WHERE and why
Thanks to our supporters, Street Child has helped more than 50,000
of the world's poorest children into school since 2008.
How it all began - Sierra Leone
Street Child makes sure that the poorest children, in the poorest countries in the world, can go to school - and stay there.
We work mainly with children who rely on the streets for their survival in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two small countries on the western-most tip of West Africa. Street Child became an official nonprofit in 2008, but the work began before that, when Founder Tom Dannatt finished his MSc in Human Rights and traveled to West Africa, looking for somewhere to begin his mission of ensuring that all children have access to education - a basic human right.
While on his travels, he found a small, local organization in a town called Makeni, in Sierra Leone, which was already doing excellent work caring for children orphaned by war. At the time, Sierra Leone was deemed by the United Nations to be the poorest country in the world, following more than a decade of intense and violent civil war, during which an entire generation of people missed out on an education, and more than 300,000 children became orphaned and homeless.
Tom felt that this beautiful, and now peaceful but desperately poor country, where almost 50% of the adult population did not even have basic literacy skills, was an excellent place to start his work. In 2007 he invested some of his savings in that organization, thus founding Street Child, and together he and his appointed program director Kelfa (who still runs Street Child's operations in Sierra Leone today), developed the support model which forms the basis of Street Child's work:
- Befriend children living on the streets;
- Reunite them with immediate or extended family who agree to care for them;
- Mentor the new relationship until it is stable, including providing counselling for any trauma experienced while on the streets (such as violence);
- Give that family a grant to create or expand a small business, or a bag of seed to farm, so that they can generate their own income; and
- Provide savings opportunities so that - as a condition of the grant - the family can put aside some money every day to pay for their children's education.
Over the years this model has inevitably developed and adapted, according to changing needs and circumstances, and feedback from communities, local staff, and direct beneficiaries. We have added and expanded various components - for example, we have increased the number of business grants we give out, and we now have an entire team dedicated to working with small business owners and rural farmers to help them make their work a success.
We were also a vital player during the Ebola crisis, using our unique reach into remote, local communities, where no other nonprofits work, to help educate people about how the virus was passed on, and bring food to communities desperately affected by the harsh quarantines and restrictions on movement. Between March 2014 and the end of the outbreak in Fall 2015 we added an additional, crucial element to the model - emergency relief - based on the understanding that children who are hungry cannot and do not learn.
Throughout all this innovation and development, however, our core work - our mission, our delivery, and our grassroots approach - have remained strong, and in 2013 we used our experience to transpose the model onto neighboring Liberia, with its very similar history and challenges.
The next step - Liberia
Liberia shares a border with Sierra Leone to the south. A prosperous country until its own decade-long civil war in the 1990s, Liberia faces very similar problems to those in Sierra Leone: gross poverty (84% of the country live below the poverty line), an over-populated capital city (more than half of the population is based in Monrovia), and one of the world’s lowest primary school enrollment rates at 49.3%. The country also has a huge number of street children needing support, which is why in 2013, it became clear to Street Child that the next logical chapter in our history would be to start running services for street children in Monrovia.
It is crystal clear from our experience that working with a local organization is the only way to really ensure that services are truly designed for, and accessible to, the people who need them the most, and so once again we developed a local presence, employing local, trained staff, headed up initially by a stalwart of our Sierra Leone operation.
Between 2013, when Street Child's Liberian operation launched, and 2015, our work has grown exponentially. Ebola hit the country hard, less than six months after we opened, and so our stories about the early days of operation in Liberia are very different from those of Sierra Leone. Our outcomes, however, are the same - thousands of children helped off the streets and into secure, loving homes; hundreds of new businesses set up and making a profit; tens of thousands of starving children and adults given emergency food, and thousands of children back in school and learning for a better future.
How Street Child is different
Street Child is different from other nonprofits in some significant ways:
Firstly, working at a grassroots level is crucial. It gives us access into remote communities, enabling us to reach people with whom no other NGOs work. It gives us the ability to develop services with people who understand the challenges the beneficiaries face - because those challenges affect them too. It helps us fundraise locally; and it helps our services to gain people's trust. This was more important than ever during the Ebola crisis; while the major organizations were building multi-million-dollar treatment centers, Street Child hired 1,700 local 'Ebola educators', who cycled around the villages of Liberia and Sierra Leone, explaining to people how the disease was passed on, and how to keep safe - at a cost of $30 per month per educator.
We design services with the beneficiaries themselves, making them truly impactful. In October 2015 we ran a consultation with more than 2,000 adolescent girls in Sierra Leone, asking them what they feel are the barriers to obtaining an education, so that we could devise services addressing their specific challenges. In May 2015, we ran a consultation with an entire community in Liberia - one disproportionately affected by Ebola - to find out exactly what would help them recover.
Small and non-bureaucratic
Our teams are small which not only keeps costs down, but means that we can move money where it is needed the most very quickly. Money donated to Street Child can genuinely be on the ground making a difference within a couple of days.
Street Child's global headquarters are in London, England, but we also have offices in the US, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. These international offices fundraise for the work on the ground, report back to funders, help to develop the services, and provide support to local teams. Street Child US is the newest of these fundraising offices.
Having international offices enables people and organizations in other countries, including the US, to support street children in West Africa more easily. Your gifts go to the same programs, whichever office you give through, but if you give through the office registered in the country where you pay tax, your gifts will be tax deductible. Street Child US is a fully registered 501c3 nonprofit, so all donations given by US tax payers to Street Child US are tax deductible.
Having international offices also enables donors to give in their own currency, which means that Street Child does not have to pay fees on two currency exchanges (once converting dollars to GBP, and then another conversion to the local currency of Sierra Leone or Liberia). This maximizes the amount of money reaching the overseas programs, which is where we all want the money to be spent.
In 2009 Sierra Leone was named among Lonely Planet's top ten countries to visit, thanks to its beautiful beaches and incredibly friendly, hospitable people. Neighboring Liberia, which was Africa's first ever independent republic and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, has similar beaches and was hugely prosperous before its civil war. Read more.