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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Adolescent theatre builds peace in Sierra Leone

Ibrahim and his fellow actors are part of a Theatre for Development group that created a play that challenges the culture of violence and corporal punishment and encourages peacebuilding.  Download this video


By Pierette James

Of the world’s 57 million out-of-school children, more than half live in countries scarred by war and violence. Yet education is perhaps the single most transformative institution for children. It can lift children out of poverty, keep them safe from violence and help them become global citizens for peace.

On 25 and 26 June, the Global Partnership for Education is holding its Replenishment Pledging Conference in Brussels, hosted by the European Union. The international community will be called on to ensure that all boys and girls – particularly those living in conflict and post-conflict situations – are in school and learning. 

In Sierra Leone, where a civil war that ended more than a decade ago still casts a shadow of violence, a group of young performers is using theatre to raise awareness of violence and corporal punishment and to promote the message of peacebuilding.

© UNICEF Video
Ibrahim, 17, plays the stepson, who is beaten by his stepmother and then punished at school.

KENEMA, Sierra Leone, 23 June 2014 – As the growing crowd waits expectantly in a square in Sierra Leone’s Kenema district, 17-year-old Ibrahim Jalloh and his fellow actors are brimming with excitement, ready to perform their new play, 'The Stepson'. 

The group have created a production that is meant not just to entertain, but also to educate. Their play condemns violence and corporal punishment and encourages peacebuilding. The theatre group is supported by UNICEF’s Learning for Peace programme.

Ibrahim plays the title character, who is beaten by his stepmother and then punished at school. Violence forces him to run away and live on the streets.

The story concludes when the village chief helps everyone see the error in their actions and convinces the teacher and stepmother to stop using corporal punishment.

“I really like the story of the play,” Ibrahim says, “because it teaches us and our parents to be responsible.”

UNICEF Sierra Leone Communication for Development specialist Frederick Bobor-James explains the thinking behind the theatre group: “For authorities to say ‘We want you to stop corporal punishment’ would be a very difficult thing – [people] would not even listen to them. So we thought that we would use an ‘edutainment’ approach and make people laugh about it – and yet get the message, go home, digest the message and begin to think about how to change things.”

Removing the roots of war

While the civil war in Sierra Leone officially ended in January 2002, following more than a decade of violence, a Learning for Peace study in 2013 found a continuing presence of underlying causes of conflict.

© UNICEF Video
The play's message focuses on violence in the home and in school and how it contributes to a larger problem.

UNICEF Sierra Leone designed a programme to address these causes and minimize the chances of a future relapse into violent conflict. The educators believe that removing corporal punishment from the community and classroom will reduce violence and lead to alternative forms of discipline that encourage constructive approaches to resolving conflict. 

This idea is at the heart of Ibrahim’s theatre group, in which children and young people from a range of backgrounds work together to tell stories and change behaviour.

Education for peace

Mr. Bobor-James remembers the impact of violence in schools nearly 20 years ago. “During the war, those boys that dropped out of school went into the bush and joined the rebels,” he says. “When they came back, they were looking for teachers who violated their rights and [used] corporal punishment. So they killed a number of them.”

There is a lot more to be done to uproot the seeds of fear, Mr. Bobor-James believes. “Even after the war, the tension is still there,” he says. “The fear is still there in the children. And sometimes they don’t even want to come to school.” 

Ibrahim and his peers are hopeful, and they have a final message for teachers and their community: “Corporal punishment is not good. They are supposed to reduce corporal punishment and concentrate on education. Education is the key to success.”

Learning for Peace is an innovative programme that uses education to build peace in 14 countries around the world. To learn more about the Learning for Peace programme and UNICEF’s work in education for peacebuilding please visit Learning for Peace.



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