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Street Child is a UK charity, established in 2008, that aims to create educational opportunity for some of the most vulnerable children in West Africa.

News

For an update on our Girls Speak Out Appeal with dedicated news and stories from the field, click here.

 

Fighting the legacy of Ebola with Speed Schools

Martin Forsyth

Street-Child-Liberia

Ebola had a devastating effect in West Africa, but one of the most enduring consequences has been the impact on children’s education. During the crisis, schools were closed and some students missed out on two years of schooling. Many children have not been able to return to education because the main family breadwinner died. There is simply not enough money to afford the books, shoes or uniform needed for the school day.

Street Child has implemented a new programme in Liberia to combat this issue. In collaboration with Geneva Global, a philanthropic consulting company, and funded by the Luminos Fund, the six-month programme teaches a condensed curriculum of Grades 1 and 2 in a Speed School. Children can catch up on the classes they have missed, and return to school in September to begin Grade 3.

On February 20th, classrooms in Bomi and Montserrado counties opened for the Geneva Global programme. Before the end of 2017, this will enable 2,000 children to learn basic literacy and numeracy, and will aid their transition back into local government schools.

Street-Child-Liberia-Geneva-Global
Street-Child-Liberia-Geneva-Global

The community ethos behind the programme enhances its results. Everyone is involved in motivating the children. Classes take place in community areas such as church halls or spare classrooms in local schools. Teachers are trained in the new methods in order to pass them on. Engaging parents in the importance of education is also fundamental to the success of the Speed School initiative.

Henry Farnbullah is a parents’ engagement group facilitator. His job is to provide the link between parents and teachers, dealing with problems such as truancy and missing homework. He said: “What Street Child is doing here is wonderful. We have children who would not be in education if it were not for this programme. I see the work going on and I see the benefits of children staying in education.”

Geneva Global developed the Speed School concept for the Luminos Fund, which aims to provide education for the most disadvantaged children in Africa and around the world. The classes are currently running in Ethiopia, Liberia and Lebanon, and the concept is working extremely well. Through Speed School, over 80,000 children in West Africa and Ethiopia have gone back to class.

Liberia really needs programmes such as this. Almost 5,000 people died of Ebola in the country, and some poorer communities were hardest hit. Statistics show that there are almost half a million 7-12 year olds out of school. Overall 58% of primary-age children are currently missing out on education.

Peter, aged 10, is among those being taught. His textbook is full of written work, from times tables to spelling tests. He said: “I like to come to school. Coming back will help me and my family.

It is a challenge getting all the children up to speed – but they all want to learn and we have been given good training,” said Stanley M. Feik, one of the Geneva Global facilitators, who teaches a group of around 20 pupils. "I know this will benefit the children, helping many get back in to education and creating a bright future for themselves.”

Street-Child-Liberia
Street-Child-Liberia

The Story of Serah Peter: Changing Lives in Conflict-Impacted Nigeria

Martin Forsyth

Street-Child-Nigeria

Serah is just one of 30 mothers who received a business grant from Street Child in Nigeria, after fleeing their homes from conflict in the North East of the country. Serah lives in the New Kuchingoro IDP camp with her four children; one of them is a Sickle Cell Anemia patient.

According to Serah, her daughter’s health condition has been a great concern to them as she is often ill and requires a blood transfusion every two months. Street Child was shown hospital debt amounting to #70,000. Serah lost her source of income after it was destroyed as a result of the conflict and was desperate to clear the debt.

Street-Child-Nigeria

Thanks to Street Child, Serah received a business grant and training which enabled her to start a bead making business within the camp. Her business is going well and she has told us how in just two week of receiving the grant she has sold #15,000 worth of beads and is able to start paying the hospital bill. She has paid #10,000 off the bill and re-invested 5,000 into her business.

Serah added that if the sales continue in this way in a short while she will have cleared the hospital debt and still have enough to re-invest into her business, save, provide for the family and manage the health of her sick daughter.

She concluded by thanking Street Child for their support and for empowering her to setup a sustainable business so she can continue to care for her family.

Learn more about our work in Nigeria. 

PARTNERING TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS IN LIBERIA

Martin Forsyth

Launching the programme

In September 2016, Street Child of Liberia took over the administration of 12 primary schools in two rural counties in Liberia. Working in partnership with the Ministry of Education, almost 3,500 students started the new school year at schools run by Street Child.

Read more about the launch of Street Child's Flagship Academies

Our aim is to improve literacy and numeracy across the board, as well as to increase general enrolment and attendance. Liberian public schools struggle to retain students in the face of endemic poverty and hidden fees, let alone reach grade targets. Street Child was also asked to develop strong relationships with parental groups, to promote and embed the importance of education in Liberian communities.

