Sierra Leone has never had it easy. A BBC News timeline that overviews the history of Sierra Leone from 1787 to the present shows a past full of the strife of 10 years of civil war and a present full of the pains of the deadly Ebola virus. By August 2014, Ebola had been responsible for over 400 deaths in Sierra Leone and as of November 15, 2015, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention had the number at 3955.
Recent devastating floods could exacerbate the Ebola problem as people made homeless by these floods are crowded together into the national football stadium for emergency accommodation. Sierra Leone’s government has encouraged those who still have homes to stay inside them in order to avoid danger. Four people have died and many parts of the capital, Freetown, were massively affected by these floods. Operations have even been canceled at the country’s main hospital due to damage caused by the natural disasters. The only people who do not have to abide by the stay-at-home orders are students who are currently undertaking very important public exams. (BBC News).
Unfortunately, floods are not the only factor getting in the way of students when it comes to their education. Amnesty International reports that young, pregnant Sierra Leonean girls are being denied access to education. They are stigmatized and subjected to physical tests by teachers to determine whether or not they are pregnant. Thus barred from taking important exams, they are further disadvantaged and their futures are undermined. The practice of excluding pregnant girls from education is not a new phenomenon in Sierra Leone but it is particularly troublesome post-Ebola outbreak because the number of adolescent pregnancies has risen. Amnesty International attributes this mostly to quarantines that prevented girls from reaching healthcare systems, which were already stretched thin in dealing with the epidemic. In a climate like this, where girls cannot access adequate reproductive health services or advice, it is not a surprise that the rate of pregnancies rose. It is important the right of these women to education is recognized and that these women gain the skills to be able to provide for themselves and their future children.
IBREA signed an agreement with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through the UN mission of Sierra Leone) as well as Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA). Further to providing our curriculum to one of the MSWGCA’s officials in 2014, we plan to start a program with social workers and women they work with in Freetown starting next year. It is our hope that when members of the community learn to embrace themselves fully, they can regain their confidence and can more likely reach their full potential. When individuals participating in the program are more happy within themselves, they will naturally want to reach out and help their neighbors achieve the same state. We cannot change Sierra Leone’s many structural and environmental issues but we can decide not to write them off as a lost cause, and help empower their people to make changes in themselves eventually resulting in changes in their community and societal structures. We can decide to do everything we can to help them become a country that prospers and thrives on its own.
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