News

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.

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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.”

Irish Aid UN Volunteer lends support to youth empowerment in Sierra Leone

By UNFPA Sierra Leone

 

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 17 July 2018 – Ellen Donnelly came to Sierra Leone as a volunteer programme specialist in youth and gender, contributing to UNFPA programmes including the Irish Aid-funded Girls’ Access to Education and Services (GATES) Project.

With Irish Aid funding amounting to €1 million, the project advances Irish Aid’s commitment to gender equality and empowering women and girls to achieve their full potential – including through opportunities for quality education and the chance for a better future.

Through the GATES project, UNFPA Sierra Leone’s Adolescent, Youth and Gender Cluster, of which Ms. Donnelly is a part, works with NGO and government partners to make sure adolescents receive information on life skills, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health, and can access critical services like family planning, HIV testing and counselling, and psychosocial support.

Working across the country and focusing on six districts with the highest teen pregnancy rates, the project works through mainstream schools as well as learning centres to reach youth who are in and out of school alike. It has a particular emphasis on reaching girls.

As part of a baseline assessment for the GATES project, Ms. Donnelly helped to lead a training in Freetown for staff from the target districts, and subsequently travelled to three districts in the northern province to support district staff in conducting the assessment.

With a master’s in global health and over 10 years’ experience in youth development, Ms. Donnelly contributes her expertise in developing youth programmes and educational resources to target disadvantaged young people. In turn, she has learned much about the country and the challenges facing its youth – both from her colleagues at UNFPA and from those she met during her trip to the northern province.

“I met women who were really enthusiastic in supporting girls’ education,” she said. “I also met young mothers who are keen to return back to school, but are facing many challenges, and I met community volunteers who are really passionate about non-formal education.”

And Ms. Donnelly has found that UNFPA’s work in Sierra Leone is not only a matter of getting young people information and access to services. The GATES project will also support young people as leaders in creating change in their communities – by leading community dialogues, with both their elders and their peers, to challenge harmful traditional practices.

“We really believe that young people can be advocates for change,” she said, “and to bring a more equal and peaceful society in their own communities in Sierra Leone.”

July Newsletter

In this edition of the UN Sierra Leone Newsletter, you will find examples of what the UN has been doing to “green the blue,” replant trees, switch to solar energy, improve data management for better healthcare, and support community initiatives.

Together, they tell the story of how we are working for a more resilient Sierra Leone.

 

UNFPA introduces new family planning contraceptive in Sierra Leone

This article was written by Saidu Bah and originally published by Awoko Newspaper on 18 June 2018. Republished with permission.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has introduced the new Sino-implant (II) Levoplant that is a sub dermal contraceptive implant. The implant is a set of two flexible, cylindrical rods made of medical-grade silicon elastomer about the size of a matchstick. Each rod contains 75 mg of levonorgestrel, the active ingredient, for a total of 150 mg. Protection lasts for three years but can be removed at any time.

The implant can be inserted, just under the skin of a women’s upper arm by a trained health care provider using a disposable trocar as the insertion instrument.

Like other contraceptives, the Levoplant is one of the most effective family planning methods available. Each year, less than one pregnancy per 100 users is expected.

A woman can insert the implant anytime as long as she is not pregnant and some of the benefits are long lasting, safe and effective, the implant is effective 24-hours after insertion, no regular supply needed, does not require any further action once it is inserted. Fertility returns quickly once removed. It has limited side effects and is appropriate for women who wish to space or limit births.

At the Reproductive Health and Family Planning Department at the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital Fourah Bay Road in Freetown, Dr. Suliaman G. Conteh, the outgoing Manager of the Reproductive Health and Family Planning Department, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, disclosed that the use of family planning methods in Sierra Leone has increased from 7% to 9 % and currently 26% but observed that it is still low compared to other countries.

He continued that UNFPA has procured 65,000 Sino-implants to be offered free of charge to women of childbearing age and the department has trained 147 staff nationwide for the exercise.

