As Action on Poverty’s accountant, most of my work is UK based. So this is a rare treat to be able to visit 2 of our Sierra Leone projects in the field and see for myself the amazing work that is being done. It is my first time in the country and one of the many things that has struck me is the contrast between the children who can access education and those who can’t. In researching, it became clear that funding was a key issue, which brings home why our livelihoods work is so vital:
In Sierra Leone, it costs families to send their children to school. Thankfully, with schools now open again following the ebola shut downs, many children are able to attend lessons.
You can see lines of pristine uniforms winding their way down the sides of the streets each morning as the children make the daily journey on foot, sometimes over quite some distance, to improve their future prospects.
However you don’t have to travel far to find children who are not in the education system. Wearing far from pristine clothes, they tout their wares in the markets and tend crops in the fields: costly schooling is not even up for discussion if funds are short or fields need watering. Worse still if your parents have been taken by ebola and you are now responsible for putting food on the table.
The contrast in this picture, from the Gbondapi market, could not be more stark: green uniformed school children stand on the platform behind, whilst the less lucky of a similar age in the foreground carry the burden on their heads of needing to earn an income with no education. The contrast in clothing alone tells you everything you need to know.
This is where our work building sustainable livelihoods comes to the fore. With parents having to pay for schooling, if we can work with parents to earn a living wage, they can pay for their children to go to school.
With a full school education, the children are also far more likely to be able to access livelihoods: it is no coincidence that the poorest young adults we work with in Sierra Leone are also the least educated. So the impact from supporting one person to earn a livelihood extends far beyond their own life: it pays for schooling which enables future generations to have a livelihood.
The saying goes ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. Perhaps there is a deeper truth: teach a man to fish and you feed him, his children and his children’s children for a lifetime. And it doesn’t need to stop at men! Evidence shows that if women earn the income, more of it is spent on children’s education. There can be few interventions where the impact is longer lasting.