With more than one million residents, Freetown has the highest population of any city in Sierra Leone. Over a decade has passed since the end of the civil war, but families remain poor, with many families unable to access education.
By the end of the civil war, around two million people had been displaced, with entire communities forced to flee their homes. Today, millions continue to suffer as the poverty remains high. Extreme financial hardship forces many families to send their children to work. The recent Ebola crisis has left society buckling under the added pressure.
Child marriage and limited education
Child marriage is common for young girls. 20% marry under the age of 15, and almost half by the age of 18. Most go on to raise large families, with around 40% of girls giving birth before they reach adulthood. This has caused literacy rates among young girls to remain very low.
Many schools were destroyed in the civil war. Reconstruction work is improving educational prospects in Freetown. But although education is technically free, the cost of school uniforms and educational resources is more than many parents can afford.
It is estimated that around 1,500 live rough on the streets in Freetown. Without a home to go to, these children are at serious risk of exploitation and sexual abuse. After the war, a large number of children were kidnapped and trafficked out of the country. Forced into prostitution or slave labour, many become dependent on their income from the commercial sex industry.
How we are helping
When we began work in Freetown in 1974, the civil war was in full swing, and emergency relief was the main focus at our Children's Village. We provided shelter for more than 2,000 people at Freetown Village, and worked to support those affected in the surrounding community.
Today, conditions are more stable. But many families continue to live in extreme poverty. We provide essential services such as medical care at our SOS social centre, and help families achieve financial independence. During the recent Ebola outbreak, we provided food, disinfectant and protective equipment to families from the local community.
We also run a unique centre which provides support to children with disabilities – a neglected area in Sierra Leone society. We provide guidance and therapy designed to ensure they can live full, indepenent lives.
Giving a child a chance at life
Some children cannot live with their families. Many can find a home in our Children’s Village. Here, they join an SOS family and grow up in the care of an SOS mother.
Youngsters attend the SOS nursery alongside children from the neighbourhood, before moving on to the SOS primary and secondary schools. On the SOS youth programme, they move into shared accommodation with other young adults and learn to live independently with the support of a youth worker. At the same time, they complete their education through degree courses or vocational training, equipping them for life ahead and the world of work.
Many children continue to suffer in the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s devastating civil war. You can make a lasting difference to the life of a vulnerable child by sponsoring online today.