According to Dr. Conteh, the training of trainers commenced in March this year and that 220 women have received the Sino-implants so far articulating that the Sino-implant prevents the release of eggs for fertilization. He further highlighting the need to control the country’s increasing population due to scarce resources and non-existent social services.

One of the beneficiaries shared her experiences disclosing that she does not experience any side effects and that she is okay. She went on to inform that the implant would enable her to adequately cater for her two children and family and encouraged men to be involved in family planning.

UNFPA in Sierra Leone converts to solar power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

By Angelique Reid, Communications Specialist, UNFPA Sierra Leone

 

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 24 May 2018 – Nearly two weeks before World Environment Day, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund turned on its new solar power system as a green step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and making the office compound energy efficient. This change comes on top of energy reduction measures, such as the installation of energy efficient equipment, undertaken by the office in 2017.

Powered by a total of 336 solar panels and 380 batteries – security lights, air conditioning units, servers, computers – everything electrical in the office compound will now operate by solar power.

Prior to the solar power system being installed, the office was powered by diesel generators which were costly (approx. USD197 spent per day on fuel), noisy; environmentally unfriendly; and only provided power on weekdays between the hours of 0700 – 1900. In contrast, the new solar power system emits no sound; cost savings are projected in five to seven years; and power is now available 24 hours per day, seven days a week. The local electricity and diesel generators will only be used as a back-up when the solar power batteries need additional charging on rare cloudy days.

Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, UNFPA Sierra Leone Representative, Dr. Kim Eva Dickson said, “The difference the new solar power system will make in our lives and the delivery of our work is enormous. We will not need to wait in the morning for someone to switch on the generator or to leave at night because we need to switch off the generator.” Dr. Dickson added, “Our decision to make our office more energy efficient is a step in the right direction towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 7 for affordable and clean energy.”

In a country where only 20 percent of the population has access to electricity, 97 percent of the population cooks with firewood or charcoal, and the public power supply is unstable, UNFPA’s decision to switch to renewable energy to sustain local energy consumption is a clear example for others to replicate. This approach is deemed realistic because in Sierra Leone, there is significant potential for the use of renewable energy, particularly solar energy and hydroelectric power.

The solar power system installation was undertaken by Enviroearth, with funds and technical advice from UNFPA Facilities Branch in New York, and in collaboration with UNFPA Procurement Services Branch in Copenhagen. Enviroearth, which has completed similar solar power installation projects in Nigeria, Tanzania, Maldives, Madagascar and Djibouti, set up the solar power system at the UNFPA office in Sierra Leone to generate a capacity of 90.72 kW in power.

The bold move taken by the UNFPA Sierra Leone office is also in line with the UNFPA Strategic Plan 2018-2021, in which the organisation is targeting a reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over the timeframe of the strategic plan. The Sierra Leone office has made a start to achieve this goal.

Escaping child marriage in Sierra Leone

By Angelique Reid, Communications Specialist, UNFPA Sierra Leone

 

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone/Johannesburg, South Africa, 27 March – “According to our tradition, a girl should get married when she reaches puberty,” said Zainab Binta Jalloh, a 23-year-old from Sierra Leone’s Koinadugu District. She would know – she was married when she was 15 years old.

Two years early, when she was only 13, a 45-year-old man approached her parents with a marriage proposal.

“He was rich, and he was using his wealth to influence my parents. My parents were pressuring me about him every day,” she told UNFPA.

But she was opposed to marrying so young. “I always resisted them,” she recalled.

National Girls’ Camp

Child marriage is a human rights violation, one that threatens girls’ lives and health. Child brides may become pregnant before their bodies are ready, and they are highly vulnerable to abuse. They are often forced to drop out of school, limiting their future prospects.

Ms. Binta Jalloh knew she needed help avoiding child marriage.

