The Secretary-General’s Message for the International Day of Peace

This year we mark International Day of Peace as we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This foundational document is a reminder that peace takes root when people are free from hunger, poverty and oppression and can thrive and prosper.

With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as our guide, we must ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

I encourage you to speak up. For gender equality.  For inclusive societies.  For climate action.

Do your part at school, at work, at home. Every step counts.

Let us act together to promote and defend human rights for all, in the name of lasting peace for all.

Empowering adolescents through Girls’ Clubs

By Angelique Reid, Communications Specialist, UNFPA Sierra Leone

 

PUJEHUN, Sierra Leone, 20 August 2018 – Sierra Leone ranks as the 18th country with the highest prevalence of child marriage globally, with 38.9 percent of girls married before age 18 among 20-24 years, and 12.5 percent married before age 15 among 20-24 years (DHS, 2013).

Sierra Leone is one of 12 countries implementing the Joint UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage to reach girls who are most at risk to adolescent pregnancy and child marriage. Through the joint programme, UNFPA supports the Women in Crisis Movement (WICM) – a local non-governmental organisation in Sierra. WICM works to empower vulnerable women and girls through better reproductive health, skills training and safe spaces. With funding from the Government of Canada, UNFPA established 160 safe spaces in districts where child marriage is most prevalent (Port Loko, Kambia, Bonthe, Tonkolili, Koinadugu and Pujehun).

Safe spaces generally are girls-only spaces, as public spaces are often inhabited largely by men and boys. Community halls, dedicated programme spaces, school classrooms and youth centres are often used as safe spaces.  The girls helped to map the locations where they felt safe and obtained permission to use those spaces. Each safe space includes a Girls Club with 25- 30 girls who are placed into two age groups: 10-14 years and 15-19 years. The girls meet regularly and receive support from community stakeholders. In the programme, girls who are interested in developing their skills, have higher levels of education, and show leadership potential are identified as mentors. They are trained to lead and mentor the girls in the clubs and are paid a small sum to raise awareness of the programme within their communities. The mentors deliver a curriculum and act as role models for the girls. The programme includes health and social workers who provide services and provides a social network for the girls.

Child advocates

One such girl to benefit from the Girls Club is Munda Rogers, now 20-years-old, from Sumbuya, Bessima Community, Old Town Pujehun District, who served as a mentor. Munda joined the girls Club in Pujehun town and was one of the child advocacy leaders in her community. She proved to be one of the most active members in the district, advocating particularly on girls’ empowerment, upholding girls’ rights and the elimination of teenage pregnancy and early marriage.

When asked how being a mentor benefited her, Munda stated, “Before my selection as a mentor, my parents found it difficult to pay my school bills due to their low financial status. My father is elderly and cannot afford the costs of my education while my mother is left to pay for me and my siblings. This situation placed me at risk of early marriage and teenage pregnancy but thankfully, the Girl’s Club saved me from early pregnancy and marriage. My selection as a mentor by the Women in Crisis Movement was a blessing to me and my family, because the monthly stipend enabled me to pay for my schooling and help out with the bills at home.”

Mentoring for success

Explaining the benefits of mentoring, Munda said, “There were a lot of girls whom I mentor in the club and awareness among them increased significantly. We provide information on reproductive health, family planning, HIV, dangers of early marriage and teenage pregnancy. The use of the life skills modules has provided age specific information for my club members.

The project is reaching over 1000 girls in my district alone. Awareness is raised and still raising against early marriage and teenage pregnancy. In addition, as far as I am aware, none of the girls in my club has been pregnant or married yet.

The skills training component of the project for school-drop outs has helped a lot.  Some young girls were doing nothing and just depending on men for their survival, but since they joined the club, most of them are now engaged in meaningful activities. For example, through the hairdressing and catering courses, many are earning a living to support themselves and their families.

There are other mentors like me who are able to continue with their schooling due to monthly stipend and other educational support they receive from the programme.”

In 2017, with UNFPA support, approximately 7,333 vulnerable girls received life skills education on child marriage, teenage pregnancy and other harmful practices, and 340 mentors were trained.

National stakeholders workshop kick-starts roll out of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Sierra Leone

By Angelique Reid, Communications Specialist, UNFPA Sierra Leone

 

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 17 August 2018 – A two-day national stakeholders workshop took place to discuss the way forward for the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education in Sierra Leone. The national workshop, which brought together key stakeholders from across the country, was organized by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Keynote speakers included the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary School, Mr. Alpha Timbo and the Canadian Minister of International Development, Ms. Marie-ClaudeBibeau.

Comprehensive sexuality education is a curriculum-based method of teaching and learning about the different aspects of sexuality. It equips young people with scientifically accurate information about sexual and reproductive health. It goes beyond information, to encourage confidence, improved communication skills and critical thinking skills to make conscious, healthy and respectful decisions about relationships and accessing health services. Comprehensive sexuality education is gender-sensitive and firmly grounded in human rights. It empowers children, adolescents and young people to achieve their right to education about their bodies, relationships and sexuality.

Delivering the keynote address, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Mr. Alpha Timbo stated, “With proper implementation, comprehensive sexuality education has been proven to reduce dropout rates by helping to reduce adolescent pregnancy.” He added, “The purpose of comprehensive sexuality education is not to remove all our cultural values in our societies but to merely come together and think of how we can incorporate comprehensive sexuality education within these values that we hold so dearly.”

