Sierra Leone has now had more than a decade of peace since the ending of its civil war in 2002. But the nation remains one of the poorest in the world, ranked 177th out of 186 countries last year on the human development index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Life expectancy is just 47 and for every 10,000 live births, nearly 200 children will die before the age of five (World Health Organisation 2011 data).
Following the recent G8 and hunger summit, ITV’s Daybreak programme has this week taken a look at what life is like for mothers and children in Sierra Leone. One of the programme’s presenters, Ranvir Singh, travelled to the country to film a series of special reports.
In one of the reports, she travels to a food distribution centre, where mothers and their children wait for hours to receive a small amount of basic food supplies to help them through the rainy months, known as ‘the hunger season’ in Sierra Leone. Each family receives just one kilo of lentils, a bottle of cooking oil and some high-protein blend, which will have to last families a month. One mother explained that without these supplies, she would have to go out begging.
In another film, Ranvir and a UK mother from Glasgow talk to a woman who has lost eight of her ten children to disease and hunger. On the day of filming, Hannah is helping her surviving son get ready for school. But both Hannah and her child have had no breakfast and no food the previous day. Without any money or seeds to start growing a new harvest, each day Hannah and her son are living a precarious existence.
Writing on a blog about her visit to Sierra Leone, Ranvir talks about visiting the slums in Freetown. Here, she speaks of finding children scavenging in the mounds of waste at the edge of the city. Barefooted and in meagre clothes, the children are looking for plastic bottles which they can sell for pennies to help their families buy food. Ranvir is horrified because the children search the rubbish alongside pigs. “Pigs. And children. Together,” writes the presenter, clearly shocked by the reality and describing how she wanted someone to shout ‘cut’ while witnessing these scenes, hoping what surrounded her was “a film set, not reality”.
But talking to one youngster searching for plastic, the girl tells Ranvir that she wants to be an accountant when she grows up. Ambition and hope can still be found in this desperately poor country, even when each day is a struggle for survival.