“I explained my situation to a friend, and she advised me to join the Children’s Forum Network. Through the network, I was fortunate to be part of the National Girls’ Camp.”

The week-long girls’ empowerment camp, organized by the Office of the First Lady and UNFPA, teaches girls about their health and human rights. It also teaches them financial literacy, computer skills, comprehensive sexuality education, and about advocacy and activism.

The girls, selected from a wide range of backgrounds, also received support from a mentor. “I learned from women who would become my role models through their inspirational stories,” Ms. Binta Jalloh said.

Still, when she returned home, her parents could not be persuaded that she would have more potential if she avoided child marriage.

They demanded that she marry the man they had chosen.

“This time, my parents told me they would disown me if I continued to decline the marriage. I was left with no choice,” she said. “I married him.”

A nightmare unfolds

The marriage was a nightmare, Ms. Binta Jalloh said.

Her husband was already married. “Can you imagine he had another wife who is older than my mother? This had been unknown to my parents and I,” she said.

“The older wife ensured I was isolated and assigned all the tasks in the home. I had no friends and I could not interact with the neighbours.”

In the evenings, she faced sexual violence from her husband. “When he returned home from work at night, he would force himself on me,” she recounted.

Although her husband had promised to send her to school, he changed his tune after the wedding.

“’You are here to pay for all the money your parents took from me so don’t even think you are going back to school or to your parents. You are here to satisfy my needs,’” she remembers him telling her.

Months later, she had another opportunity to attend the annual National Girls’ Camp.

This time, the lessons about human rights and girls’ empowerment encouraged her to make a bold move.

“I decided I had to run away. I went to my elder brother [who lived] in another town and who was unaware of my marriage.”

Her brother took her in. “I explained to him the situation. He decided to send me back to school. ”

Empowering girls

UNFPA is working with the Government and other partners to end child marriage and promote girls’ welfare in Sierra Leone.

For instance, through the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, girls’ clubs are being established throughout the country. At these clubs, girls learn their rights and health – including the health risks of early pregnancy and their right to live free of abuse and child marriage. They also receive support and guidance from trusted role models.

Today, Ms. Binta Jalloh is a role model, as well. She is outspoken about her experience, sharing her story with girls, activists and others to help spark change.

She is also in university, and she has big dreams.

“I am currently enjoying life as a student,” she told UNFPA. “Someday I hope to save enough money to study to be a medical doctor.”

Life skills training raises awareness about sexual and reproductive health among adolescents in Sierra Leone

By UNFPA Sierra Leone

 

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 8 March 2018 – “Providing life-saving and life-transforming services to women and adolescent girls can prevent unintended pregnancies, assist them in delivering their babies safely and improve their awareness of harmful practices,” said Catherine Theo Harding, Haikal administrative assistant. “When adolescent girls are empowered with information to make their own choices, it goes a long way to brighten their future,” she adds.

Catherine benefitted from the life skills training project which operated across six districts in Sierra Leone. The project, which is supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and funded by Irish Aid, aims to reduce teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Haikal a non-governmental organization receives technical and financial support from UNFPA to provide under-privileged children, women and girls access to quality education.

When asked what she liked most about the training which took place in November 2017, Catherine said, “I found comprehensive sexuality education quite beneficial during the training session. The use of contraceptives such as female condoms which was demonstrated to us; was something I had no idea about before.”

Catherine who works in the southern district of Bo said information on sexual and reproductive health and services is limited. She explained this lack of information has left many young people, especially adolescents girls without the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions about their bodies in terms of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Catherine added that due to the difficulties adolescent girls face in discussing sexual and reproductive health issues affecting them, a fair number become mothers in their teenage years. “Getting the girls to speak out was a major challenge affecting our work,” she said.

“In the southern district of Bo, we have seen a significant improvement in the way adolescents are speaking out on sexual and reproductive health issues affecting them. This is a good sign for the future of our children,” said Catherine.