Street-Child-Liberia-PSL

The initiative is part of the Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL) project, which started with a competitive bidding process, and launched in pilot stage in September 2016. Street Child of Liberia was one of eight international and local providers chosen to support the scheme, and over 90 schools were designated between these organisations. The schools are free for children to attend, not subject to selective admission, and are cost-neutral for the government.

Where we are now

Assessments conducted halfway through the school year have been very encouraging. Effecting change takes time, but significant progress has been made in Street Child schools. The team began with simple solutions that could be effectively implemented across all 12 schools, and we have seen great results. We’ve been focusing on the impact of local context, school environments and barriers to education.

Here are some of the projects that we are most proud of:

Street-Child-Liberia-PSL

Teacher Training

We have run two major teacher training programmes this academic year – in August just before the start of term, and in February during the half term break. With over 100 teachers in attendance, the sessions focused on literacy, numeracy and how to use materials in the classroom.

I had no idea that teaching could be this much fun – and easy,” said Victoria, an early childhood education teacher in Cape Mount. “My students will be much more engaged when I take these new ways of thinking about learning back into the classroom.”

Reading in Every Classroom

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In early March we launched a new reading initiative across all 12 schools. We delivered 5,000 reading books across our schools and reading sessions have become a key part of the school day. With a reading coordinator appointed for each school, and twenty reading levels catered for, the children now have a strong framework for improvement.

One Principal said that the classes are so popular each morning that children come to the office to ask for the books if he has not given them out in time!

Parent workshops

Street Child held workshops in March to strengthen co-operation between Street Child, the schools and parents. This is the first time anything like this has been done in these schools and the parents were full of ideas to support their children. 180 Parent Teacher Association members took part in role-plays and since then have created building projects to improve school facilities and developed extra-curricular activities – including football clubs for the children.

Regular monitoring and support

Our teams on the ground in Margibi and Cape Mount counties offer practical advice and support to school staff creating a sustainable approach to education. We have also focused on understanding individual issues - like the fact that children often miss school on Fridays to work at the market – so we can find solutions that work. Using data analysis we have a great insight across our schools. We are always learning, and make sure that our students are too.

What’s next?  

Street Child is committed to low-cost sustainable education in the schools that we run, and we are looking forward to taking the programme into year two. The foundations laid this year should enable a smooth transition into the new school term and help us build on what we have already achieved. The possibility of scaling our model is an exciting challenge. With the knowledge and understanding that we have developed of schools in a rural context, there is a lot more we could do – particularly in south-eastern Liberia - with many deprived and isolated communities that lack any significant attention from the development community.

Street-Child-Liberia-PSL

Sierra Leone Marathon wins Best International Event at Running Awards

Martin Forsyth

Sierra Leone Marathon wins Best International Event at the Running Awards 2017

It’s with an enormous amount of pride and pleasure that we can announce that the Sierra Leone Marathon has won the Best International Event at the Running Awards 2017!

In a hugely competitive field that included World Marathon Majors like the Berlin Marathon and the epic Marathon Des Sables, the Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon took home the top prize.

Each year the Running Awards celebrates the world’s best and greatest marathons; to have triumphed in such a competitive field speaks volumes about our incredible marathon. With the vote decided by runners and supporters, we wanted to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to vote for us.

From its humble beginnings as a slightly wacky idea that took seed in a Caffe Nero in Clapham Junction five years ago, the Sierra Leone Marathon has grown to be our flagship fundraising event raising over £1.5m for Street Child. We’ve had over 400 international runners from all corners of the globe and in Sierra Leone the profile of the marathon has grown to become the country’s biggest sporting event.

The Sierra Leone Marathon is returning to Makeni for its sixth edition this year; we already have our largest ever number of international runners and the race is set to be the best yet. If you want to join us in Sierra Leone and experience this incredible adventure with the marathoners, the half marathoners, the 10k and 5k runners and our amazing volunteers you can sign up to come with us today.

Street Child helps girls go back to school

Martin Forsyth

Girls-Education-Liberia-Street-Child

“They help you to help yourself”

All the chairs in the classrooms are stacked up, and the children have gone home. The grounds in front of the school are empty, and the playground next door is quiet. But one group of girls is still in the classroom, busily studying into the afternoon.

These girls are all 17 and 18 year olds who have recently gone back to school after being out of school for a long time. They are working with a teacher to catch up on the lessons they have missed. This will allow them to go back into Grade Six instead of a lower class, where they might feel more self-conscious of their age, and therefore more likely to drop out again.

