Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Justice for the poor!

This week I paid a visit to the Female Section of the Kenema Prison.  I found myself having to hold back tears as, before we had our little meeting, they un-self-consciously sang chorus after chorus about Jesus forgiving them their sins and how prison was not for them any more!  

32 inmates with four children in tow.

My meeting was to ask if some or all of the women would be interested in starting some literacy classes.  AdvocAid contracts EducAid to run a similar programme in Freetown Central Prison but now many of the long term female inmates have been transferred to Kenema and the plan is to extend the programme there now.  The data I needed was how long the women's sentences were and what their educational levels were.  A handful have some years of primary education behind them, one is a trained birth attendant, and the rest have no schooling whatsoever.  The educated, the wealthy in Sierra Leone are apparently not criminals.  It is the case the world over, I suppose, but here more starkly than elsewhere it is clear, that money can make all the difference.

I would like to think that the literacy classes can bring a spark of hope in a very bleak world but it seems almost crazy to try and plead for their cooperation with such a project faced as they are with such daily humiliations as deprivation of food, soap and basics, being locked up in their cells to save the officers the hassle of having to deal with them, torment over their children's fates on the outside without their mothers to fend for them.  In just a little time I felt so horribly helpless at the stories I heard.  

I have in the past had one ex-inmate visit me because she wanted a reprint of her literacy certificate so that she could use it to take some steps to a new life once she gained freedom and I do hope that there may be others who are able to use this opportunity to some purpose but goodness me it seems like a very tiny ray in the gloom.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Catch 22

Often I am asked what our students do after leaving school and if they can get jobs.  I always answer that we are able to help a few get sponsorship and that some find work but that whatever they go on to we have at least helped open some doors for them and also they are able to be thinking contributing citizens in a way they were unable to without education.  I mean every word of this answer but it seems increasingly glib when we look at the reality on the ground however.

Two weeks ago our senior students finished their final senior secondary exams.  Some packed their bags and headed for home as they put their pens down [we insist on everyone living in for the period of the exams and the preceding few weeks to assist with intensive preparation!]. There is a significant number though who have had to be almost forced out.  

The youngsters originating in our up-country Junior Secondary schools have left the Freetown school and have gone straight to their old teachers pleading to be taken on as volunteer junior teachers.  A good number from Freetown are displaying the same reluctance to leave too.

Thinking back to my ecstasy on finishing school and how I did not darken their doors for literally twenty years, this leaves me feeling very depressed on their behalf.

We do succeed in getting tertiary sponsorship for a number of our really soundest students but the numbers wanting this sort of assistance only increase, as is to be expected.  We hope that the new distance Higher Teachers Certificate course that Sean and I are managing the writing of will be a good and reasonably affordable solution for a good number but what of the rest???

I came to Sierra Leone to run a Junior Secondary School.  When our first students passed their JSS exams and moved on to Senior Secondary we found the provision so poor that we quickly concluded the only sensible thing to do was to find a way of providing Senior Secondary Schooling too.  So, what now?  Start our own college?  Probably not! But we must urgently find ways of getting additional funding [our school funding is already under serious threat due to the financial climate and the state of the pound] to fund sponsorship at college and university for as many as we possibly can.