Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone in West Africa, has just come through a bitter and vicious civil war. Tens of thousands of people died and more were injured – amputation of body parts, specifically hands and arms of previously able bodied people was a favoured tactic of terror by attacking forces on both sides of the conflict. A third of the population was displaced during these years, and the country’s economy and infrastructure were devastated, whilst international confidence was reduced to the point where there is very little foreign investment in the country, even today. Rebuilding will be a long, slow process.

As always, war and conflict has had an impact on the most vulnerable members of society. About nine tenths of children who go to school in Sierra Leone will do so without having breakfast beforehand, and six tenths of school children will not have a lunch. A study in 2002 found 46% of all child deaths in the country were due to malnutrition.

To address the widespread problem of malnutrition, WIN is trying to set up a feeding programme within five schools where our representatives, Tamba and Marina, are involved. These schools cater for 700-800 children, aged three to fifteen.We wish to ensure that the children receive a healthy and nutritious lunch each day that they come to school, thereby improving immediate physical health as well as encouraging better education that will have long term benefits for not only the child, but the entire community.

To ensure the feeding programme's success, we need £5 per child per month (About $8). This amount ensures a child gets one good meal every day at school.

Before WIN’s involvement, funds from other sources allowed for a school lunch to be provided just once a month. This monthly meal usually consisted of a slice of bread and sometimes other pieces of food. According to Marina, some of the children being fed were so conscious of other family members being hungry at home; they would often eat half the bread and carefully take the rest home to be shared there.

Marina tells of a time when the lunch consisted of fried rice and chicken. Children were observed carefully picking out the pieces of chicken and wrapping them up to take home, before eating the rice.

Sometimes, the lunch includes biscuits and even sweets such as hard lollipops. The children make the lollies last as long as they can, unwrapping them, sucking them for a minute, then rewrapping them to save for later. A lolly can last a long time.

Children being children and the same the world over, they quickly found a way to make the most of these treats. Some of them used the lollipops to gain popularity amongst their school friends. They allowed each child a lick of their lolly, and accepted the respect and admiration that being the owner of the sweet treat brings to them.

Sweets are not the only lollipops. Children who have been given chicken legs savour every mouthful and then, when the meat is gone, they will suck on the bone for hours, as if this can prolong the experience of having had the food.

In fact, in a country where it is scarce, food is a powerful tool in deciding the playground hierarchy. Those children who have been able to bring a lunch to school find themselves with many new friends and followers, all begging for a bite of the food. A child with an apple learned quickly how to make the desire of their fellow pupils profitable. Children agreed to carry bags and clean shoes in return for a bite of the fruit. But the enterprising nature of the children did not stop there because the child who earned the bite then split the chunk of apple into three pieces, ate one piece and “sold on” the other two pieces for favours for themselves.

In order to ensure a healthy diet at affordable prices, and to try to reduce long term dependency on foreign aid sources, Tamba is attempting to raise the funds to lease land on which he can grow crops such as maize and millet. Some of the food grown by him would supplement the feeding programme, giving healthy food items at the same time as cutting costs. The rest of the crop could be sold to ensure that the project can be self sustaining.

The needs of our projects and the people they help can thus be summed up as follows:

In the short term, we need to encourage children into education and begin rebuilding the country’s skills base, at the same time promoting healthy living and overcome life-limiting hunger and malnutrition. We also need to raise funds to lease land on which to grow crops.

Longer term, we need to encourage investment rather than simple aid. The people of Sierra Leone need partners rather than benefactors, people who will be willing to work alongside them to enable Sierra Leone to become a viable concern and to take their place in the global village of the twenty first century.

No comments:

Post a Comment