“I had to drop out of school because my Ma passed away and there was no money to send me,” said Ellie, 18. “Now, I don’t know how old the other children in my class are, but I don’t mind. I want to be a medical doctor one day.”

Thanks to our Girls Speak Out appeal, Street Child was able to provide grants for school materials, ID cards and uniforms for the girls. Despite all government schools in Liberia being nominally free of charge, these additional costs can be more than some families can afford.

Girls-Education-Street-Child

Even with financial help, peer pressure is a major factor in girls’ education. “It is harder for girls to stay in school when they make friends with boys and get pregnant,” says Ruth, one of the girls in the catch-up class. “You need somebody to help you go to school. They can help you to help yourself.”

If the older girls feel uncomfortable in class, or that they have missed too much, there is a danger that girls may stop going altogether. Over 73% of all Liberian children drop out between primary and junior high school. That’s why Street Child catch-up classes are so important. With the help of teachers and the Street Child social workers, the girls in this rural school can continue moving up the grade system and graduate as soon as possible – a goal to which they all aspire.

Learn more about Street Child's work in Liberia

 

Comic Relief 2017: Ed Sheeran and Russell Howard visit Liberia with Street Child

Martin Forsyth

Ed-Sheeran-Comic-Relief

"I'll never forget the kids I met on this trip. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience”
– Ed Sheeran

Earlier this year superstar Ed Sheeran and best-selling comedian Russell Howard both headed to Liberia to visit Street Child’s work with Ebola orphans and street children. Both stars visited our projects as part of this year’s Comic Relief. Tune in to Red Nose Day tonight from 7pm on BBC1 to see what they got up to and how, with your support, we’re changing lives.  

After a moving visit to Liberia with Street Child, Russell Howard said:

“I went to a village that was decimated by Ebola, and I met a lady who had lost 13 family members in 6 months. People who had lost brothers and sisters and dads. [Street Child] helps deal with the aftermath of Ebola. It was oddly uplifting, in a time of such hatred and division in the world it was so wonderful to see all the money that we raised helping people who really needed help.”

On his visit to Liberia, Ed Sheeran met children like talented 12 year-old Peaches, who has an amazing voice and sang for him (check out the video below). She lost her dad to Ebola and then her house collapsed into the sea due to erosion. Ed said ‘I’ll never forget the kids I met on this trip. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience.'

It’s not every day that superstars brave West Africa to see the harsh realities of life for the children we work with and we’re so grateful that they’re standing up for every child’s right to an education. 

We’re so thankful to Comic Relief, Ed and Russell for their support. Don’t miss Comic Relief tonight from 7pm on BBC1! 

4 Incredible Women fighting for children's education

Martin Forsyth

This article originally appeared on Global Citizen, read it here.

There are over 60 million children worldwide who are out of school, many because of conflict and crisis. On International Women’s Day we are sharing the stories of 4 incredible women who are defying the odds to ensure children can go to school and have hope for the future: 

Ramatu, the 70 year old grandma caring for 18 grandchildren after Ebola

Over 12,000 children were orphaned during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Grandparents, like 70 year old Ramatu, not only lost their own children but have taken on the responsibility of caring for and educating their grandchildren - often at great personal cost. Ramatu lives in a small community just outside the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown with her husband Alusine. She now cares for her 18 grandchildren, six of whom lost their parents to Ebola. Before Ebola hit, she was already caring for 12 children after their parents passed away.

Ramatu’s granddaughter Bintu was just 11 years old when she, along with her three younger sisters, lost both their parents to Ebola. They were living in Liberia at the time so 70-year-old Ramatu made the long, dangerous trip across Ebola-infected Sierra Leone and Liberia to pick up her four grieving, vulnerable grandchildren - one of whom was just a baby. By the end of 2015, Ramatu had sadly lost another of her own children to Ebola, meaning that she had another two grandchildren to care for.

Survival has been a serious struggle for the family but she is determined to care for each child and support them through their grief. Despite her years, two years on from the crisis, with the support of Street Child Ramatu has setup a business so that she can feed and educate her 18 grandchildren.  She is a truly remarkable woman.

Saraswati, the earthquake survivor determined to see her daughters in school

The Nepal Earthquake in 2015 left over 1 million children out of school and destroyed over 50,000 classrooms. Sindhuli was one of the districts worst affected by the earthquakes. For Saraswati, it meant her three daughters were unable to go to school, something she never wanted to see happen:

“When the first earthquake struck I ran to the school to check if my daughters were okay. I was scared to send my children back to school after the earthquakes, the building had cracks….whenever there was an aftershock all the children would start running out and get hurt….and I would rush to the school to check if my girls were alright.

