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Sierra Leone: ‘Sen u pikindem na skul. Dis fo change!’

I asked a colleague in Freetown to translate ‘Send your children to school, this is for change’ and the result, in Krio, is the title of this blog. I spent eight days in Sierra Leone, which is currently going into its 10th year since the end of the devastating conflict that affected most of the population.

Once there, we went all the way from Freetown to Kailahun, in the north-east of the country, almost forming a corner with the Liberian and Guinean borders. It took us more than 10 hours to get to Kailahun, over a varying collection of roads (non-existent at times). The road to Kailahun prepares you for the challenges you will face when you arrive. This is the town where the conflict started, and ended almost a decade later. It is no surprise then that the little infrastructure that was there before the war was completely destroyed, and rebuilding has taken a long time. Given its remote location, the access to basic services is severely limited for people in the Northern areas.

Overall, in Sierra Leone, more children are going to primary school now than five years ago; this is partly because of the structure set up by the government to decentralise education, with supervision given to district education offices, and also because of the setting-up of local committees, with importance attached to the decision-making of school monitoring committees, which include a number of children as representatives, parents and teachers.

However, many children are still out of school. Take Kailahun as an example. There are not enough qualified and professional teachers to cater for the high numbers of children enrolling in school; very poor families can’t afford to pay for indirect and direct school fees and need their children’s support to make household income.  And … some additional challenging factors: corporal punishment in school (though a widespread practice in society) and other child abuse and exploitation such as labour in school keeps children out, initiation rites remove children from school for a long period of time, sometimes coinciding with exams, and early marriage, which overwhelmingly affects many girls.

As we were leaving Kailahun, the radio started broadcasting a morning show, which started with the sounds of a girl who was crying. She was crying because her brother had been sent to school but she couldn’t go! “And why couldn’t she go?” Asked one voice… ah! “Her parents thought it best to send her brother to school, but not her.” “But why?” Asked the voice again, “Sending your child to school.. ‘dis fo change!’” A discussion followed, with a few local representatives talking about the importance of sending girls to school to improve the future of Sierra Leone.

I had already heard about the power of radio in Sierra Leone. In a country where radios transmit powerful messages and reach many millions at once, particularly reaching out to remote areas, the radio has been a useful tool to involve children, parents and communities alike. I say, if it’s raising awareness and encouraging parents to send their ‘pikinem na skul’, keep the broadcasts going!

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