In May of 2018, at a regular meeting conducted by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs (MSWGA), Director Mohamed Nabieu was alerted to the case of child in need. According to MSWGA, a 4-year-old boy had been discovered by the local police, hiding in one of the drainage ditches in Bo. He was brought immediately to the Ministry to try to trace his parents. However, this was complicated due to the fact that he was apparently deaf and mute, and therefore unable to communicate any information about his family or home. The Ministry put up signs and made radio announcements, but after several months, no one had come forward to claim him.
It was at that point that the Ministry shared the case with the child protection agencies attending the meeting. After discussing it, the CRC Director Nabieu, Mercy Hospital Administrator Jinnah Lahai and Lead Doctor Sao Amara agreed to take responsibility for the boy. He was brought to Mercy for a proper medical check-up, and the CRC was able to find him a safe and loving foster home with the principal of the local deaf school. The CRC has committed to continue providing for his educational, spiritual and counseling needs, while Mercy will take care of his medical needs.
Named Joseph Deen by his new foster family, he now lives with his foster father, the principal of the Ebert Kakua School for the Deaf, where he is also enrolled. He is learning sign language, and enjoys going to school with children like himself. According to his foster father, Joseph enjoys playing with the other children at school, playing with his toys and helping out with household chores. He enjoys going to his family’s farm and helping there as well. His father shares that Joseph’s happiest time of day is when it’s time to go to school.
Emmanuel Moriba (7 months) was identified on the Mattru on the Rail outreach. He was acutely malnourished and had a fever and coughing for three days. He was given medicine and enrolled into the nutrition program. After two months in the program, he was discharged this month.
His mother, Kadijatu, says, “I was really worried with my child’s condition. I heard that the Mercy Hospital Outreach team will visit our village and I brought him to see them. Thank God, he will well now. They are really caring."
Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs praises CRC for their contributions in nation building
The Sierra Leone Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs (MSWGA) is the government agency in charge of ensuring that vulnerable children and people are cared for appropriately. As a child welfare organization, the Child Rescue Centre participates in monthly meetings held by the MSWGA. These meetings allow MSWGA representatives and the leaders of various organizations involved in the care of vulnerable children like the CRC, Joshua Child Care, and SOS Children’s Home to share information, best practices, and to receive updates.
At a regular meeting held in October, the MSWGA commended the CRC for the work it has done in the areas of child protection, education, health, child safety, final reunification of children in the residential program, and the microfinance program.
“The Child Rescue Centre has been very proactive in addressing child welfare issues in the Bo District,” says Michael James, Senior Social Service Officer in Charge of Trafficking. James shared that the Ministry considers the CRC an exemplary child welfare program, particularly in the fairness and lack of bias of its intake practices. He particularly cited the case of Joseph Deen, a deaf child that the CRC and Mercy stepped in to help, reflecting that the CRC does not discriminate against any child in need regardless of circumstance.
23-year-old Baindu Dukullay was identified on an outreach to Flawahun village. She was pregnant with twins and found to have pregnancy induced hypertension. She was treated for the hypertension and referred to Mercy Hospital for future care. She successfully gave birth to two healthy twin girls at Mercy Hospital.
Baindu expressed, “I really appreciate Mercy for their help and keeping myself and my babies safe. They have really been taking good care of people in my village.”
The staff of the Child Rescue Centre has provided training on human sexuality in a Christian context to students in its programs for years using a curriculum called Honoring God With Your Body (HGWYB). The CRC counselors, Emmanuel Lamin and Rosa Saffa, organized a two day workshop for the CRC staff to brush up and refine their teaching skills on this important curriculum. The workshop was led by Milli Jantz, a missionary and expert in reproductive health. Milli facilitated discussions on selected topics that included the male and female reproductive systems, HIV/STDs, and the value of family spacing for child wellbeing, reproductive health and health practices to prevent disease transmission and early unplanned pregnancies.
The CRC staff were also able to participate in a question and answer session designed to help them teach the curriculum to students as effectively as possible. “It was a great workshop, especially learning about the specific topics. I learned about the female reproductive system, particularly when pregnancy occurs. I also learned it is important to encourage people to visit counselors or health professionals for any sign or symptom,” reflected Johanese Baun. “It was especially good to be able to ask questions and get answers. It was good for the staff, and it will be good for the students,” said Mabel Mustapha.