My parents didn’t want me to go to school because I was a girl. They said it wasn’t necessary. Today, one of my brothers is a doctor, one’s a vet and one has his own business but I was never given that opportunity. This is why I am determined to educate all of my three girls so they can have a better life than me.”

After the Nepal Earthquakes, many parents were scared to send their children to school because of damage to school buildings. Now Street Child are building 20 learning spaces in Sindhuli to ensure that children are safe to go to school. Saraswati is championing education for girls and boys in her community, leading by example in showing her community that it is safe for children to go back to school.

Cecelia, the social worker who is fighting for girls like her

Cecelia leads a team of social workers with NGO Street Child of Sierra Leone, her role is to help some of the world’s poorest girls to access education. Many girls growing up in Sierra Leone never get the chance to go to school. All too often they are faced with poverty, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and child labour or losing a parent. She said:

“This has never just been a job for me; I know first-hand the difficulties faced by girls growing up in Sierra Leone.

When I was a teenager, I lost my father. He left huge debts. My mother, siblings and I faced homelessness. Our house was repossessed and we had no-one to help us. In order to survive, I married young; it wasn’t a choice I wanted to make, but it was the only way to support my family and ensure my siblings could go to school. 

Today I fight to ensure that girls don’t have to make the kinds of choices that I did, to keep them out of poverty and to make sure they have a chance to go to school and receive a quality education.

We hear from girls suffering abuse both in and out of school, girls with no choice but to sleep with men to help them get by and others under pressure from parents or their community to marry or work rather than go to school. But the issue that girls identify more than any other preventing them from going to school is poverty.

My team and I are committed to getting girls back to education and working to impact on the poverty that is preventing them from being there. We’ve developed an innovative and effective programme, based on the girls’ responses, to ensure every child has the chance to a seat in the classroom.”

Elizabeth, the mum fleeing conflict in North-East Nigeria

Conflict in North East Nigeria has forced over 2 million people to flee their homes. Over 3 million children are unable to go to school. Elizabeth and her family are just one of countless families impacted by the conflict that caused what the UN has called ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’. Elizabeth has resolved not to let this crisis beat her.

Elizabeth grew up in Goza, Borno State, and lived there with her husband and six children. In Goza, Elizabeth's family were safe and happy. Her husband worked as a farmer on a small plot of land, whilst Elizabeth ran a small goods business. All her children were able to go to school. 

In 2014 everything changed. Due to conflict in North East Nigeria, Elizabeth was forced to flee her village with her family. After two months of travelling through dangerous territories, they reached the safety of Abuja, and were settled in the Kuchingoro Displaced Persons' Camp. 

There is little food in the camp and children have only just begun to access education. But Elizabeth is defying the odds.

With the help of UK charity Street Child, 30 mothers, including Elizabeth, are doing vocational training. They are working to set up sustainable businesses within the camp to ensure their children are fed and can go to school. Survival is an everyday battle at the moment but Elizabeth tenaciously refuses to lose hope.

Thanks to you: Our First Project Launches in Nigeria

Martin Forsyth

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On Saturday February 18, Nigeria officially became the fourth country Street Child work in, with the launch of our first project in the New Kuchingoro Displaced Persons Camp, on the edge of Abuja. 

In November, we launched an Urgent Nigeria Appeal in response to conflict in the North East of the country, which has left three million children unable to go to school. We're now on the ground and taking action to help families whose lives have been torn apart by conflict. This project in Abuja is just the first step of our planned work in the country. 

The Abuja project is working with families who have been displaced by the conflict, which has forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes since 2011. It is providing 150 children with sustainable education support, so that they can return to school and remain in education. We are also giving 30 mothers vocational training and business support so that they can rebuild their lives and provide for their children long term. 

Right now, we are planning further projects in Nigeria, partnering with local organisations to provide children with the safe education spaces that they deserve. Your support is making it possible for us to give hope to a generation of children. Thank you. 

Find out more about our Nigeria Appeal here

Nigerian News Channel, NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) covered the launch of our appeal. You can watch the segment here.

Education for Invisible children

Martin Forsyth

Access to Education - Nepal, Street Child Charity

Today is a big day for Street Child of Nepal as we open our first 'non-earthquake' related project - a school for 'brick factory children' in Bhaktapur, on the edge of Kathmandu.

As we've been re-building schools in earthquake-affected communities, we have identified pockets of 'invisible' children who have no access to education at all.

Children of brick workers are one such group – labourers are typically migrant workers from India and South Nepal and often whole families will live and work on site for the entire six month brick season – during which time children are often living in dangerous conditions, exposed to labour and out of school. In fact, our research shows that 66 per cent of children living in brick kilns have never been to school. The majority of parents are desperate for their children to have an education knowing that it’s the pathway to a better future.

