pencils.”  

Yet access to education is only part of the problem; quality of education also has a huge impact. Just 63% of 15 -24 years old boys are literate and, even more shockingly, just 37% of girls. Perhaps most overwhelming is that in 2013, all 25,000 applicants for the University of Liberia failed the entrance exam demonstrating the failures of the Liberian education system.

Street Child’s recent Liberian Consultation on Adolescent Girls Education (LCAGE) revealed that girls are particularly vulnerable in accessing and learning in school. Less than half of all girls interviewed in grade 4 could read and write and in fact grade 4 turned out to be the grade when most girls dropped out of school. This year Hawa is starting 4th grade and unfortunately the odds of her obtaining a quality education are not in her favor.    

However, Hawa’s school was recently selected as one of the 93 Partnership Schools for Liberia, which the Ministry of Education is running together with 8 partner organizations including Street Child. Her school is now included in a network of 12 Street Child Flagship Academies. 

For Hawa, among other advantages, this means no extra fees, a provision of basic learning materials and more qualified teachers in the classroom every day.

In pursuit of improved teaching and learning in Liberian schools, the partnership between the Government and Street Child is taking an innovative approach to tackling some of the challenges of the education system.

Minister Werner, the Liberian Minister for Education explained: “For the first time in many years we have been able to add new teachers to these schools.”

More teachers per school are being recruited and trained to meet the needs of large classroom sizes, new ways of interpreting and implementing the national curriculum are being introduced, and more support and supervision are being introduced for each school.

During Ebola, Street Child worked tirelessly alongside many other organizations and government branches to help educate people about the disease and to support vulnerable children who were impacted by the crisis. It also supported 2,200 people with the provision of relief packs and helped 1,500 Ebola-impacted children back to school once schools re-opened.

“There are many lessons to learn from the times of Ebola relating to the education system,” says Ahmed Dukuly, Head of Academic Development for Street Child's Flagship Academies. “Partnership, innovative approaches, and quick responses to immediate challenges were central during the Ebola response and should be key in Liberia’s recovery process and beyond. This applies to education as well!

“Additionally there is more need for research and evidence, which is what Partnership Schools for Liberia is all about.” says Mr. Dukuly.  Not only are partners such as Street Child using research and evidence-based approaches to plan their interventions, but the entire program is part of a vigorous external evaluation. The hope is that such evidence can support the program to grow and help further innovation within the education sector.   

The Flagship Academy model is based on a low-cost, sustainable, and creative approach to tackling educational challenges in both rural and urban settings alike. “If our mission is to provide better opportunities for Liberian children through education, we need to make sure that every dollar spent benefits the Liberian children both today and tomorrow. Innovative approaches do not have to be expensive, but rather it is about searching for local solutions and making sure things change now,” says Street Child's Liberia Country Director John Kerkula Benda.

The challenges for education in the year to come are many for Hawa and all the other Liberian elementary school children. Yet the determination of the Ministry of Education and the joint efforts of the Partnership Schools for Liberia program in the post-Ebola context form part of a new and exciting chapter in educating Liberia’s children today and tomorrow.  

Furthermore, Street Child’s recent ‘Girls Speak Out appeal will help 20,000 children like Hawa in Sierra Leone and Liberia to access a quality education, thanks to matched funding from the UK Government's Department of International Development, which doubled all donations to the appeal.

- Felicia Dahlquist, Street Child Program Manager for Liberia

'Eskimo' braves tropical heat to win 5th Sierra Leone Marathon

- Mustafa ‘Eskimo’ Kamara crowned 2016 Sierra Leone Marathon Champion

- More than 600 runners compete in the world’s most ‘worthwhile’* marathon

 29th May 2016: 118 British and international runners traveled to Sierra Leone to join over 500 Sierra Leonean competitors in the 5th Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon.

Laid out over four distances – 5k, 10k, half and full marathon – the runners wove their way through the parched streets of Makeni in the north of the country. Braving hot and humid conditions, the surrounding communities were out in force to provide boisterous support for competitors from more than 15 countries worldwide, including those as far afield as Finland, Australia, China and Chile. 

Mustafa 'Eskimo' Kamara as he crosses the finish line as the winner of the 2016 Sierra Leone Marathon

But it was the Sierra Leonean nationals who swept the field, winning all four categories of the male and female competitions. Mustafa ‘Eskimo’ Kamara, 21, was the first full marathon runner across the finish line to take this year’s title.

“This is my first time winning here at the Sierra Leone Marathon at this distance.” Kamara said. “I’ve only competed in one marathon event before in Nigeria so it feels good to be the winner. I felt comfortable across all of the course and I’m so glad to be here now as the champion.

“This event is for children in our country so that makes it special for us and for me as the winner: children who are in the streets, children who need help getting into school, children who have very little – knowing they will be supported by this event, I am glad to have taken on those 26 miles for that.”  