Written by Dr. Laura Horvath, Helping Children Worldwide Program Development Specialist
In August, newly-elected Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio announced the launch of the Free Quality Education Programme (FQEP) for 1.6 million primary and secondary children across Sierra Leone, with an increased budget allocation of 21% of the National Budget in August of this year, up from 12.5% in 2016. The first phase of the program went into effect on September 17th, and President Bio has said that the program will take five years to fully implement, though the government has committed to funding this program for at least 10 years. An FQEP Coordinator shared with Sierra Leone News that the government has paid tuition subsidies to over 4,000 schools amounting to 28 million leones.
There are three types of schools in Sierra Leone, private, government, and government-supported. All schools in Sierra Leone require that students pay tuition and various school fees. These can include fees for furniture, classroom materials, extra classes, and other supports the school needs to function. Additionally, families must cover the cost of required uniforms, textbooks and all other learning materials. The first phase of the FQEP provides only tuition, a few exercise books (composition notebooks), pens and pencils; and this only applies to schools that are either government or government-assisted schools. Even these schools must apply to receive FQEP benefits, and some schools are still awaiting government approval. Some of the CRC students are enrolled in schools to which the program does not apply, but these students will be transferred to schools that do in the fall of 2019. Kindergarten is not covered by the program, nor are private schools, so the CRC is bearing the tuition costs for these students. Government-supplied exercise books and other necessary learning materials are also in limited supply, so once these supplies run out, the remainder must be provided for by the parents (or in our case, the CRC).
The rollout of the plan has not been without its challenges. The promise of tuition-free education has caused enrollment to skyrocket, and many schools have been forced to turn students away for lack of space. Teachers in Sierra Leone sometimes go without a paycheck at all for months at a time; new teachers may not show up on the government rosters for up to two years - and cannot be paid until they do. Although the plan stipulates an increase in teachers and teacher pay, it has not been clear about how or when this will be addressed, or how schools are to manage increased enrollments and higher student/teacher ratios, and according to the Sierra Leone News, teachers report no change in their pay.
“The government is collecting millions of dollars for this program from donors, but we, the teachers don’t see any extra,” one teacher shared with Sierra Leone News. Parents report being asked to pay additional fees to support teachers whose names are not yet on the government payroll (since the government does not pay teachers until they are officially on the payroll, and this can take up to two years). “Some schools are not yet phased in,” says CRC Director, Mohamed Nabieu. “It’s also important to understand that ‘Free Education’ is not universal. There are many villages that don’t even have a school.” The CRC staff reports that the increases in class sizes have led to the addition of new fees as well. Some of the schools attended by CRC students are now asking for “furniture fees,” to help to cover the cost of desks for newly enrolled students.
An additional wrinkle has developed that directly impacts UMC schools, even those that are government-supported. “Not all schools apply,” explains Mohamed Nabieu, “and it’s not clear which schools apply and which do not.” For example, according to the United Methodist News, “while the new UMC school in Kabala awaited government approval and funding, all but 12 students transferred to government approved schools so their parents would not have to pay fees for administrative costs.” Bishop Yambasu acted quickly and was able to provide funding to cover these fees for the Kabala school, but it seems that many religious schools, even those that are government-supported, have not yet been approved for the program, and may not be.
In related news, on November 28, US Ambassador to Sierra Leone Maria Brewer spoke at the launch of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education School Lunch Project in Kabala. In partnership with USDA and Catholic Relief Services, this project seeks to aid the government of Sierra Leone in scaling up a national school lunch Program. The project will invest $25 million to expand the provision of daily school meals to nearly 70,000 children, as well as support improved school infrastructure, training and literacy over a period of four years (Sierra Leone has a total of 1,600,000 students currently enrolled in primary and secondary education). The package will include capacity building of teachers, rehabilitation of primary schools, construction of water wells and boreholes. This program is focused on areas in the northern part of the country.