The 2013 Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Survey indicated that teenage pregnancy and early marriage are the leading causes of school drop-out for girls. The survey states that girls who bear children early have more dangerous, difficult and complicated births, and tend to have less healthy and less educated children than their peers who marry later.

In 2014, UNFPA working with the Government of Sierra Leone, and other development partners began the process of developing a national and standardized life skills manual for training and is the first of its kind in Sierra Leone. The life skills curriculum, geared to provide youth with vital life skills, aims to train 420 health care workers, teachers, peer educators and community health workers nationwide.

James Akpablie, UNFPA Sierra Leone reproductive health technical specialist said, “When adolescents have the confidence and trust of service providers, they will seek their advice and support to deal with issues such as family planning, sexuality and teenage pregnancy.” He added, “We will continue to support the government in strengthening the supervision and monitoring of the services provided by healthcare workers, teachers and other service providers. Further life skills trainings will be conducted across the country to empower adolescents, especially girls to help them make the right decisions so they can reach their full potential.”

According to Dauda Kamara, the monitoring and evaluation officer at the Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy, in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, life skills education contributes to child-care and protection, good citizenship, the promotion of lifelong learning, quality of life and the promotion of peaceful society. He added the life skills training aims to capacitate healthcare providers with the right skills set to provide information and services to adolescents, using the newly developed standardized life skills manuals for children and adolescents.

“Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing is believed to have severe effects on the health, education and social well-being of adolescent girls and their children,” he said.

To date, 18 district-level training sessions on life skills have been conducted in all districts reaching a total of 542 personnel.

Influencing changes

One participant, Mohamed Mbawah, a community health officer at Marie Stopes described the training as, “Insightful – because it provided useful information to minimize the prevalent rate of teenage pregnancy and child marriages happening across the country. He added. “The Waterloo area is experiencing high rate of teenage pregnancy. And it was for this reason, why after the training we embarked on a ‘Back to School’ promotion to raise the level of awareness among adolescents about delaying sex and the use of contraceptives.”

Mohamed Mbawah, Marie Stopes community health officer

Mohamed Mbawah, Marie Stopes community health officer 

Mohamed explained that in the past, many health care workers were hesitant and reluctant to provide sexual and reproductive health information and services to adolescents. Similarly, adolescents were shy and afraid to visit established adolescent friendly centres and were fearful of being seen entering the centres. “Our back to school promotion has largely improved this situation,” he said.

Another life skills training participant, Julius Kamara, executive director for National Commission for Democratic Alliance and Human Rights, believes school clubs are important as they provide greater awareness of sexual and reproductive health among adolescents. According to Julius, the national commission has established about twenty school clubs in Freetown to train teachers and pupils on sexual and reproductive health services. “There are plans to establish more school clubs in the regions to adequately pass on the knowledge we have acquired from the training sessions. Adolescents need proper guidance, correct information and full support,” said Julius.

Foulata Kamara, a 14-year-old school club member and pupil of the Government Technical Secondary School in Freetown, said the school club holds information sessions about sexual and reproductive health, and raises awareness about their rights to education, and the importance to say no to early marriage and teenage pregnancy. “We are passing on the vital information we learn from the sessions to our friends and relatives. Such information is useful for everyone’s wellbeing,” said Foulata.

Water, sanitation and hygiene: the basics of infection control in Sierra Leone

NGELEHUN, Sierra Leone – Nurse-in-charge Elizabeth Kadie Momoh at the Ngelehun Community Health Post has just finished checking a pregnant woman in the facility’s labour room and heads to a sink to wash her hands. Clean water gushes out as she opens the tap.

The availability of running water is taken for granted in health facilities in most parts of the world. But a year ago in this health post, it was, you could say, a pipe dream.

“We had a well but fetching water from it was very strenuous, especially when the water level was down,” said Elizabeth. “During some previous dry seasons we could not use the well because it dried up. We [staff and patients] had to find other wells and streams outside the facility to get water. When pregnant women came to deliver, they or their relatives had to go and fetch water to wash the equipment, clean the delivery room and launder their clothes,” said Elizabeth.

