Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Please support our appeal for Birch Memorial School in Makeni, Sierra Leone

Me teaching chemistry to my class
I was very proud to take part in this year’s Project Umubano schools programme in Sierra Leone.  It was my first time in the country and although I had read about the numerous challenges it faced, the first hand experience as a volunteer gave me a real insight into the huge scale of hardship and suffering still burdening its people. This experience also showed me the huge difference a project like Umubano can make to people’s lives.

This year Umubano in Sierra Leone expanded to include a community element through a partnership with Street Child of Sierra Leone (SCoSL) where I was part of a group of 10 volunteers who taught at a summerschool in Makeni.

When our group first arrived at the children’s centre in Makeni, we were delighted to be greeted by 150 children who welcomed us by singing us a song. A few of them then stood up to carry out a role play that aimed to explain why they were living on the streets. Many of the street children are orphans, having lost their parents during the war and over 50 per cent of the girls are forced to work as prostitutes in order to survive. Life threatening disease is common- especially Malaria, which is the country’s biggest killer, as the people cannot afford to buy a mosquito net or long trousers or tops to protect them.

Umubano volunteers with the street children

Every day is a struggle for survival and families and their children have limited means. They have no material possessions and wear the same clothes, donated by charities, day in and day out. On the streets the people lack access to clean water, so catching diseases is common and oftenfatal. There is also a shortage of community role models, as every adult who has been in their life has either let them down or has died due to war, famine or disease.

However the children of Sierra Leone have the same hopes and dreams that Umubano is helping come true.

On my first day teaching, I discussed with the children what they wanted to be when they grew up, and what they hoped their life would bring.

Becoming President of Sierra Leone was a popular career choice as many of the children wanted to correct the wrongs of the country and improve living standards for all residents. Other popular career choices included becoming a lawyer or a teacher, as these professions were considered respectable amongst their peers.

For too long these children have been the forgotten voices of Sierra Leone and SCoSL aims to ensure that they can get their dignity back by giving them an education, three meals a day and access to clean water.

The Umubano team with Stephen O'Brien MP and Tom Dannatt- founder of SCoSL

The 150 children that we met were all enrolled on an 18 month programme that aimed to send them back to school and eventually, to their families. In cases where there are no families around to look after the children then a foster family is found for them.

As Umubano volunteers we threw ourselves into the programme and by day two were teaching classes of up to 70 students, with no resources in maths, English language, geography, history and science. I was teaching students science who had been out of school for up two years but who had the same intelligence as children starting their GCSEs in the UK. It was daunting to say the least to be surrounded by such bright and promising children!

As we taught the lessons, I was overwhelmed at the warmth and love the children showed for us, despite everything they had against them.

This group of children contained the most courageous, strong and brave group of people that I had ever met. Every day I would hold another child’s hand and listen to the unimaginable horrors of their life that no one should ever be allowed to endure.

 It was amazing to hear story after story as to why they had ended up on the streets, the hardships they faced and yet despite all of this they had such a strong enthusiasm and desire to learn. Their thirst for knowledge was impressive but even more so given their situation and the challenges that they faced.

As I rested on the plane ride home, I was still coming to terms with the overwhelming experiences and inspirations I had seen over the last two weeks. Whilst I was lucky enough to be flying safely back to my home, my family and daily routine, I was acutely aware that this is a luxury that the children in the school still do not have. Hopefully, with inspirational projects like Umubano, one day these dreams will become a reality for the children of Sierra Leone.

On my last day I made a promise to Mr Shekuba Sessay, the Principal of Birch Memorial Secondary School in Makeni that I would send him items that the school needs. Items such as exercise books, pens, pencils, rulers, chalk and text books are considered luxuries in Sierra Leone- even though in the UK a teacher would not attempt to start a lesson without them!

The start of term is September 15th and I am appealing to everyone to help me in this venture. If you can donate anything then please contact me at: clare.hilley@conservativefuture.com. I am aiming to send out a shipment by the end of August so that it reaches the school in time for the new term.

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