By Gabrielle Galanek
KAILAHUN DISTRICT, Sierra Leone, 7 April 2011– Burned-out buildings and bullet holes serve as constant reminders of a turbulent and horrific past in the remote eastern border district of Kailahun, one of the areas that was hardest hit by Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war.
It was just south of Kailahun, in the village of Bomaru, where rebels of the Revolutionary United Front first crossed into the country from neighbouring Liberia in 1991, marking the start of the conflict. Education was one of the early casualties of war. Schools were destroyed and teachers were among those who fled the district.
“It was terrible. There was no school in this area for 12 years during the war. Some children went to Guinea and Liberia and attended school there,” said Abel Ngafua, principal of a primary school in Dawa village, on the border with Liberia.
“Some of the children, their parents died in the war. They have just come here and are being looked after by people,” he added.
Focus on quality and training
Almost a decade after the civil war ended, Sierra Leone is still struggling to rebuild schools, train teachers and reach children who have yet to see the inside of a classroom. Responding to this need, UNICEF and its partners are working to improve education and bring opportunities for schooling to all the country’s children.
The Cross Border Schools Project, which trains teachers and school managers, was developed to target the high numbers of out-of-school children in the border regions. Although education is free in Sierra Leone, fees are still charged to pay for schools supplies, and there are other costs, as well.
Despite the challenges, the school system here is slowly making progress, with a focus on quality education and teaching skills. Thanks to funding from the Government of the Netherlands, efforts to train teachers nationwide have been stepped-up in recent years; over 3,000 educators are now participating in first-time or continuing courses
A new beginning
Francis Josiah teaches first and second grade at the Dawa school. When he was 15, the rebels came to his village and killed his family, but he managed to escape. Having been robbed a part of his childhood, Mr. Josiah finds that working as a teacher also gives him hope for the future.
Now that he has completed the teacher training programme, he plans his own lessons and believes his methods are more effective than before. “The training was about managing children’s behaviour, how to keep them safe in school and then how to teach actively,” said Mr. Josiah.
As Sierra Leone struggles to heal the wounds of war, , the gradual improvement in education is benefitting a new generation – including some of the country’s most marginalized and forgotten children.
“I want the children to become good people – better people for tomorrow. That is why I am teaching them,” said Mr. Josiah. “When I see children that I have taught and they are moving on to higher levels of education, I really feel proud of that.”