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Haja Sillah holds her two-day-old baby boy she delivered at the Ngelehun Community Health Post in Kenema District, eastern Sierra Leone. © UNICEF Sierra Leone/2016/Mason

Lack of running water is bad news if you want to stop the spread of infection. Providing access to sufficient quantities of safe water, to facilities for the sanitary disposal of waste, and to sound hygiene behaviours are vital to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Despite the challenges, these health facilities continue to be in high demand. The facility where nurse Elizabeth works serves a population of more than 5,800 people across six villages, attending to an average of 269 people a month (with over 60 per cent of them being children under the age of five).

Last year, UNICEF implementing partner SILPA, with funds from the Swedish National Committee for UNICEF, rehabilitated the facility’s toilets and water well, installed a water supply system, and built an incinerator (for burning of waste), all in line with the new WASH in health standards and guidelines under the Sierra Leone H.E. The President’s post-Ebola recovery priorities. The new water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, installed through UNICEF support, are well appreciated.

“Now we can wash all our equipment at the centre’s premises each time we use them. Our new mothers even have a bathroom where they can freshen up before leaving the delivery room,” said Elizabeth. “Other patients do not need to be reminded to wash their hands when they come here because they always meet soap and a bucket of water at each entrance of the facility.”

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Nurse Elizabeth Kadie Momoh washes her hands in the labour room of the Ngelehun Community Health Post in Kenema District. © UNICEF Sierra Leone/2016/Mason

It’s in these sorts of improved conditions that a total of 279 deliveries were done at the facility between January 2015 and September 2016.

A few minutes from the centre, we met Haja Sillah who had just moved home with the two-day-old baby boy she delivered at the Ngelehun Health Post. “The improvement in the water and sanitation facilities at the centre really inspires us to go to there when we need to,” said Haja.

“I had a better experience this time than I did when I went to deliver my older children. This time I was able to have a bath in the delivery room just after I gave birth. My relatives also had enough water and space to launder my clothes and that of my child. I was a little reluctant to leave because I felt so comfortable!” she said.

Nurse Elizabeth was also positive. “Now my motivation for the job has increased. I can even concentrate more on the job because I don’t have to worry about or spend time trying to fetch water for use at the facility or my quarters,” she said.

In a country where there are not enough trained health personnel to be stationed in communities, it is important to keep available personnel satisfied and motivated to stay in the job fighting to reduce the high rates of infant and maternal deaths.

By Harriet Mason, Communications Officer

Read more:

WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme report, Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and Sustainable Development Goal Baselines

In Sierra Leone, new hospital facilities help save mothers’ lives

In Sierra Leone, clean water returns to a rural school

Helping Sierra Leone’s newborns survive and grow

UK aid and UNFPA support the construction and rehabilitation of eight emergency obstetric and neonatal care facilities in Sierra Leone

By Angelique Reid, Communications Specialist, UNFPA Sierra Leone

 

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 28 July 2017 – The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the UK aid (also known as UK Department for International Development – DfID) and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, officially declared commencement of the construction and rehabilitation of eight Emergency, Obstetric and Neonatal Care (EmONC) facilities across the country. To mark the occasion, His Excellency, President Dr. Ernest Bia Koroma, turned the sod for the construction of two hospitals: King Harman Road and Rokupa EmONC in Freetown.

Sierra Leone has amongst the highest maternal death ratios in the world. The 2013 Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Survey estimated the maternal mortality ratio at 1,165 deaths per 100,000 live births, of which 46.8 per cent were among teenage girls aged 15-19 years.    According to the 2016 Maternal Death and Surveillance Report, the main cause of maternal deaths was postpartum haemorrhage – bleeding after delivery – which accounted for 33 per cent of all deaths. These statistics reflect the need to invest on improving access to timely, high-quality, and life-saving maternal and child health care.

