Sierra Leone is still recovering from a decade of civil war, which lasted from 1991 till 2002. The conflict between government forces and RUF rebels (Revolutionary United Front) pivoted around the control of diamond mines and affected most of the country and its civilian population. Tens of thousands of people were killed, mutilated or subjected to sexual violence. About half of the population fled their homes. Much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed and the economy collapsed.
See Photo gallery of the Peace Day 2007 event in Sierra Leone
Many children were directly affected by the violence. They lost family members (often in front of their eyes) or were subjected to physical violence or sexual abuse. Children witnessed their homes being looted and burned down and they fled to safer areas where they waited in refugee camps for the war to end.
Thousands of child soldiers
Among the children who suffered most, were thousands of child soldiers. In most cases they were abducted and forced to join the armed groups. Boys were forced to take part in the fighting, often under the influence of drugs. Girls were mostly used as sex slaves and domestic workers in the ‘bush camps’, where the armed groups were stationed.
Lack of social structures
When the war was over, in 2002, a recovery process was set in motion. Refugees returned to their homes where they tried to rebuild their lives. The war had however led to the social and economic disintegration. Social community structures had fallen apart and community cohesion was lacking. Years of violence had furthermore introduced a culture of disrespectful and aggressive interaction between people. Rebuilding a peaceful community in which members support each other and engage in collective activities, proved a challenge in post-war Sierra Leone. Under these circumstances, the rights and needs of children and youth were not considered a priority and received little attention.
War Child adapted its intervention approach to support this return & recovery process on a community level. War Child designed a community-based programme, which aimed to address psychosocial needs of children by helping to rebuild peaceful child-friendly communities. The surroundings of a child are crucial in their development. Therfore the programme targets the community as a whole and, apart from children and youth, also involves parents, teachers, elders and village leaders. The focus is on getting them to recognize the rights and needs of the children and youth and to provide better support. The programme seeks to empower children and youth, enabling them to play a positive role in the community. War Child supports Community Action Groups to implement a variety of social, cultural, recreational and sportive activities to achieve these objectives.
One of the main problems in the communities in Sierra Leone is that many youth have missed out on school because of the war. They are illiterate, have never learned any professional skills and subsequently many are unable to gain a livelihood. They often feel frustrated and useless.
That is why War Child started with an education pilot project in a number of communities. In cooperation with partner organizations, learning centers are set up where youth follow literacy and numeracy classes and where they can learn a profession. Community members are trained to be trainers at these centers. The community is thus enabled to improve the future prospects of its own children.