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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Tackling a measles outbreak in Sierra Leone

In early July, more than 197,000 children aged between 6 months and 15 years were vaccinated against measles in a targeted immunization campaign in Koinadugu district, Sierra Leone. The reactive campaign was conducted by the  Ministry of Health and Sanitation with support from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, DFID, the World Bank and other health partners following an outbreak of the disease in two far apart remote rural communities in that district.

Quality data, key to improving health service delivery in Sierra Leone

By Harriet Mason, Communications Officer with UNICEF Sierra Leone

KORTUHUN, Sierra Leone – Zainab Conteh and her team are on a mission to improve the quality of data received from health facilities in Bombali district, northern Sierra Leone.

At the end of every month, the 112 health centres in the district are supposed to send data on more than 13 different areas of work, from the numbers of births and deaths, the types of illnesses being treated, and the numbers of women coming for antenatal and post-partum clinics. Until recently, most were not filling on time, and many were sending data that couldn’t be used.

“When you don’t get complete or reliable data, it means that decisions you make will be misinformed,” said Zainab Conteh, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at the Bombali District Health Management Team (DHMT).

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Staff of the Bombali District Health Management Team inspect data registers at the Kortuhun Community Health Centre in Bombali district. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

With funding from USAID, UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) in the districts of Bombali, Tonkolili and Port Loko improve their data flows through supportive supervision, including health centre visits by the district monitoring and evaluation staff.

When I joined them, their first stop was the health centre in Kortuhun village. “We are here to give them on-the-spot training and coaching,” said Zainab. “This will help guide them to capture the right data and collate them correctly, to improve the quality of data they provide to the DHMT and at national level,” she added.

Strong health systems require effective information management systems. That means that the data are accessible and of a high quality – complete, timely, accurate and consistent. Over the years, MoHS in Sierra Leone has faced challenges in collecting, reporting and using quality data, and the Ebola outbreak 2014-2016, in particular, revealed weaknesses in the health management information system.

To help address this, the Ministry set an objective to improve capacity for data management – and with funding from donors including the European Union, USAID and DFID, UNICEF supported the Ministry to establish the Directorate of Policy, Planning and Information.

The Kortuhun health centre lies 65 minutes’ drive from the district town Makeni, serving a rural community where most people are subsidence farmers. The small centre sits on the edge of the village, surrounded by a green scenery. According to Margaret John, who works as a community health officer at the centre, supportive supervision is very useful as it helps them identify their weaknesses and offers them the opportunity to improve. “We have learnt a lot from this,” said Margaret. “Now we really know how to fill out our registers and tally our data in the correct way,” she added. She believes that these sorts of exercises allow health workers to have one-on-one mentoring.

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L-R: Margaret John, Kadiatu Sesay, Manso Kanu and Safiatu Kamara, health workers attached to the Kortuhun Community Health Centre in Bombali district. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

The work is already contributing to strengthening the district and national level health information systems with 99 per cent of all required reports being sent to national level – up from 60 per cent when the project began in September 2016; and 97 per cent of expected reports from all district sent to national level on time – up from 34 per cent.

Although it has been a busy day, Margaret and her staff feel their time and energy wasn’t wasted: “It was worth it because our data management skills have improved,” she said. “I believe the data we will be sending from now on will be of high quality,” she added with a smile.

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Staff of the Bombali District Health Management Team check data received from health facilities across the district. ©UNICEF Sierra Leone/2018/Mason

As Zainab and her team review the updated data sheets of the Kortuhun health centre, they feel pleased that they visited. “Getting accurate data like this first time around from every health facility in the country will be a dream come true,” said Zainab. “The health system will not only be informed correctly, it will also be in a better position to make critical decisions that will ultimately help improve the health service delivery in the country, especially for women and children.”