According to Sally Taylor, Head of UK aid in Sierra Leone, “The £6m provided for the construction and rehabilitation of EmONC facilities across Sierra Leone, demonstrates the UK’s continued commitment to partner with Government to improve healthcare for women and children and reduce maternal and under five mortalities. These new facilities have the potential to deliver improved quality of obstetric and neo-natal services with skilled health workers, reliable drugs and sustained and continued funding from Government.”

The eight EmONC facilities are part of UK Aid’s Saving Lives Programme in Sierra Leone that aims to save women’s and children’s lives by improving the quality, availability and accessibility of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services in the country. As part of the Saving Lives Programme, UNFPA with government counterparts conducted a rapid assessment of 30 health facilities to determine the main gaps in the provision of EmONC, and adolescent and youth friendly services. It focused on infrastructure, human resources, training, and basic equipment and supply needs. Findings highlighted significant infrastructural work to be undertaken in most health facilities, under-staffing, and equipment and procurement needs addressed.

UNFPA country representative, Dr. Kim Eva Dickson stated, “UNFPA is pleased to be part of this initiative to construct health facilities which will provide services to women, children and men in dire need of health care.” Dr. Dickson added, “UNFPA’s support is not only for the building of the structures, but we are also working with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to equip the facilities and train health staff to provide high quality care in all of the facilities.”

UNFPA’s support also includes improving access to family planning is improved, training health care providers in emergency obstetric care, training midwives to monitor normal labour and prevent and manage the complications of labour and delivery, as well as scaling up the provision of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services.

In his remarks, Dr Abu Bakarr Fofanah, the Honourable Minister of Health and Sanitation said, “The Ministry of Health and Sanitation appreciates the financial support from the British people and values the collaboration with UNFPA as the tri-partite partnership embarks on this strategic project.” He added, “The construction of eight EmONC facilities, with financial support from UK Aid, is one of the health sector’s contributions to the country’s overall effort in building back better after the devastating Ebola Virus Disease outbreak. The Ministry looks forward to successful implementation of the projects and to fully restore better health care services to the communities.”

The construction of the eight facilities will contribute to improving access to preventive and treatment services (including emergency and routine care for women during pregnancy, labour and child birth; family planning; management of childhood illnesses; immunization; and care of adult illnesses).  The construction and rehabilitation of five Basic Emergency, Obstetric and Neonatal Care (BEmONC) and three Comprehensive Emergency, Obstetric and Neonatal Care (CEmONC) health facilities will take place in eight districts: Kambia, Bombali, Tonkolili, Kailahun, Kono, Western Rural, Western Urban and Pujehun. The structural work will also consist of the rehabilitation of maternity wards, staff quarters, community health centres and a maternity building.

To secure a better future, teens in Sierra Leone look to family planning

By UNFPA Sierra Leone

PUJEHUN/BUEDU, Sierra Leone, 11 July 2017 – When Aminata Kabba became pregnant last year, at 15 years old, she had no idea how difficult her life would become.  “Having a child at my age was a big mistake,” she said.

Becoming a mother has disrupted her education and her life trajectory. “I don’t work. I am a school dropout due to my pregnancy. I am not happy that my peers are in school while I am at home nursing a baby.”

Yet her situation is all too common: Sierra Leone has one of the highest adolescent birth rates in the world, at 125 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Aminata said early motherhood had simply seemed normal in her village, Sembehun 17, in Pujehun District. Nearly half of girls 15-19 years old in Pujehun were pregnant or had been pregnant, according to a 2013 survey. “When my two best friends got pregnant within a short interval, this influenced me to also start thinking of doing the same,” Aminata said.

But in Sierra Leone, girls who are visibly pregnant are not allowed to attend school, a factor contributing to girls’ low school completion rates. Only about 35 per cent of Sierra Leonean girls of secondary-school age are enrolled in secondary school, according to the 2016 State of World Population report.

