|Wilkinson Road flooded with cars swimming
through the flood waters.
Credit: M & R Ropiecki
Extraordinary scenes in Freetown for the last few days.
Sierra Leone is back in the news again!
For a good reason this time?
We had gone off the international media radar for many years, when the film Blood Diamond brought us a little negative publicity and reminded the world of the extremes of violence that had occurred during the 10 year war. As potentially positive news of economic change started to hit the media, we had the dramatic knock back of the year long Ebola crisis last year. Before we have even got to the end of that (despite the Western media having forgotten about it), massive floods have hit and there are currently close to 9000 people in Freetown displaced by serious flooding, damaged homes, landslides and so on.
Is there a common thread to all of this? They seem so unrelated.
By my analysis, there is a common cause, a constant source of vulnerability and I believe that the extremes of all that we have experienced would have been massively reduced if our population were educated.
|The floodgates are open!
Credit: M & R Ropiecki
President Momoh, 25 years ago made the announcement that education was a privilege and not a right. (n.b. This has not changed in any real way in the intervening quarter of a century!) This was a significant trigger for the student protests that were then militarised by Foday Sankoh – not the only but an important contribution to the starting of the war. There were then enormous numbers of marginalised, uneducated youth who had had nothing to lose by joining the fighting.
When Ebola hit the country in early 2014, the confusion it caused was due again to the lack of education. There was a complete lack of trust in the sources of information and no means to verify which of the potential explanations was genuine. There was often a panicked dismissal of government advice so people continued to hide and treat their sick and bury their dead, making themselves and their communities incredibly vulnerable.
Now, with the floods, to me it is all of a piece. Education does not stop rain but…..
Freetown is massively over-populated as people abandon the provinces for lack of employment opportunities and lack of basic services such as education and health. Families lose their land because they don’t know their rights. People build in vulnerable parts of the city because they don’t have their own land and there is no properly enforced planning. Environmental protection laws can be bypassed with a brown envelope.
The injustices that are perpetrated against the people, the lack of equitable law enforcement is not even understood by those who are on the receiving end of it. Were they to be educated, they would understand the rights they are not accessing. Were they to be educated, they would know who to ask what questions to know why such a small proportion of what is allocated to the provincial district councils ever reaches them? Were they to be educated, they would know that accepting no services is not normal in most countries. Were they to be educated, they would know what happens elsewhere and demand justice and basic rights for themselves as happens in other countries.
My heart goes out to those who are suffering now but this is once again a symptom not the real problem. We will help with rice, medicines, blankets and tarpaulins but these are sticking plasters on a deep deep wound.
In EducAid we believe that the best way of strengthening communities to reduce vulnerabilities to all sorts of crisis is through education.
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid’s work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans please go to www.educaid.org.uk
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