People know me as Madam K. I am 42 years old. I am a teacher by profession and love working with girls because I know how invaluable it is to educate the girl, empower her and give her a voice.
I have been mentoring girls through this club for the past six years. We carry out community outreach activities and also provide the girls with an environment to learn and share their experiences. It is not a fully-fledged school because we don’t have the requisite financial resources but we’re making do with what we have.
At the moment, we have 20 girls in our care and are supporting them through the assistance that we get from Equality Now through the Child Welfare Society. The girls come and go as they get older or secure other opportunities but I wish that I could do more to support additional girls. They have been through so much but the fact that they are still willing to get out there and try again regardless of the hurdles that life has thrown at them is admirable.
I prefer working with girls because women and girls in Sierra Leone are socialised to believe that they come second after men and boys; that they should only be seen and not heard. There are so many women and girls who have settled for a life that they don’t deserve so my work is to correct this misconception and show them that they matter too.
We should also address the double standards that girls face. For instance, when a school going boy impregnates a girl the boy will continue with his education while the girl stays at home. If we don’t cater for girls who are vulnerable, then they will be left behind and remain stuck in a cycle of poverty and further exploitation. So, when you find a government locking girls out of the education system because they fell pregnant, it is very bad. It is an abuse of their rights.
This ban just tells girls that when they get pregnant while still in school, then their education and shot at life is over. And it is unfair for the government to validate this misconception, because it punishes the same girl who is in most cases a survivor of a violation. The government absolutely overlooks the fact that often times, these girls are survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation. I have difficulty understanding how this can be the case. How can a government punish somebody who has been violated?
And it is sad because our socialisation as women in Sierra Leone has made it very easy for girls to internalize and accept this horrible fate and to believe that teenage pregnancy is the end of the world.
What these girls need is support, not castigation. So, we have to keep talking to them and telling them that there is still hope and that they are equal to boys.
We have been reaching out to other girls and are slowly increasing our numbers. Because of empowering girls and giving them the space to speak up, many girls have been opening up and reporting violations that have occurred against them. Before this, they would sit at home and cry but they are slowly learning how to speak out.
Whenever a girl comes to me after being abused, I take them to the police where we record a statement and begin the long walk to justice. Sometimes when we try to pursue the issue up to the court level, the girls’ guardians are compromised and they drop the case. Even though it will take time before justice is served, it is still a step in the right direction because it breaks the silence.
These girls have very big dreams and they have a strong desire to get an education but sometimes I feel like my hands are tied because I don’t have the means to support all of them.
They all want to go back to school but how can I help them? What about their uniforms and textbooks? I would need to buy them a beret, pants, shoes, and other school necessities. These could cost up to 3,000,000 leones ($319.18). I don’t have this money so I’ll teach them about their rights and provide them with a platform to share their experiences. It is not easy but it has to be done.
And what makes me even sadder is that they are really determined and bright but they don’t have support and the government does not seem to care. You find that the number of girls and boys in primary school is almost at par but when they go to high school, the number of girls makes a drastic drop. We have a lot of work to do if we are to help them.
We are praying that you will find funds for these children. You need to help us with funding and help the Child Welfare Society so that they can help us. Otherwise, girls will remain at the bottom of the social ladder while boys continue to dominate.
If one of these girls becomes a president, a lawyer, a nurse, or even a doctor, they will change SL and that is a good reward for me.
It is therefore through your help that I will be able to achieve what I’m trying to do with these children. I just want to continue to advocate for them because without your help, we will not achieve our goals. Help could come in the form of books and sanitary kits.
Girls can do so much if they are fully informed, supported, and given access to education without any conditions. They can change Sierra Leone and set it on the recovery slope if they get a chance.
UPDATE: In March 2020, Sierra Leone lifted the ban on pregnant girls attending school.