The main objectives of the workshop included, orienting national stakeholders on comprehensive sexuality education; informing stakeholders about the latest evidence and best practices in comprehensive sexuality education; and lastly, establishing a technical working group to oversee the process of developing comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, training materials, advocacy and training.

Attending the workshop as a special guest speaker, Canadian Minister for International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau said, “The Canadian Government continues to be at the forefront to end the practice [of child marriage]. “Comprehensive sexuality education will give girls the knowledge they need to decide when and whom they marry,” she added.

Global and regional momentum around comprehensive sexuality education has resulted in increased political commitment. The Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development calls on governments to provide sexuality education to all manner of people including adolescents, specifying that such education should take place both in schools and at the community level, begin as early as possible, foster mature decision-making and aim to eliminate gender inequality.

Working in partnership with other UN agencies, UNFPA has contributed to the “International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education” developed jointly with UNESCO, UNICEF, UNAIDS, UN Women and WHO. The evidence informed document provides countries with guidelines on how to adapt international best practice on the key concepts, topics and learning objectives for comprehensive sexuality education. UNFPA is also leading on development of the ‘International Technical Guidance on Out of School Comprehensive Sexuality Education’.

The African Union acknowledges the importance of sexuality education and services for young people as enshrined in the Maputo Protocol and the African Youth Charter. In 2015, the African Union recognized comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education as one of five key recommendations to fast track the HIV response among young women and girls in Africa.

Sierra Leone has also made international commitments to the introduction of quality sexuality education at the Family Planning 2020 Summit in 2012. This commitment is reflected in both the Education Sector Plan (2018 – 2020) and the revised National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage (2018 – 2022).

Delivering her remarks, Dr. Kim Eva Dickson, UNFPA Sierra Leone country representative said, “International evidence time and again tells us that comprehensive sexuality education is most effective when it is executed well and delivered alongside access to quality youth friendly adolescent health services, and when parents and community stakeholders are engaged to support adolescents to access sexual reproductive health information and services.” Dr. Dickson stated that UNFPA in Sierra Leone will continue to provide continued technical assistance to the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education to ensure that a quality comprehensive sexuality education curriculum is designed, that teachers are adequately trained and that school environments are safe. “UNFPA is committed to supporting the Government of Sierra Leone to build the national evidence base on comprehensive sexuality education as we move forward,” she added.

The workshop concluded with participants in agreement on key strategic actions pertaining to community advocacy, curriculum revision and teacher training which will be presented as recommendations to the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education.

In Sierra Leone, cash transfers bring relief to families affected by deadly floods

By Harriet Mason, Communications Officer, UNICEF Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – After a 20-minute-walk up a steep rocky path in the Dwarzark community, I arrived at the new home of Foday and Mamiesia Kallon and their 14-month-old son. It’s a fresh start following the tragic events of 14 August 2017 when flooding and a landslide killed at least 500 people in Freetown, and swept away part of the Kallon’s family home and all their belongings.

2E2A1439
Foday Kallon looks at the remains of their former home which was partially destroyed by floods. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

“That night was a nightmare. It was terrible,” said an almost teary Foday, describing the moment flood waters came rushing through the house. Foday’s family is one of the thousands that were affected. He says they lived a normal and happy life until the tragic incident: “We had the basic things we needed to run our lives. But even though we lost everything, we are thankful we are alive.”

To support many of those hit by the emergency, nearly two thousand affected households have been directly supported with cash to rebuild their lives, delivered through mobile money transfers, funded by UK aid from the British people (also known as DFID). The project was led by the Government’s National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), with technical support from UNICEF and the World Food Programme, and support from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). As part of the process, families received new mobile phones and SIM cards from UNICEF, which were then set up to receive the cash transfers.

2E2A1427
Foday, Mamiesia and Lahai Kallon stand in front of their new home in Dwarzark, Freetown. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

The cash transfer scheme provided beneficiaries with mobile money up to the equivalent of $180 across three instalments to help families. Additionally, a one-off recovery aid cash transfer equivalent to $300, was provided to households like the Kallons who were living in temporary camps and displacement centres, to help them get resettled upon voluntarily leaving the camps. Unconditional cash transfers have been increasingly used in emergency response in recent years, as it allows households to prioritize their needs, often making it a more empowering and dignified form of support.

2E2A1456.cropped
Foday Kallon sits on his motorbike, partially paid for with money provided by UK aid from the British people. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

“The money UK aid gave to us has really helped us!” said Foday. “Apart from renting this place, we have used some to start a small business for my wife, and also made partial payment for a motorbike which I now run as a commercial transport,” he added.

According to Foday, deciding to invest was hard considering their other needs, but he was convinced that it will guarantee them a source of income to cover their living costs in the future. “Every week we use some of our earnings to offset the balance we owe for the motorbike and save some,” he said.

Mamiesia Kallon carries baby Lahai and a bowl of footwear she sells
Mamiesia Kallon carries baby Lahai and a bowl of footwear she sells ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

Even though memories of the tragic incidents of August 2017 still linger, families like Foday’s are striving to move on and rebuild their lives. “I say a big thank you to everyone who helped us. They did well for us,” said Foday. “The floods took away all we had, but we have started our lives afresh and we hope for nothing but the best.”