These figures represent a major loss in girls’ opportunities and capabilities, constraining their future potential. Collectively, their communities and country miss out on the labour, income and ingenuity they might have provided had their full potential been realized.

But Aminata has found an option that could help get her life, and the lives of many young girls, back on track: Contraception.

Getting back on track

“I had very little knowledge about contraception and the different kinds of contraceptives available,” explained Aminata.

But when her newborn fell sick, she visited her local health facility. There, she learned that Marie Stopes Sierra Leone and UNFPA were providing contraceptives. “I became moved by the talks they gave on family planning and the different methods,” she said.

After receiving counselling from a health worker, Aminata decided to get an intrauterine device, which can prevent pregnancy for years. If she is able to return to school, the contraceptive will help her reach her goal of becoming a nurse.

“The staff encouraged me, and they talk to me regularly about going back to school because that is where my future lies,” she said.

Memunatu Fofanah, in Buedu, Kailahun District, had a similar experience. She also got pregnant at age 15 and dropped out of school.

“The father of the baby abandoned me, and my aunt, with whom I was staying, drove me out of the house. I had to stay in the neighbourhood with friends,” she said. “After I gave birth in 2015, I had no income or support for my baby or myself from any family member.”

But she received a little help from neighbours, and started selling fried cakes to make ends meet. Through sheer determination and hard work, Memunatu was able to return to school.

Still, she was concerned about her future. “My worry was how to prevent myself from [having] another pregnancy,” she said.

Fortunately, “the opportunity came sooner than expected,” she said. She learned about a youth group, supported by UNFPA and the Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone (PPASL), that helps vulnerable adolescent girls learn about sexual and reproductive health.

Through the programme, Memunatu learned how to prevent another pregnancy. She ended up getting a contraceptive implant at a mobile outreach event operated by PPASL, with support from UNFPA.

During this time, she also became a “peer educator,” teaching other young men and women about their reproductive health and rights.

Expanding access

Since 2016, over a million Sierra Leoneans have been reached with family planning messages and services, according to the latest figures from UNFPA.

But much more work remains to be done. Access to voluntary family planning is one of the most effective ways to empower girls to finish their educations and find productive employment, helping to end the cycle of poverty in developing countries like Sierra Leone. Yet in developing countries, more than 214 million women and girls who do not want to get pregnant are not using safe, reliable forms of contraception.

Tomorrow, on 11 July, World Population Day, a global summit in London will call for countries to renew their commitments to expanding access to modern contraception to an additional 120 million women and girls – a goal set five years ago.

The importance of this goal is not lost on Aminatu, who says she wants more people to understand the link between contraceptives and education.

“My advice to my family members and friends is that family planning is the only thing that will keep us in school when we are sexually active,” she said.

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.

The UN Resident Coordinator’s speech on the anniversary of the Landslide and Flood Disaster – 14 August 2018 in Regent, Freetown

Certain events in our lives are so momentous that we shall always remember where we were and what we did when those events occurred.  Many of us will surely remember where we were in the early hours of 14 August 2017, when we received the news of the mudslide in Regent.  It turned out to be one of the worst natural disaster in Africa in recent years, and  there is no doubt that the impact on the individuals affected and on the community was both dramatic and profound.  No-one who has seen the devastation caused on 14 August last year, the loss of life and the effect on survivors could avoid being touched by the situation.

I am sure we shall never forget the terrible events that unfolded early on that Monday morning, just as we must not forget those who perished in the disaster, or indeed survivors who may still be suffering from trauma and those, who have lost loved ones.

I would like to pay tribute to all those men and women, who went to the site from the early hours, and for several days, to help in the search and rescue efforts, who were out digging through the mud and debris in the hope of finding survivors.  I pay tribute to all those who helped care for the survivors by bringing food, shelter and other critical supplies to meet basic needs, and indeed those who helped provide for those, who lost their lives.

