STREET CHILD LAUNCHES IN SOUTH EAST LIBERIA - THE FORGOTTEN CORNER OF LIBERIA

Liberia has the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world. In fact, it is currently expected to be the last country on earth to achieve universal education. The Southeast of the country has the worst education outcomes meaning children born in this region have the lowest chance in the world of learning to read and write.

Earlier this year, as part of the Partnership Schools for Liberia programme, Street Child began working with the Liberian Government to improve education quality in this forgotten region of Liberia. In fact, we are the only education NGO working in Maryland County – despite it having some of the worst education indicators in the world.

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Even in comparison to the rest of Liberia, the six counties in the southeast – Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh and River Cess – are extremely poor and marginalised. Poor infrastructure has left these counties isolated. The road network is unpaved, thick with mud, and often impassable in rainy season. It can take three days to travel a distance of 700km to reach Maryland, via a circuitous route around the far northwest of Liberia.

People living in these counties also face a lack of opportunity and employment. In River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland, 65% of the population lives in food poverty. Gold mining represents one of the only forms of livelihood available and children as young as seven or eight can be seen working in the small-scale mining sites.

When I see young boy children come to the market to buy a shovel, I know they are going to the mines,” Hawa, a market woman in Maryland said. “Sometimes I try to talk them out of it, but they will just go somewhere else to buy a shovel. They should not be going, but some of them don’t have a choice.”

This context will be a new challenge for Street Child, but the sheer number of children at risk means it cannot continue to be ignored. We will be working in both urban and rural areas, and each with its own significant difficulties.

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In urban settings, there are just not enough schools to cater for the number of children. Many classrooms are dangerously overcrowded and in the worst cases, children are missing out on education altogether.

“We want to take all the children, because we want them to get an education, but the rooms are too small”, said the Principal of one public elementary school in Harper. “There are too many children and not enough learning materials for effective teaching. It is a problem for us.”

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In rural settings, the problem is the opposite. Enrolment and attendance is generally low across the rural schools. Teachers and principals report that many communities place little value on education. Early marriage, domestic duties and teenage pregnancy further reduce the number of girls attending school.

Those few children who do attend school are unlikely to receive a quality education. Poor infrastructure, a lack of trained teachers and a lack of essential materials hinder even basic learning. Many schools can only use a small number of the classrooms available, because of leakages in the roof, damaged flooring, and a lack of desks and benches.

This is where Street Child comes in. We will be working with the local government administration, school leadership, teachers and local communities to improve children’s learning.

Learning from our experience in Sierra Leone and year one of the Partnership Schools for Liberia programme, we aim to work collaboratively to offer sustainable solutions and practical methods. With time, we look to embed our presence in the southeast, to develop strategies to tackle the social as well as educational issues that affect children’s lives in this forgotten corner of Liberia.

Rebecca RyanComment