We’ve partnered with grass-roots charity Kopila Nepa who are experienced in providing children of brick kiln workers with an accelerated learning programme where they learn a year’s curriculum in just six months. They’ve even seen children return to existing school systems and outperform their peers!

The new Street Child School, run with the support of the owners of the brick kiln and local partners, is a first step in providing education for these ‘invisible’ children and giving them hope for the future. We hope it's the first of many schools to come!

After 5 years - a new chairman for Street Child

Martin Forsyth

After a five-year commitment, Bart van der Vliet is stepping down as Chairman of Street Child at the start of 2017 to focus on new challenges. Bart remains a passionate supporter of the charity and keen to support our work in whatever ways he can. As Chair, Bart has made a significant and generous contribution to the life of the charity - from his broad-ranging formal duties, to the energy he has given to many of Street Child's boldest initiatives, in particular the Sierra Leone Marathon.  Bart's characteristic enthusiasm has inspired many to get behind Street Child. We are enormously grateful - and wish him every success in the future.

 Street Child is delighted that Pete Garratt, an advisor and trustee of the charity since 2008, will be replacing Bart, initially as an interim Chairman. Pete has been working in international development for 17 years and brings a wealth of expertise with him from senior roles in major organisations, particularly in the field of disaster response. He is exceptionally well placed to chair the organisation - especially as we look to develop our growing focus on children in emergencies. Pete, like Street Child, also began his development career in Makeni - in Pete's case with a 9-month posting for a Canadian charity in 2004. He has also spent a significant portion of his career working on Nepal, in particular in his roles with the British and International Federation of the Red Cross. 

A letter from Street Child CEO Tom Dannatt

Martin Forsyth

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Dear supporters,

A year ago I wrote to you launching an appeal to re-build schools following the Nepal earthquake. A year on, I am delighted to report that the construction of hundreds of semi-permanent classrooms is nearing completion.

Earlier this year we focused on girls’ education in post-Ebola Sierra Leone and Liberia. Many of you responded incredibly generously to our DFID match-funded appeal. As I write, because of you, our teams are out in communities, working with thousands of girls and their families to help them go to school: thank you.

As someone who cares about our work, I wanted you to be amongst the first to know of a new direction we will be taking - helping children caught up in the hardly known but catastrophic situation in North East Nigeria. A situation recently described by UNICEF as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”.

Following the impact of our Ebola and post-earthquake work, the UN has asked us to consider working in more countries where the need, especially for education, greatly outstrips the help available. They asked us to look at Nigeria. As I examined the situation, what I read made me feel sick. This is a humanitarian crisis as large as any in the world - but unlike Aleppo or the European refugee crisis, it has been largely ignored.

Moreover, with the world’s highest number of out of school children, Nigeria makes sense for Street Child.

In the ongoing conflict in North Nigeria, education is not just been collateral damage - education is being actively targeted. Since mid-2015 the Nigerian government has fought back strongly and people are beginning to return to their communities, but three million children in North East Nigeria are in need of urgent education assistance - and for tens of thousands of these children, their life actually hangs in the balance due to chronic malnutrition
 
We have the capability to give these forgotten children, who have been through hell, hope for their futures - like we did after Ebola and the earthquake. We can help turn their lives around.
 
So after careful consideration, we have decided that we must take action. We have our first plans in place – setting up schools for displaced people; reconstructing schools; training teachers; caring for orphans; sharing learning materials. We will do all this in partnership with local people and organisations who we can get behind and strengthen the hand of.
 
As ever, we cannot do this without your generous support. Many of you have already done so much for us this year, and I recognise that this is another ask of your generosity, but put simply - this situation is horrific. It shocked me to my core and Street Child, with your help, has the capacity act.
 
If you feel that this is an initiative you want to support – we would be hugely grateful. In total we need to pull together £100,000 as a starter-fund to launch our work in Nigeria and begin to change the lives of thousands of vulnerable children. 
 
Over the next few weeks we will be sharing more information on the situation in North-East Nigeria. If you would like to know more or to support this project, please get in touch, or visit www.street-child.co.uk/nigeria - we’d love to share our plans with you.
 
Together we are really making things happen – for some of the very poorest and least fortunate children in the world.
 
Thank you as ever, so much, for your kind support and interest in everything we are doing.

Thank you
Tom
 
P.S. If you’d like to read, or even watch, he speech I made at Saturday’s Winter Ball at the Tower of London, where we launched the Nigeria initiative, you can do so here. A huge thank you to everyone who gave so generously on the night - your kindness means that we have already raised over £21,000 specifically towards the launch of this work.

