In Sierra Leone, local mothers help vulnerable children back into school

Access to quality education, retention and completion of school remain challenges for children in Sierra Leone. UNICEF has been providing technical and financial support to partners to address the educational needs of vulnerable out-of-school children.

Harriet Mason
A boy in class with his classmates.
UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason
17 September 2019

MAGBOGBOKO, Sierra Leone – When Sullay Koroma lost his father to Ebola, his prospects looked bleak. With the family’s breadwinner gone, he dropped out of school when he had just completed class 3 (3rd Grade), and thought his days in the classroom were finished. Sullay, 12, is one of over 12,000 children in Sierra Leone, who lost one or two parents during the Ebola outbreak, which killed 11,325 people in the deadliest Ebola outbreak the world has seen. These children are also at risk of dropping out of school or many of them are already out of school because of lack of parental support.

Sierra Leone is among the poorest countries in the world, with over half of the population living below the poverty line. The Ebola crisis worsened the situation, reversing many of the economic gains achieved since the end of the decade long civil war in 2002. Families found it difficult to send their children back to school and overcoming these difficulties was a challenge.

As part of efforts to ensure that children of school-going age in Sierra Leone get enrolled, remain in school to complete basic education, UNICEF has been collaborating with Ministry of Education, Science and Technology(MEST) and Civil Society Organizations(CSOs) to support identification of these vulnerable children and ensure they are enrolled in schools. Thanks to generous funding from the Global Thematic, over 80,000 children have been supported to enroll and remain in schools.

UNICEF and its partners have also been supporting a community-based ‘Mothers’ Club’ initiative that empowers women to take on the responsibility of supporting vulnerable children to get an education, something funded through activities like gardening and arts and crafts production. The mothers in the community of Panlap in Bombali district provided Sullay with a pair of uniform, books and pencils, to help him return to school.

A member of a local Mother Support Group with a child they've supported to get back into school.
UNICEF Sierra Leone/2017/Mason
A member of a local Mother Support Group with a child they've supported to get back into school.

"I needed some help to continue with school, and I was not sure where that would come from."

Sullay Koroma

Through UNICEF partners like ActionAid International Sierra Leone, UNICEF, with support from the thematic contribution, provided each Mothers’ support clubs with 2 million Leones (about $270) which they can use for a range of activities including farming, soap production and tie and dye. “The clubs decide what they want to do, with some guidance from us,” said Robert Sam, Project Officer at ActionAid. “They sell whatever they produce and use profits to pay children’s school fees, buy uniforms, books, bags etc., depending on the individual needs.”

Agnes Tarawallie is the Chairlady of the Panlap Mothers’ Club, the group that supported Sullay’s return to school. “We, the women, have realized we have to rise up and make more efforts to ensure our children go to school and get educated,” said Agnes. “We have seen the disadvantages of illiteracy. It stops you from getting access to good employment or even appointment to public office."

In a bid to ensure Sullay stays in school, his mother is saving some of the money she makes from selling the produce from their farm. “I don’t want him to drop out again, so I am trying to save some money to keep supporting him,” she said.

Sullay now in class five, is not just focused on getting educated but is also thinking of how he can be of help in the future. “Every child needs to go to school and complete their education, so they can achieve their dreams and help develop the country,” he said, walking down the corridor of his school. “I want to be an engineer in future so I can help build more schools so there will be enough in every village.”

For Sullay’s younger brothers and peers, the Global Thematic has supported to establish community based learning centers. Young children from rural communities have also been supported to access community based early learning centers to engage in play based and learning activities, which builds their foundation for future learning. The centers are equipped with items like toys, play materials and coloring materials, including some produced with local materials, by members of the communities.