The fifth school to be funded by The Millione Foundation opened in September. It is in a poor community in the centre of the country in the district of Sierra Leone’s second city, Bo. What follows is an extract from the report sent to us by ActionAid Sierra Leone. It includes several quotes from the local people involved and clearly shows the benefits, the obstacles and the appreciation. It is a far better statement of why we do what we do than anything I can write.
Thank you so much for your commitment to improving the lives of children and their families in Gollu community, in Bo District, Sierra Leone. With your support, at least 354 children will have improved access to a quality education. We have built a school so that children have a safe, well-equipped learning environment where they can gain the knowledge they need to thrive later in life. We know that the school building alone isn’t enough to ensure children receive a good education, which is why we are addressing other barriers to education including poverty, violence against girls and traditional attitudes that prevent girls from attending school.
Key project successes to date:
• Enrolment has increased by more than 10% with 405 children now enrolled in the school – the enrolment of girls has also increased by 10% which is a positive step in the recognition of girls’ education
• The community is working together to identify issues with the quality of and barriers to education. They have put in place action plans to tackle these issues. This leadership and ownership of the community is testament to the sustainability of the activities.
• 30 women have been trained and provided with resources so they can begin setting up their small businesses
• The women involved in the project have stated that their involvement in community decisions, and the respect they receive from men, has increased as a result of this project
Hawanatu Kafulla, 11 years old, said
“On behalf of the pupils and staff of the school, we say a big thank you to the Millione Foundation for providing this beautiful school for us. We have been given an opportunity that will help to transform our lives and that of our families. We now have access to water and good toilet facilities that will help us to stay in school and learn well. We thank the donors for their care and support to the Gollu Community.”
Barriers to education
Despite the Government of Sierra Leone’s 2003 commitment to provide free primary education, progress towards improving education is slow. A lack of investment means that classes across the country currently take place in dilapidated buildings and teachers are often untrained and unqualified. Dropout rates are high, particularly among girls. The school environment is very important for encouraging children, especially girls, to attend school. If girls do not have access to private, safe toilets, they are likely to skip school when they are menstruating and often drop out altogether. This is not helped by local gender norms which see many people in the communities taking the view that girls should stay at home and help with domestic chores. The education sector in Bo district is not exempt from these problems with poor infrastructure, a limited number of qualified teachers and high dropout rates.
However, with your support, we are addressing these issues and ensuring children in Gollu community and the surrounding villages can receive a quality education. If ever there was a time that children needed access to quality education, it is now. The Ebola outbreak did little to help education in Sierra Leone. The schools were closed to prevent the spread of the disease and children’s learning has been significantly affected as a result. It is vital, now that schools have reopened, that teachers are supported to help children to catch up.
Education not only provides children with the means to escape poverty, it helps with their recovery after the devastation left by the Ebola outbreak. Studies have shown that disasters can severely affect the physical, mental and emotional development of children. Children’s lives are severely disrupted and they can be exposed to extreme suffering – both mental and physical. Schools can offer children much needed stability in the midst of this chaos and allow children to continue with their education and have the opportunity to play and interact with other children in a safe environment. Schools provide a sense of comfort and security for the children and a familiar routine to help them overcome the distress and instability they have experienced. Schools also help families to get back on their feet by giving parents and other families members the time they need to re-establish their livelihoods with the peace of mind that their children are safe and protected.
The importance of local leaders
Limited government funds and weak state capacity mean School Management Committees are an integral part of managing the day-to-day running of schools in Sierra Leone. Members (including the head teacher, village elders and local community) are responsible for the allocation of government funding, recruitment of teachers and school maintenance and repair. Promoting children’s education especially that of girls can be challenging if school management and administration is not properly coordinated. We conducted training, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, for 10 members of the committee including teachers, female leaders, youths, and the community chief. The training gave the participants the skills they need to manage the school funds and resources and to ensure that the children are receiving a quality education.
It is not enough to simply train the committee members, parents must also be supportive of their children’s education. We therefore selected 30 women from the Mothers’ Club and provided training so they could be spokespeople for education in their community, with a specific focus on the enrolment of girls. Working with the community we broadcast three radio discussion programmes which were transmitted within Bo district. The topics covered include the importance of girls’ education, the motivation of teachers, the need for improved government support to teacher training and salaries, and how to protect children in schools. We built on the radio programmes through our campaign to end violence against girls in school.
Alimatu Simbo, head of the Mothers’ Club explained why this project is so important for her and the other community members in Gollu. “The education of our children is the only asset that cannot be stolen from them”.
Enhancing women’s entrepreneurial skills
We provided training to 30 women from the Mothers’ Clubs on entrepreneurship and business skills. This covered topics such as how to make savings on investment, basic book keeping, how to identify a potential business partner and how to assess profitability. The training enhanced their capacity to effectively manage and run their businesses. We also provided the materials needed to start their soap-making business.
Said Isatu Magbie was a participant in the training. She explained why it is so important for her. “I can be sure of what the future will bring if I am involved in generating my own income. With the income generation activity that is supported by the Millione Foundation, I will count my eggs even before they are hatched. Thank you to the donors.”
Alimatu Simbo, head of the Mothers’ Club, was also a participant in the training.
“The business investment support will be a legacy for us women in the community. Previously, there were not enough opportunities for women to earn money and support the family. This is the reason why men were able to prevent us from contributing to community development and taking leadership roles. Many thanks for the support from the Millione foundation and ActionAid. We are now set for true change and progress.”
Real lives: Kadiatu Luseni
“My name is Kadiatu Luseni and I am age 47 years old. I lost my husband three years ago and I am now a widow with three children (one boy and two girls). I am a petty trader who sells cooking condiments. This is how I have tried over the years in raising income to support my children at home and their education. I was trained by ActionAid to support education in the community and because of my active role in our community I was appointed by my fellow women into the role of secretary to our Mothers’ Club. The training and awareness raising programme has resulted in a huge commitment shown by women to effectively monitor children especially in schools. Before the training we paid little attention to education but with this project, we have made some gains. Now I am part of an organised women group helping to monitor the school pupils for tidiness and regularity. We also encourage parents to send their children to school. I have also been trained in business enterprise which has helped to broaden my knowledge in small scale business enterprise. With this training, we are more united than ever and this will result to mutual love and support amongst women both in the community. Thank you so much for supporting livelihoods and education in my community”
Thank you to the Millione Foundation for your support to children and their families in Gollu, Sierra Leone