Rachel Reeves MP on Ebola, One Year On

Martin Forsyth

It is one year since Sierra Leone was first officially declared Ebola free. It is also one year since Rebecca had her baby.

Rebecca is one of 12,000 children orphaned by Ebola in Sierra Leone (Street Child). She is also one of the 18,119 girls to fall pregnant during the crisis (UNFPA).

Yesterday, to mark the anniversary, the President of Sierra Leone led a three minute silence at 11am to remember those who lost their lives to the virus that ravaged the country and tore families apart. Flags were lowered to half mast, schools paused their lessons and traffic stopped.  

For girls like Rebecca, now 18, the reminders of Ebola are not just once a year, they are in her everyday fight for survival.

During Ebola she lost her mother, uncle and sister. She and her father were the only survivors. The family fell further into poverty forcing Rebecca to find a boyfriend who agreed to give her food in exchange for sex. When she became pregnant he abandoned her.

Rebecca cannot contain her emotion when she describes how her father then passed away too, leaving her pregnant and alone.

She cannot go to school and makes a paltry living selling small items at market and braiding hair. 

Today, one year on, she is still struggling to afford basic food and medicine for her baby.

Whilst the scenes of overcrowded Ebola treatment centres and medical staff wearing full disease protection clothing may no longer be on our screens, here in the UK we need to question whether we averted our eyes too quickly. Is this crisis really over?

For girls like Rebecca and thousands others like her, it certainly isn’t.

4,000 people lost their lives in Sierra Leone during the epidemic that swept the country in 2014-15.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, girls and women were disproportionately impacted. UNDP says that teen pregnancy rates rose by up to 65% in some communities. A generation of babies have now been born to teenage mothers like Rebecca who were forced to exchange sex for food during Ebola.

Without support, many of these teenage mums will never go back to school. Many will struggle to find a job and many of them will struggle to feed their children.

The Government of Sierra Leone says that every year that a girl stays in school increases her earning potential by 10-20%. The sad reality for many of these teenage mothers is that their chances of finishing their education ended when they became pregnant.

What if these girls were given a chance? What if more girls were able to go to school after Ebola?

Right now, the Sierra Leonean economy is really struggling. Street Child Social worker George Quaker tells us ‘the price of rice has doubled since 2014 and wages have not risen in line with this.’

Ten days ago I hosted an ODI event on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Westminster. I have no doubt that supporting women in business could play a key part in Sierra Leone’s recovery, if more women and girls are given the opportunity to contribute. 

UK NGO Street Child has provided 8,000 Ebola-impacted families with business grants and support in the last eighteen months and the majority of these went to women, because they make the best use of the funding. Time and again, mothers have proven more likely to invest the profit that they make directly back into their families. Rebecca will soon become one of the mothers given a second chance by Street Child.

Tackling inequality in education and investing in women will undoubtedly help Sierra Leone recover faster. It will mean that more women are able to make an economic contribution that helps the country and their family.

Educated girls not only earn more but they make better mothers too: they are more likely to ensure that their children go to school and that they have their vaccinations. Literate mothers are also better able to access information and advice that can help their children, like being able to read the instructions on medicine packets.

Widespread education could, in itself, have helped stem the rapid spread of the Ebola virus if more people had been literate so that they could read the posters and leaflets warning about how the disease is spread. 

Ebola is a prime example of how low illiteracy can create problems far beyond that country’s borders. Lack of education meant that Ebola spread quickly and posed a global threat - including to the UK. 

For me, I believe we have a moral duty to act when faced with extreme poverty and inequality, but it is also important to recognise that supporting global education and tackling gender inequality is actually good for everyone. So it makes sense for us to care about what happens to the poorest and most vulnerable children in Sierra Leone. It makes sense for us to want to see more Ebola orphans helped and more girls able to access education.

The UK has a strong, generous record in supporting international development and ring fencing 0.7 percent of GDP that we should be proud of. Our aid can help some of the children worst impacted by Ebola to have a chance; and it can help prevent future outbreaks of diseases that could affect any one of us.

As we join with Sierra Leoneans in celebrating one year Ebola free, we must not forget that the recovery still has a long way to go - especially for the most vulnerable women and girls. As global citizens we should not turn the other way. Instead, we should help give girls like Rebecca hope for a better future.

References:

Street Child, Ebola orphan report: www.street-child.co.uk/ebola-orphan-report 

UNFPA quoted in Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium: http://www.securelivelihoods.org/publications_details.aspx?resourceid=402&Page=2 

UNDP: http://www.sl.undp.org/content/sierraleone/en/home/library/crisis_prevention_and_recovery/assessing-sexual-and-gender-based-violence-during-the-ebola-cris.html 

Street Child, Girls Speak Out report: http://www.street-child.co.uk/girls-report/   

One Year on from Ebola

Martin Forsyth

By Wendy Morton MP:

 

In a country where children are educated by law until they are 16, it is easy to forget that learning is not a right extended globally but rather in many cases, a privilege.  A privilege too often interrupted by poverty. 

