ON THE GROUND: Plan UK, Sierra Leone

Francois Le Goff

Scheme: Education renewal and advocacy in two districts of Sierra Leone, Port Loko (North West), Bombali (North)

Funding: £811, 571 from the Community Fund, £461, 947 from the European Commission and £727,363 of matching funds from Plan UK as required by donors

Objectives: To reintegrate children into formal schools and to help schools reach their full capacity

When it began its activities in Sierra Leone in 1976, overseas aid charity Plan UK ran long-term development projects with local communities across the country. But the civil war that broke out in the mid-1990s forced the charity to scale down its operations and carry out emergency work in refugee camps, helping traumatised children.

In 2002, the end to hostilities enabled Plan UK to envisage longer-term activities in Sierra Leone. After launching a project aimed at reintegrating children into formal schooling in the west of the country, the charity decided to expand its rehabilitation work to areas formerly controlled by rebels.

In September 2003, Plan UK started an education renewal and advocacy project in the northern districts of Port Loko and Bombali with the support of the Community Fund. The European Commission also provided funding to rebuild and repair schools.

The project helps 6,000 children. Most of them were captured by rebels or lost their parents. "The soldiers gave me a gun and told me to kill my friends," said Kermah Sherif, aged12. "I was out of school for three years. All of us want the peace to continue."

Peace education and reconciliation activities will be organised to help children move away from the violence they experienced during the war.

Because only a small number of them receive some kind of education, Plan UK will also promote the rights of girls to go to primary school.

"Education renewal is not only vital to give young people skills, but the rebuilding of their schools and their lives gives them a stake in that future," said Marie Staunton, chief executive of Plan UK.

Training will be provided so that people are able to repair and maintain school-based water and sanitation equipment. Over the coming months, 30 schools will be equipped with wells and latrines.

Since almost two out of five teachers are unqualified, Plan UK will provide 720 teachers with a five-day local training course.

"As one local teacher told me," said Staunton, "education is a priority area. One of the reasons for the war was poverty. You cannot address poverty without education. You cannot have education without teachers."

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