The Waterloo Junior Secondary School for Girls is a very good example of a successful partnership. It started with a partnership between the Sierra Leone Chapter of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE SL) and the congregation of Grace Episcopal Church in Connecticut, USA.
From its humble beginning in 2004 with athree-classroom structure and a garage-classroom block, the school has now a modern two-storey block, a second two-classroom block, toilets, and a computer centre. After the school was founded, FAWE Sierra Leone realized that provision of basic infrastructure is only a step towards educational access for the pupils. There was still a dire need to meet the cost of tuition, school books,uniforms, teachers’ salaries in order for the pupils to be able to learn. That is why FAWE Sierra Leone reached out to other to other donors to give a $100 a year donation to support individual girls at Waterloo Junior Secondary.
Waterloo, the small town where the school islocated, used to be a very small conservation railway station village at thegateway to the interior, during the colonial era in Sierra Leone. The mainoccupation of its locals was fishing and market gardening. This continued untilthe civil war which lasted for twelve years, from1990-2002. When the war ended, the village became even poorer than before, with most of its surviving male population goneto the capital. to make matters worse, most of the infrastructure was destroyed, the communities were dismantled and most families were very poor.
Yet, because the Sierra Leone Government has a policy of compulsory basic education, parents must send their children to school despite the fact that they could not afford it. Most families were unable to meet all the hidden costs of sending their children to school (textbooks, uniforms, the help girls would be giving to do chores orfeed the family, among others). Indeed, in this very conservative community in Northern Sierra Leone, girls are not encouraged to go to school, and those who get the opportunity to enroll still have to go to the market after schoolto take over for their mothers who are either traders or market gardeners themselves. Thus girls have very little or no time to study.
A second partnership was formed when FAWE Sierra Leone’s National Coordinator, Mrs. Eileen Hanciles, met with Mr. Filippo Bozotti an Italian-American filmmaker visiting Sierra Leone. They discussed the country’s post-conflict situation, the devastation left by the war, the difficulty for children, mostly girls, toattend school in many areas of the country including Waterloo. Mr. Bozotti decided to get involved by helping FAWE improve the Waterloo Secondary. His donation was used to build and equipped a computer room, provide scholarships to half of the girls and pay teachers’ salaries.
A third partnership was also built with the Batonga Foundation (founded by Angelique Kidjo) which provides 60 scholarships for some of the most underprivileged girls in the school. This includes uniforms, books, shoes, bags and tuition.
Last but not least, the Ministry of Education of Sierra Leone has always been a full partner in this journey. The Minister of Education accompanied the First Lady as guests of honor for the donation ceremony by the China Women Federation.The Ministry also pays for the salary of four of the teachers in the school and has been supportive of FAWE Sierra Leone from the beginning.
The support provided by FAWE Sierra Leone to the girls and their families not only helps parents offset the opportunity cost of sending their daughters to school, but also ensures that girls stay in school and perform well. Thanksto these multiple partnerships, 327 girls from Sierra Leone have beenlearning and thriving in a gender-responsive school environment for thepast 3 years. They are off the streets, away from prostitution andother types of abuses, and the education they receive today ispreparing them for a better future. They can even dream about going toSenior Secondary School as conveyed by two girls from the WaterlooSchool:
“Greetings to you Mrs. Hanciles! We do appreciate all your help as we are now computerliterate. We would like to continue classes after taking our BECE exams. Could you please find a way to help us upgrade our school to a Senior Secondary Schoolby next year so that we can continue with our computer studies?” Elizabeth Kamara and Abibatu Sow, JSS111.
Elizabeth still needs to peddle goods in the afternoons, after school, in order to help her mother feed the family, but she is receiving an education: she can read and she is computer literate. Now she can dream about a better future. She has the good-hearted people who support FAWE Sierra Leone to thank for, and a Government that is intent on improving the living conditions of its population.
By Fatoumata Thiam Diallo, FAWE Communication & Advocacy Officer, and Mrs. Eileen Hanciles, FAWE Sierra Leone National Coordinator
All photos courtesy of FAWE Sierra Leone