A recent visit to Freetown in Sierra Leone was a stark reminder of that. While the country has been Ebola free for a year, the impact continues to be felt. And no group more so than children. Thousands were orphaned and forced out of education. Schools closed and in some cases are yet to re-open.

Of course, barriers to education existed before the epidemic. However, back in 2013 - when I first travelled to Sierra Leone with the Conservative Party International Social Action Project - the country was seeking to become a transformed nation with middle-income status. It was starting to see progress tackling post-conflict high youth unemployment, corruption and weak national cohesion, as well as poverty and poor infrastructure.

Returning with the project in September this year, the devastating impact Ebola has had was clear.

I accompanied social workers from Street Child to Kissy Bomeh dumpsite where the charity is doing great work to identify Ebola-impacted households with young children who are not in school. As a member of the International Development Committee I have visited some of the world’s poorest nations but rarely have I seen such extreme poverty up close.

I spoke to one woman living in a temporary shelter on the edge of the dump with seven young children. She explained her greatest fear was not the dangers faced by her family from spending their days working on the hazardous dumpsite; but from the road which ran directly behind her shelter. She feared a car would crash into them while they slept.

When your energy is so focused on surviving it is easy to understand why children miss out on going to school. That is why the support offered by Street Child social workers is essential. During Ebola, more than 6,000 impacted households received small family business grants combined with social care, business support and savings advice.

On the other side of the dump, I was introduced to two families already receiving such support. The contrast was stark. One woman had just returned home after selling out of porridge which she made and sold every morning to people on their way to work. Her neighbour was in the process of getting her daughter ready for school – a significant moment only made possible through the support of the social workers.

Some may be tempted to question why the families are still living on the edge of the dumpsite, why they have not been relocated. But that would mean taking these people away from the area and community they know. So instead, Street Child helps empower families to lift themselves out of extreme poverty through generating sustainable incomes. The results speak for themselves; typically, two years after all support has ceased, over 85 per cent of these family businesses are still successful and children are still in school. In Sierra Leone Street Child financially assisted more than 18,000 children impacted by Ebola back into school.

 

It is not just Ebola that has prevented children from receiving an education in Sierra Leone. On a visit with the social workers to Kroo Bay slum I saw a school flooded from the previous night’s rainfall – rainfall that would have felt relatively light from the security of a permanent shelter, yet had the power to damage a school to the point where it cannot be used.

These things demonstrate just how important the work done by Street Child is. While the social workers may support families to overcome the obstacles in actually getting children to school, if at the end of that there is no school for them to attend, or teachers to help them learn, it is all for nothing.

Through the work of organisations like Street Child much has been done, but there is still much to do. Like many developing countries Sierra Leone faces a learning crisis.  The need for assistance and support remains.

Wendy Morton, Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills, visited Sierra Leone in September with the Conservative Party International Social Action Project.

Why aren't Sierra Leone's girls going to school?

Martin Forsyth

In the small West African country of Sierra Leone, 46% of girls and young women aged 15-24 do not know how to read and write.

In contrast, 72% of Sierra Leonean boys and young men are literate (UNICEF).

Isatu, who is now 17 years old, dropped out of secondary school in Year 8 because her family could not afford to keep her there. Year 9 is the last year of basic education in Sierra Leone, and her family knew they would not be able to afford the end of year exam.

Sierra Leone is missing out, because when girls and women are educated, everyone benefits. Women who reach secondary school earn more, have fewer and healthier children, and are more likely to send their own children to school (World Bank).

Currently, Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

Today’s UN Day of the Girl Child is a global reminder that we need to listen to girls, understand their problems and take action to make life better for everyone.

Street Child, an NGO working to help some of the world’s poorest children to access education, recently carried out a nationwide consultation with two thousand adolescent girls across Sierra Leone. Its aim was to understand what stops girls going to school. National researchers in towns and villages across Sierra Leone conducted the survey with girls both in school and out of school.

Researchers spoke with girls like Isatu who is from Bo, one of the largest towns in Sierra Leone.

Isatu’s story was common - poverty was found to be the major principal barrier to girls’ education in Sierra Leone - over 40% of out of school girls said that was the reason they dropped out of school. In households with very meagre resources, education of girls is often not prioritised.

Isatu now helps her mother to sell snacks in the market. On a good day they make £3 profit, which supports a family of ten.

