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Since the end of Sierra Leone’s civil war in 2002, the country has been struggling to rebuild its infrastructure. Although health care in the country is gradually improving, compared with industrialized countries where maternal mortality during childbirth is 1 in 8000 women, the risk of death in childbirth in Sierra Leone is still 1 in 8 women.
Besides the risk of complications, early pregnancies also hinder schooling and cause a vicious spiral of ignorance and poverty. The lack of health awareness is the main cause of disease; while the lack of primary health care is the main cause of death.
One in every 3 persons in Sierra Leone lives in the slums. Cline Bay is an urban slum near central Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. Here, once there was a fabulous beach but during the civil war, it became a slum of refugees and internally displaced persons. In fact, it still continues to host thousands of migrant workers as well as the urban poor. The stench of sewage and rotting garbage is overwhelming. Living conditions are squalid and children play in ponds of stagnant water and sewage. But surprisingly, this slum area is full of vitality, dynamism and energy.
Here, in Cline Bay, our team collected one of the most beautiful stories of our travel. The story of Josephine. Josephine works for Concern Worldwide, an NGO that has been active in Sierra Leone since 1996. She helps young women in the slums of Cline Bay to organize “health clubs”. Here, young mothers teach younger ones the fundamentals of hygiene: how to protect themselves from common diseases, how to avoid undesired pregnancies, how to take care of themselves and their babies during pregnancy and after delivery.
Josephine's work in Cline Bay is part of a project that has been co-funded by the European Union. Through this project, traditional birth attendants are trained for providing monitoring and care during pregnancy, while womens' clubs promote regular breastfeeding and check-ups and also run ante-natal and post-natal sessions among groups of women.
In the meetings of the mothers’ clubs, women share their problems and motivate each other to return to school after delivering their babies. They collectively organize creche-s for the babies and study groups for themselves. But what is most important is that they together overcome self-victimization: first they regain confidence in themselves and then they share this confidence and become community leaders.
Through this international cooperation project, poor young mothers learnt how to trigger people's synergies: Now that they live a healthier life, they spread their newly acquired awareness and become the driving force for a social resurrection of the entire community of Cline Bay.
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“We, the women, realize we can no longer sit back and allow our daughters to go uneducated,” said Yabu Kanu, the Chairwoman Mothers’ Club. “We have seen the disadvantages of this, in terms of access to employment or appointment to public office."
“When we come together, we constitute a strong voice to provide the opportunity of learning for our daughters – something we do not have individually,” Ms. Kanu added.
"Donors need to understand that it takes time to bring about changes and that systematic community led processes are required to build community capacity. Donors also need to look at development and making changes in Sierra Leone with a long term perspective", is the message of Manoj Kumar, the Country Director of Concern.
⇒ Programme Web site: Concern - Sierra Leone
⇒Interview with Manoj Kumar, Country Director (Sierra Leone), Concern Worldwide