While having the government provide free tuition to approved schools is extremely helpful, it doesn’t cover all the education-related costs associated with school. In addition to providing tuition for CRC students in non-approved schools and those enrolled in kindergarten, the CRC continues to provide school uniforms, textbooks, learning materials and all school fees for all of the students in the program. The CRC also provides others kinds of educational support to students in the programs, including tutoring, exam prep classes, life skills and other types of training, computer classes and workshops, career and guidance counseling. Parenting classes and workshops are also provided to parents of students in CRC programs, and extremely vulnerable families are encouraged to enroll in the CRC’s microfinance program for basic economic and budget training and the opportunity to receive a microloan to launch or improve a small business. Case Managers and Counselors provide ongoing support to students as well through home and school visits, and both individual and family counseling opportunities.
First-time mother Fanta Kargbo, was only 18 years old when she enrolled in Mercy Hospital’s Prenatal Program at one of the outreach team’s trips to her village in Bandajuma in July. Ever since then, she has attended each monthly outreach to check the progress of her pregnancy, and was encouraged to give birth at Mercy when the time came.
She arrived at Mercy one morning in October, experiencing labor pains (which had been going on for some time). She was suffering from prolonged labor and finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy after 5 pm. According to the Mercy’s State Certified Midwife, Christiana Tommy, “it was not easy because she is a first time delivery. She was having trouble pushing and we had to encourage her. We thank God for her being at Mercy where we were able to provide her so much assistance. There were five of us helping her!”
When asked what the fate of Fanta and her baby would have been had she attempted to give birth in the village, the normally cheerful midwife became unusually solemn. “It would have been a problem because she was having difficulty pushing and she needed help. They would have forced her to push and that could have led to a fistula or even the death of the baby. We were able to encourage her, give her a catheter, and stitch up her tear so that she did not get fistula or any other problem.”
Christiana is referring to a basic lack of qualified personnel in the villages. While a village may have a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA), this person is someone who likely has very little to no formal education (not even primary school), but has some basic training in childbirth, and can deliver under normal, uncomplicated circumstances. Many of the village clinics do not have midwives or TBAs, and may only be staffed by a nurse not necessarily trained in childbirth.
Fanta, clearly still exhausted the next day, was also very excited to welcome her new baby into the world. She could not stop smiling as she shared, “I am okay now, thanks to Mercy. I am so happy that my baby is safe."
Foday Koroma Jr. (12 months) is enrolled in Mercy Hospital’s Nutrition Program, and has been receiving Pikinmix (a healthy meal supplement) when Mercy’s Outreach team comes to his village each month.
On a recent trip, the Outreach staff discovered that Foday had a runny nose, cough, and headache. Mercy Outreach staff were able to quickly diagnose and treat him for an acute respiratory infection.
According to his mother, Florence, “I am very happy with the medication. I really saw great improvement. I am impressed with Mercy and the free treatment.
The CRC Promise Scholarship program provides post-secondary students the opportunity to either attend a university, or purse a program in technical or vocational schools. One Promise Scholar, Taingay Karteh has used this opportunity to successfully complete a program in catering and hotel management from St. Mary’s Technical Vocational Centre.
Tiangay first came into the CRC programs as a student in JSS2. Upon graduation from Senior Secondary school, she took the extremely difficult entrance exam that is the gatekeeper between Senior Secondary School and university called the WASSCE (West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination), but was unable to earn a score to enable her to enroll in a university program.
Through career counseling provided by CRC Guidance Counselor Princess Kawa, Taingay was encouraged to pursue a path in either catering or hair dressing, and she selected a program in catering. With support from the CRC Promise Scholarship program, Tiangay succeed in earning her certificate in catering.
“My aim is to establish my own business within the township of Bo,” Tiangay says. “Without the guidance of the CRC staff and their support, this would not be possible."
Mercy Hospital celebrated its eleventh birthday in October. Mercy Administrator Jinnah Lahai spoke to the staff at a small ceremony commemorating the event. “We want to take some time today to celebrate Mercy. We are no longer children. Mercy has been here for eleven good years of quality health service delivery. We have all worked very hard to make this hospital one of the best. We should be very proud of ourselves. I want to especially thank those staff who have been with Mercy from the very beginning. You have made Mercy what it is today.”
Matron Sister Augusta Kpanabaum echoed these thoughts, saying, “Today, we thank God for Mercy Hospital. It has saved so many lives. We pray that the good work continues and that we all do our level best to make Mercy better and better.”
The ceremony was held in Mercy’s new patient waiting area, built as part of the construction project that included a new wing housing two new operating theatres.