Over 70% of Sierra Leoneans live on less than £2 a day.

Barriers to education for girls are often inter-linked. Isatu herself comes from a single parent family, since her father died when she was 13.

The loss of a caregiver, and the accompanying financial and emotional trauma, was the second most common reason for girls dropping out.

In these situations, girls are often required to take on the role of caregivers and breadwinners themselves. Street Child estimates that the recent Ebola epidemic saw 12,000 children orphaned in Sierra Leone alone. Many orphaned girls are now trying to earn a living and take care of younger siblings instead of going to school.

Although Isatu’s mother says she wants her daughter to go back to school, she also said she needs her help with the business and looking after the children. Three out of the five girls in the family are not in school.

Isatu’s three brothers are all still in school.

Adolescence is a critical time for girls in school in Sierra Leone. Responsibilities for child care and income mount; and the risk of child marriage and teenage pregnancy increases with physical maturity.

During Ebola, many girls became teenage mothers, often because ‘boyfriends’ would offer them with a little money to buy essentials like food.

Isatu become a mother a year ago - her little daughter Marie was born when the Ebola crisis was at its height. Both Isatu and Marie were fortunate; Sierra Leone is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth. And according to one study (LSTM, 2015) maternal mortality during Ebola rose by 30%, due to fear of health facilities and lack of basic education.

But Marie’s father disappeared when he found out Isatu was pregnant, and she receives no support from him. When girls drop out of school because of teenage pregnancy - the third most common reason - they very rarely go back.

Isatu is very keen to finish her studies, and she is not alone. There is a huge appetite for learning amongst Sierra Leonean girls. Over 80% of the out of school girls interviewed said they wanted to go back to school.

The support of boys and men is critical for girls’ education. The National Consultation interviewed both boys and elders, and found a lot of support. Yet the misconception that girls are not worth educating as much as boys was often repeated. “Girls are for the marital home in the end”, they said, “they have weaker brains”.

The national statistics show how this ends: for every two boys that reach the last year of secondary school, only one girl makes it (UNICEF, 2014).

Neither of Isatu’s parents ever went to school themselves - illiteracy is even more common amongst the older generations in Sierra Leone. But because Isatu got as far as secondary school, her daughter Marie is more likely to go to school herself.

When girls like Isatu miss out on education - Sierra Leone misses out too.

International Day of the Girl Child is about standing with girls like Isatu so that she can create the future she wants for her daughter.

It serves as an important reminder to all of us to examine gender inequality in our own communities and our global community. Tackling these problems won’t just benefit girls, it will benefit everyone.

The road to global gender equality is going to be a long one - but it is worth the fight.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post, click here to read it.

Celebrating teachers on World Teachers Day

Martin Forsyth

Street Child believe every child has a right to a quality education, since 2008 we have trained over 550 teachers in Sierra Leone and Liberia to improve teaching standards and ensure children are given the best opportunity for a bright future. In Nepal, we have begun training teachers on counselling techniques to help students cope with trauma post-earth quake and they will learn disaster risk reduction strategies.

This World Teachers Day we wanted to celebrate the amazing role of teachers in changing the lives of vulnerable children. Liberia recently topped UNICEF’s ranking of the 10 worst countries in the world for access to primary school so we decided to speak to some of the teachers from our new Partnership Schools in Liberia to find out how they are making a difference in their country and why they became teachers:   

Metzger Adama from Fahnja Public School:

‘I decided to become a teacher as I was disgusted by the high illiteracy rate that existed in Cape Mount County. I want to encourage young children to learn the importance of education so that they can become future leaders’.

Henry Mitchell – the principle of Fahn Seh School:

‘The reason I became a teacher in my village school is because I believe that education is the key to success. The children of my village deserve the right to an education and I am convinced that by being a teacher I can help make the difference in the lives of these young people.

Rochelle Dennis from Fahn Seh Public School:

‘I chose to become a teacher so that I could be a role model for our children so that they can become better Liberian citizens. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow and so we are highly dependent on them. By being a teacher I can help bring these children up to a standard that will allow them to lead our country in the future.’

Henry Fahnbulleh from Kpendekor Elementary School:

‘I decided to become a teacher because I want to kick illiteracy out of our country and build up our children’s future in this world as education is the key to success.’

John Waiwuo – principle of Bumie Kpaja School:

‘If the youth of today are educated, then I believe that they will be able to meaningfully contribute to the development of our community and the nation building process. When the rate of illiteracy is high, the chance of our country developing will not be realised’

George Suah, principle of Lonfay School:

‘I want our children to learn. If our children can learn then our country will develop.’

Just £50 is enough to train a teacher and ensure they can provide a quality education for vulnerable children.