I commend the national leadership ,from the highest levels down and for taking swift action, through the National Security Coordinator and the Office of National Security to bring all critical actors together to  responded rapidly to a complex crisis.  The disaster brought about, yet again, a clear demonstration of the ability of the international community to work closely together in partnership with the national authorities to support the Government-led response.  I am very pleased to note that the UN family were also among the first responders.

The United Nations, as One, played its part both in the immediate response and in the recovery phase, supporting the Government in carrying out required damage, loss and risk assessments, and preparing recovery strategies, both for the immediate, medium, and for the longer term in disaster prevention and management, and urban and environmental planning.

According to the World Risk Report 2017, Sierra Leone ranks in the top 15 most vulnerable countries to disaster risk worldwide, and disasters, both natural and man-made, have destroyed or, at the very least, severely disrupted the achievement of Sierra Leone’s development objectives during the most recent decates. A catalyst for change, the mudslide disaster of August 2017 raised awareness about prevention and preparedness, as well as the critical need for longer-term environmental protection.  It is our hope that all future investments in sustainable development will be risk-informed.

In partnership with the Office of National Security, the United Nations is engaged in disaster risk management in order to enhance resilience to natural and man-made disasters in the most vulnerable communities in Sierra Leone. UN support improves national and local capacities to anticipate, plan and mitigate the effects of disasters. 450 volunteers from affected communities were enlisted in cash-for-work resilience building activities, over 200 District Disaster Management Committees have been trained, and hazards have been mapped out in all 16 districts, with focus on improving the capacity of community volunteers as front-line responders.

We want to use this opportunity to call on all Sierra Leoneans to follow in the footsteps of the courageous, dedicated and resilient people of the affected communities.

Remediating the landslide area, part of the Freetown Emergency Recovery Project, is supported by the United Nations with funding from the World Bank. Established in August 2017 to support the government’s resilient recovery programme, it aims to rehabilitate and rebuild damaged infrastructure, and strengthening disaster risk management and early warning capacities.

The landslide remediation project entails technical studies, environmental, social and economic assessments needed to ensure that all environmental and social safeguards have been considered – identifying and removing rocks in precarious positions, re-profiling slopes through earthen removal or addition, rationalizing and formalizing river beds and re-planting trees.  Also following support from the UN, many of these trees will carry fruits and nuts to benefit the surrounding community and reduce the likelihood of them being felled for firewood.

The global Sustainable Development Goals officially came into force on 1st January 2016, setting the wheels in motion to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. Disaster prevention is very much part of longer-term sustainable development.  We are pleased, therefore, to see that disaster prevention, together with the environment, is the focus of one of the clusters being organized to implement the eight priorities determined by the Government, and urge the Government to hold the issue high on its agenda as an integral part of the national development planning, just as the SDGs should be firmly at the centre of national development.

The UN Country Team in Sierra Leone – with 15 resident UN agencies, funds and programmes, three non-resident agencies, and the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Development Bank –  will continue to build our work, together with our many partners in Sierra Leone to ensure that Disaster Risk Reduction remains a cross-cutting necessity in the country’s national development process, and new development agenda.  We are also pleased to see that the Mayor of Freetown and the Freetown City Council are addressing the issue as an urgent priority.

Indeed, prevention and preparedness are best ensured in times when there is no crisis. Therefore the issue should not receive attention only during the rainy season, but should continue to be addressed with urgency even when the rains stop.

On this day, as Sierra Leone remembers the thousands of people affected by last year’s disaster, and the significant destruction and damage to critical infrastructure that occurred as a result of it, I am here to tell you that the UN family in Sierra Leone stands ready to lend whatever support possible to the development of policies and to their implementation for the short, medium and long term, working together to close the energy gap, enhance national prevention and recovery capacities, and promote lasting, nature-based solutions for a sustainable and even more resilient Sierra Leone, so that together we can ensure that no-one is left behind.

Thank you.