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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Education plants the seeds of a better future for adolescents in Sierra Leone

'The State of the World's Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,' UNICEF’s new flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents' fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination. Here is one of the stories.

By Kyle O'Donoghue

KAILAHUN, Sierra Leone, 25 February 2011 – In this rural district of Kailahun, everyone takes part in farming on some level, whether you are a child helping your mother sort seeds or an old man weeding a field. However for David Vandy, 15, farming is no longer just about putting food on the table. It is about his education.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Kyle O'Donoghue reports on the determination of David Vandy, 15, a boy in rural Sierra Leone who raises and sells crops to help pay his own school fees.  Watch in RealPlayer


David grew up in Dawa village, a small town on Sierra Leone’s border with Liberia. It was not far from Dawa where the first rebels crossed the border in 1991, marking the start of Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war.

During the war, Kailahun was perhaps the most affected area, andit was under rebel occupation for the entire conflict. Most people fled amidst the mass killing, torture, rape and conscription of child soldiers. David and his family fled to Liberia.

Farming to pay for school

When they returned in 2002, David told his father that he wanted to go to school. However, a small fee of roughly $1 per term is levied on students at the school in Dawa to pay unregistered teachers and buy school supplies. For David's family, the fee was unattainable.

© UNICEF video
David Vandy, 15, raises and sells crops to help pay his school fees in Dawa village, located in the rural district of Kailahun, Sierra Leone.

“But I said to myself, I will go to school – I will force myself to go to school,” recalls David.

Not to be deterred, David went into the bush outside the village and began clearing his own patch of soil for cultivation. He plants chillies, cocoa and cassava, and when they mature he sells them at a nearby market. He uses the money to fund his own education.

Hope for the future

Part of only the second post-war class to graduate primary school in Dawa, David is optimistic about his future. “When I graduate school I want to be a teacher,” he says.

Should David pass his final exams, he will move on to high school in a nearby town. Questions remain as to whether he will be able to afford to travel and pay his own way.

Despite its poor infrastructure and a severe lack of trained teachers, Sierra Leone is striving to improve education. The stability afforded by eight years of peace is giving hope to the current generation of adolescents in this country.



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