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Community-based schools provide hope to the children of Sierra Leone

UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2008/Barnford
© UNICEF/Sierra Leone/2008/Bamford

Rogbonko, Sierra Leone, October 2008 - “I want to be a nurse” whispers Isatu “so I can help stop the suffering in my family.”  She smiles as she talks about her dreams and describes her favourite subjects: English and Science. 

Isatu lives with her father and three siblings in Robonko village about ten miles outside of, Makeni, the headquarter town in northern Sierra Leone. 

Isatu is twelve years old and is just about to commence her third year at Rogbonko Community Primary School (usually at 12 years children are preparing for either their final year in primary or first year in secondary). Until 2005 there was no school within Isatu’s community and parents were worried about sending their children, especially girls, to walk long distances to the nearest school (approximately 12 miles away). 

With a growing sensitisation and awareness on the need for education, in 2005 the Robonko community initiated the construction of a make-shift school using local materials such as thatch and mud.  Volunteers, mainly young school leavers also stepped forward to become teachers.  Improving access and retention in rural schools remains a major challenge

“The school was not very nice at the start” explains Isatu “for example it leaked when it rained.  We had only two classrooms which were quite crowded and the chairs and tables were made of kane, but this didn’t really matter because we were so happy to have a school and be able to learn.” 

In support of Government’s efforts to ensure access to education for every child, especially girls, UNICEF in 2006 began working with their NGO partner to rehabilitate Rogbonko Community School.  A six classroom block was built with separate toilet for boys and girls as well as recreational facilities such as swings, slides and roundabouts. Teaching and learning materials were also provided and volunteers were motivated by the in-service teacher training opportunities provided which also included certificates. 

Door-to-door mobilization for girl's education
The school has become increasingly popular both within and around the Robonko community.  Thanks to the hard work of the community’s leaders and teachers, many of Rogbonko’s children are now able to successfully complete their primary education. The drive to recruit children was led by the village chief and teachers who travelled from house-to-house raising awareness on the benefits of providing children, in particular girls, with an education. Today the school is proud of a current enrolment of 239 pupils, almost 60% of whom are girls.

”I’m so happy to be able to go to school now” says Isatu.  “I would never have had the opportunity of learning if this community school had not been here”.  “I am glad that a school is now in our village. I want to complete my education and come back here to work in our hospital,” she explains. “I really want to help other families.”

The Community School Initiative, which is based on the concept of creating and managing the school at the community level, is designed to offer a conducive learning environment for children who would otherwise be left behind because of their remote location. Its flexible and informal approach is a direct response to the needs and capacity of the community.  Most importantly, the quality of education doesn’t suffer as the curriculum is based on national standards.

Key to the initiative is a community’s sense of ownership.  Since the community is directly involved in the process – from hands-on labour to math instruction – they have a vested interest in the project and in the education of their children.  Improving access to education across the country has been one way in which UNICEF has supported the government of Sierra Leone to ensure the dreams of thousands of girls such as Isatu, become a reality.

by Emily Bamford



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