Emergency Cash Transfers for vulnerable families in Sierra Leone

Supporting informal workers during the pandemic

Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa, Communication Specialist
Mother wearing a mask against Covid-19 with her daughter after receiving cash
23 June 2020

For the past 18 years, single mother, Umu Kamara has frequented the streets of Freetown in Sierra Leone, carrying a basket load of lotions and cosmetics for selling.  The income from this daily ritual, though meagre, has helped put food on the table for her four children and has also helped buy their school materials.

Sadly, the current Corona Virus Disease, COVID-19 pandemic, has dramatically changed her fortunes. Profits from her daily sales have significantly dwindled, while on the flip side, the prices of basic commodities such as rice have gone up.

“The money I used to get from selling used to be enough to feed my children and keep them happy, but in the last two months, people have been following the advice to stay home so that they are protected from corona – this means there are less customers out there,” says Umu, as she explains the difficult situation that she and other informal traders across Sierra Leone are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Poverty in Sierra Leone has been pervasive, with nearly 60% of people living below the poverty line. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many into deeper levels of poverty as financial resources have depleted.  For Umu and many others in her situation, children are also now being forced to take on economic activities to help supplement the household income.

“Normally my children would either be in school or at home while I am in the street trading, but now that they are not going to school, my 17-year-old son is also selling various items on the streets. I know he should be at home, safe from contracting the diseases and also catching up with his studies, but this has not been possible until now,” says Umu, who today is elated to be chosen as a beneficiary of the current COVID-19 Emergency Cash Transfer programme targeting informal workers in urban areas.

Mother holding her daughter, sitting next to another woman with her phone in her hand
UNICEF Sierra Leone 2020/Mutseyekwa
Umu Kamara (L) with NaCSA Senior M &E Officer, Isata Carew, during a targeting exercise in Freetown

This programme which is managed by the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), with World Bank and UNICEF support, is part of the national social protection response to COVID-19, designed to reach out to the extremely poor population with cash disbursements during this time of the pandemic. 

Under this programme, Umu, along with 29,000 other heads of households of informal workers in urban areas, are receiving a once off Le1,309,000 (USD$ 135) disbursement which will make these difficult times more bearable. A further 35,000 households will be enrolled to receive assistance under the National Social Safety Net (SSN) programme, which is the national flagship social protection programme for vulnerable households.

All cash recipients have undergone a rigorous targeting and verification exercise to assess their level of vulnerability during these unforeseen times. Teams of social protection volunteers from National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), Community and District monitors from the Anti-Corruption Commission and Enumerators from Statistics Sierra Leone have been busy in communities across Sierra Leone identifying the families in need of the disbursements. A scoring matrix based on ten assessment areas of potential vulnerability, is used to consider whether a person is eligible to receive this disbursement. A score of more than seven vulnerabilities means an individual is eligible for support and a cheque is handed over for encashment at a local bank.

A few minutes after being assessed using the scoring matrix tool, Umu receives an SMS notification on her phone, advising her that she qualifies for this all important once off targeted support.  She then proceeds to collect her cheque and immediately heads off to cash it in town. Her immediate needs are to buy some food for her children and to also ensure that her son does not continue going into town to sell. 

“As the economic fallout threatens households across Sierra Leone because of COVID-19, cash transfers to vulnerable families reduce risks to children, which include food insecurity, limited access to health care and exposure to child labour. This emergency cash transfer is designed to cushion families during this period and to ensure that household poverty does not translate to deprivations for children,” said UNICEF Representative, Dr. Suleiman Braimoh.

Across town from where Umu has just gone through the assessment process, mother of three Mariana Kanu, who is a fish trader, is heading back to her market stall at Aberdeen market.  A few weeks ago, she had run out of money to replenish her stock and had stopped going to the market. The cash disbursement which she received the previous day, has been a lifeline for her to revive this business venture which helps her to sustain her family.