The winner of the female marathon was Isatu Turay18, from Freetown.

“I’ve just finished so I’ll just say I feel okay!” said Turay not long after powering across the finish. “I did my first marathon here in 2015 and I came second. I’ve trained so hard for these conditions and I trained to win this year; and now I’ve done it.

“Since the marathon is helping support girls into school, girls who maybe don’t have a family or are struggling to go to school, to compete here and win is very special for me. Education is so important for girls in our country. If you are educated, people will be careful with you, they won’t be foolish with you. Girls need that help.” 

Street Child would like to say a massive thank you and a heartfelt congratulations to everyone who competed in this year's marathon. To those who have taken on this challenge and raised money to support the children, families, and communities that you visited ahead of the race, we are incredibly grateful for all that you've done - and continue to do - to support our work. We look forward to seeing you soon... and to welcoming you back next year!

Kadiatu's story

KADIATU, 15 YEARS OLD

I lost my father and sister to Ebola when I was in the first year of high school and they were the ones looking after me. My mother is a tailor by trade but she can’t get any work so she sells in the market. I’m not able to go to school because since my father and sister died I have to help my mother sell to earn some money.

For any girl that has some help from their parents, education is a great thing, as long as they want to learn. Let us go to school. It will make a better future for we girls and for our country.

People here in the community believe that learning is important to help you get by in future. But, even then, some of us here can’t afford it and don’t get that support to make sure we stay in school. So some girls can’t go. And if I had the power to change things, I would sit girls down and encourage them to go to school. Whatever they want to learn: school or skills training, like catering, I would help them to get it. Let them not end up like me, unsupported and out of school. 

Mary's story

MARY, 16 YEARS OLD

It’s been about a year since I was last in school. Now I sell water in the market to help get a little money for me and my family.

I was going to school before but my mother died. My father is in the village and he doesn’t support my schooling. Now I’m being looked after by my granny but she doesn’t support me in school either. Now I go out and sell in the market here just to have a little money. Maybe I can earn a little for myself to buy small things like shoes or clothes.

Education is so good for girls. If I was able to get educated, I could do better things and become a better person. I want to go to school but I just don’t have the chance.

When I’m out of school I feel bad. I see my friends going to school and that hurts because I can’t go with them. I see them going out to learn and I just sit here and sell.

If parents can’t look after their child and help them be in school then girls especially will suffer. They’re more at risk from men and might even get pregnant. And if they’re not educated, their own children will suffer because they’ll be no one to look after them properly. They should listen to girls and give them what they need to stay in school – fees, transport, something for lunch and most of all encouragement.

If a girl’s family isn’t able to send them to school, if I had the power, I wish I could pay for them myself. I’d give them advice and encourage them to stay there because that’s so important. 

Fatu's story

FATU, 18 YEARS OLD

My father is a fisherman. But often he can’t catch anything. And the money that he had to put me through school gets used up. My parents haven’t been able to send me to school for more than two years.

Eventually I came to live with my granny. But she doesn’t support me through school either. Now I go out to sell and make a little money to eat when I can.

I feel bad because I see my friends in their uniform and I’m sitting in the house while they go to school. What they’re going to learn, I’m not able to learn. That’s the difference between them and me. They’re getting better every day and I’m out selling.

If girls don’t get to school and end up illiterate, then what are they to do? People can take advantage of that. If girls aren’t educated, it’s easy for people to take advantage of them – especially men. Men come around here looking for young girls and those that don’t understand will have a man offer them $1 to get something to eat and they’ll think: “Look at this! This is big money!” That’s how they take advantage. And girls in that situation could even get pregnant. Girls who can read or write won’t be taken advantage of like that.   

I wish I could be at school. I want to be somebody. My mind tells me I want to go far. I want to be doctor or a lawyer. But that’s high level. How can girls do that when they can’t even read or write properly? Those things are beyond the mind of an illiterate person. So it’s like that. How will I get there with what I know?

If I could change one thing to make sure girls were in school, I’d give them a scholarship and make sure they could go. And then, once they were there, I’d make sure they got encouragement. Because if someone does send their kids to school and then just leaves them there how will they get on? They need support; someone to make sure they’re doing well every minute and hour that they have. 

That's what I would change.

Solomon's story

Siah, Solomon and Godgift, West Point, Monrovia

Solomon, age 6, and his brother Godgift, age 8, were living on Liberia’s West Point beach when Street Child staff found them. Sleeping together underneath a canoe at night, they would spend their days doing odd jobs, like helping the fisherman take their catch to market. Their mother Siah had been paralyzed by a stray bullet during the civil war, and her sons had become responsible for providing for the family, including Siah and their sister Promise. They slept on the beach to be closer to the fishermen, so that when the catch came in, they would be first in line.

