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At a glance: Guinea

Mia Farrow highlights plight of vulnerable children

Focus on education

© UNICEF Guinea/2010/Asselin
In Conakry, Guinea, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow meets with children in a third-grade class at Dixinn Centre 2 Primary School. Many classrooms at the school accommodate more than 80 children.

By Edward Bally

CONAKRY, Guinea, 11 May 2010 - Internationally acclaimed actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow has completed a five-day mission to Guinea ahead of next month’s presidential elections.

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Ms. Farrow saw how the socio-economic crisis and the ongoing political transition have weakened basic social services, making Guinean children even more vulnerable.

Lack of investment in education

Education was a major focus of the visit. Ms. Farrow witnessed the effects of a lack of investment in education in recent years, which reportedly has led to a drop in the country’s primary school enrollment rate. Previously, the rate had been on the rise.

At Dixinn Centre 2 Primary School, in Conakry – one of the sites Ms. Farrow visited – the classrooms are overcrowded.

“We teach to 85 children per classroom,” said Dixinn head teacher Djene Camara, “and we have to make two groups: one in the morning, one in the evening. Unless something is done, there will be fewer and fewer children going to school.

For those students who remain, she added, there will be “more and more children per teacher.”

© UNICEF Guinea/2010/Asselin
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow sits with mothers and their children at the health centre in the village of Fermessadou, Guinea . The women are part of a cooperative that helps cover the costs of medical care for its members.

‘The future they deserve’

In Dixinn, a storm shattered half the school buildings last year, and they were not repaired. As a result, four children have to share a bench meant for two.

For Adama Sou, 10, these conditions make it difficult to learn. “It’s really warm in here, and there are too many pupils,” she said.

But there is hope. Thanks to a major investment from the ‘Education for All’ Fast Track Initiative’s Catalytic Fund – a multi-donor trust fund managed by the World Bank on behalf of donors – UNICEF will build 1,000 schools and invest in teacher training and improved curricula in Guinea over the next two years.

"This decision is to be celebrated," said Ms. Farrow. "The reform of the education system will give the children of Guinea the future they deserve."

Active pedagogy

Ms. Farrow also travelled to Forest Guinea, in Nzérékoré Prefecture, where UNICEF is building 25 schools and experimenting with ‘active pedagogy’, a new educational method.

“Active pedagogy means the teacher is only a guide,” said teacher Guilavogui Piou Laouo. “It’s the children who learn by themselves. The teacher is only here to help them find the solutions.”

This method has shown promising results, with children learning faster than they do using traditional methods.

“We started with those 25 schools along the border as a test,” said UNICEF Representative in Guinea Julien Harneis, “and now we want to spread the method throughout the entire school system in Guinea.”

© UNICEF Guinea/2010/Asselin
Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow sits among a group of women who have benefited from free health services at the hospital in the town of Kissidougou, Guinea.

Peace-building and health

While in Guinea, Ms. Farrow – who has done extensive work on issues facing children affected by conflict – also launched a project supported by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund and implemented by UNICEF and the non-governmental organization Search for Common Ground. The project encourages young people to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts by learning about their rights and democratic change.

In addition, Ms. Farrow visited health facilities in Forest Guinea to see firsthand the need for sustained investment in maternal and child health services. In the process, she saw how UNICEF works with communities to develop new ways to address health issues.

A positive force

In Fermessadou, for example, UNICEF and its partners have launched a privately funded mutual savings system known as ‘Muriga’. For $5 a year, pregnant women get access to prenatal consultation and delivery care. The project works to significantly decrease the number of maternal deaths; in the future, UNICEF hopes to extend it to the entire country.

On her last night in Guinea, Ms. Farrow and a group of diplomats and other officials watched a performance by street children who have been trained as acrobats, with support from UNICEF and the NGO Tinafan. The message of the evening was clear: With adequate assistance, children and young people here can be a positive force for change. They are the future of Guinea.




8 May 2010: UNICEF correspondent Vivian Siu reports on Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow's visit to Guinea.
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