Sierra Leone is rebuilding its economy following the long-term repercussions of the devastating civil war and the more recent Ebola crisis, during which nearly 4,000 lives were lost. Despite its potentially very rich mineral resource Sierra Leone faces major development challenges: it is ranked 181 out of 188 countries on the UN Human Development Index and life expectancy is just 50.1 years.
The Ebola crisis has had a huge impact on children in particular, creating many thousands of orphans and disrupting education services, with all schools closed for an entire academic year to curtail the spread of the disease.
Why we work in Sierra Leone
As Sierra Leone develops its infrastructure, the need for relevant, up-to-date books which support children and adults in reaching their full potential is more acute than ever. Poverty levels mean that the majority of people cannot afford books at home. Schools, colleges and universities lack books for their students. Bookshops are almost non-existent in the country at present.
The official language of Sierra Leone is English, with Krio (a Creole language derived from English) widely spoken. English is also the medium of instruction from the first year of primary school. This means that the books in English that we can send for schools, colleges and public and community libraries are especially useful.
There is also an urgent need for current information on medical and healthcare subjects, on managing infection and on safe practices within communities. The specialist books we can provide from UK medical publishers will support the development of health services in the country.
Our work in Sierra Leone
Book Aid International supported libraries in Sierra Leone until 2007, when a reduction in funding led to a focus on East Africa.
In 2016 we began to support Sierra Leone again and the first shipment arrived in Freetown in early June, containing around 33,000 books. Working through the Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) as our distribution partner, these books have been donated to public and community libraries, schools, hospitals, prisons and higher education institutions across the country.
Supporting public libraries in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone’s national library service, the Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) has 21 branches countrywide. The public library network offers a vital service in Sierra Leone, providing a space for study and self-improvement as well as for leisure reading.
Each of the SLLB libraries operates a library outreach service on motorbikes to provide access to books for schools, community groups and even housebound individuals. Libraries are generally well-used and membership outside of Freetown is free.
While schools and universities in Sierra Leone closed during the Ebola crisis, libraries remained open and provided a valuable opportunity for adults and children alike to continue their education.
Through our new partnership with SLLB we provide books ranging from children’s early readers and adult fiction to higher education textbooks, reference books and information on healthcare in the community.
Supporting schools in Sierra Leone
This is a crucial time for education in Sierra Leone as students return to school following the Ebola crisis. Most schools lack books and resources and have no school library.
SLLB supports around 100 schools which now benefit from the books we provide. These books encourage pupils to read for pleasure as well as support their studies in all subjects.
We are also working with a number of NGOs with education programmes, including Plan Sierra Leone to support their Girls’ Education Challenge and Ebola Back to School projects, and local community-based organisation Save the Needy, which supports 10 of the most deprived schools in Freetown and in Bo.
We intend to expand our support for schools as we develop our work in-country.
Supporting higher education in Sierra Leone
In our first year of supporting Sierra Leone we are also providing brand new academic books in a range of disciplines for the University of Sierra Leone (which includes the Institute of Public Administration and the College of Medical and Health Sciences as well as Fourah Bay College), for Njala University and for a number of other tertiary institutions throughout the country.
*Stats from Unicef Statistical Tables 2013