Over a few months, Street Child’s street team gradually began working with the boys, and then the rest of the family, getting to understand their situation and the difficulties they were facing. One of the main challenges was money. Siah wanted the boys to live at home, and for all of her children to go to school, but she simply couldn’t afford it.

The Urban Business Team worked with Siah to identify a suitable business idea – one which she could set up and run easily, given her disability – and then gave her a grant of $125 to get going. Together Siah and the team created a business plan and set up a savings scheme, and Siah began selling charcoal. After just five months Siah’s business was expanding so fast, and she was making so much profit, that all the children were able to go to school, and the boys were able to live at home. For the first time in years, the family was together again.

Solomon is now in Grade 2, and is learning to read and write. His siblings Godgift and Blessing also went back to school, into Grades 4 and 6 respectively. All are working hard, learning for their future, thanks to a simple donation of $125.

Mariama's story

Mariama: Kroo Bay 18 years old

I’m now in my last year of high school and hope to be sitting my finals this year. I’ve never dropped out of school. But many of my friends from this area have not been so lucky.

The main factor is money. Many of the girls around here won’t have the money for school so they end up on the streets to find means for money. Another major factor is their parents. There are so few girls around here that are able to continue in education. It makes me feel bad. The more girls stay at home away from school, the more it can lead to underdevelopment of the country. So I think if more pupils are in school there will be a better future for girls in this country.

The one time that I did experience not being in school was during the Ebola crisis. It felt awful. When we girls are not in school, we’re expected to focus more on helping out our parents in the home or helping to provide. 

Even now that I’m back in school, I am the eldest of five siblings in my house. So you see, there are many of us. I’m the eldest and when school’s out, I’ll be sent to the market to sell packets of water and cold drinks to help provide. That is the expectation in my family. The money helps a bit to support our education but then we don’t have time to read our books or study. So it’s easy for our academic work to drop.

And this is the same for so many girls in this area.

I despair of the situation. I want to advocate to make sure that girls stay in school. If girls and their families are aware that education is important they will have the zeal to make sure they’re in school. People in this community do want to help and people can learn the importance of supporting girls through school. But if we don’t reach out to them for help, if we don’t try to help them change, then it will never happen.

Your dollars delivered - and kids are in school!

We've just disbursed donations made in the past two months to Sierra Leone, where they will support our 5 Towns project. This work takes places in Kambia, Kailahun, Mile 91, Moyamba, and Pujehun, which are among the poorest communities in Sierra Leone - already one of the poorest countries in the world. 

The 5 Towns program reduces poverty, increases living standards and, crucially, promotes access to education for street-connected children, through a holistic package of counselling, family reunification and mediation, and economic empowerment.

Obviously when Ebola hit the region, the project faced many challenges - yet became more vital than ever for children in vulnerable situations. So far, through this project we have worked with more than 1,000 children across the five towns, and supported almost 600 caregivers to set up a business, so they can turn a profit and afford education for their children.

profile: Kelfa Kargbo, Sierra Leone Country Director

Kelfa's story

Born in a small town called Kamakwie in Northern Sierra Leone, I come from a long line of pastors, and so I grew up moving from one village to another following my dad's churches. In total I most have attended 3 different elementary schools and 4 high schools. This was how my love to serve and work with vulnerable communities began.

As a way of enhancing my desire to work with vulnerable communities, I studied first for a Master’s Degree in Development Studies, and then later another Master’s degree in Business Administration.

After graduating in 1999 I took up employment with child protection agencies: a job I have been doing ever since. I have never found anything worth the struggles in life than to bring a smile on the faces of vulnerable children. This is my mission in life and to this I commit myself.   

Two days into my honeymoon in June 2000, I got the call that would change my life. Hundreds of children were trapped behind enemy lines during the senseless, decade-long rebel war in my country, Sierra Leone. The charity I was working for wanted someone to go urgently to rescue these children, and bring them to the safety of the capital, Freetown. No one was ready to take the risk because if you ran out of luck, you would either be shot on sight, or have a limb amputated if caught.

I felt compelled within me to go and rescue these children, so I talked with my new wife. She did not want me to go. Then I talked with my parents. My mother also did not want me to go. But my dad, being a pastor, said quietly, 'If this is the price we as a family have to pay to bring these children to safety, so be it. But rest assured that our God is alive'. So I went.

Since then I have not looked back, always making the right sacrifices to bring smiles to the faces of vulnerable children. I still, and will always will, love my job as a child protection officer.

I considered my decision to join Street Child in 2008 as one of the best decisions I have ever made in my career. It's a charity that employs very simple approaches to address huge challenges. Street Child's belief is that the solutions to most issues you face are found in your own backyard, and so the best thing you can do is to support communities to identify and address challenges themselves. The difference in Street Child’s work is measured by the lives we change, rather than the over-complexity of approaches to simple problems. The children are at the center of our work.

Yours truly

Kelfa Kargbo