Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Look at the Report on the Management of the Ebola Fund

A deeply concerning report was published in the papers last week; it centred on the publication of an audit report of the management of Ebola funds in Sierra Leone. The Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) had published the report about the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) and National Ebola Response Centre’s (NERC) management of the Ebola response in respect to three key areas. The Audit Service assessed the methods and procedures of disbursement, procurement, and handling of donations during the period of May to October 2014.

It is very difficult to comprehend the internal situation of the MoHS during the outbreak, and there must have understandably been a huge strain on the facilities and human resources as a whole. With this in mind, this blog post focuses on the Auditor’s publication; while many may posit allegations towards those in charge of the MoHS, the report does not do so. The report has requested that the Ministry supplies all missing documentation within 1 week; at that point, the Auditor’s duty will be to sift through this information and identify which, if any, of the queries raised were of a fraudulent nature, or borne of a public service stretched to the limits.

Unfortunately for the Sierra Leonean government the report has revealed some major concerns, and the scale of potential mismanagement has put this story centre on the global stage. At best, it’s a deficiency in crisis management and adherence to procedure; at worst, it’s wide scale corruption and embezzlement within Sierra Leonean government.

The audit looks at the 84bn Leones (£12m) that the government had for fighting the virus from the start of the outbreak. This pot of money came primarily from domestic institutions and individuals donating from within Sierra Leone as well as from domestic tax revenue. It is important to note that the audit is focussed on internal tax revenue and donations, and not money raised or donated externally.

As you will have gathered from other news items, the report reveals that the MoHS and NERC had not properly accounted for around 25 billion Leones of the allocated funds. To put that figure in to context, 25 billion Leones (£3.7 million) is 1% of total domestic revenue for 2013. It is just under half of the 60 billion Leones spent on the entire country’s police force in 2013, and one fifth of the 125 billion Leone education budget. Make no mistake; this is a huge amount of money in Sierra Leone.

At the beginning of the report, made available here from the ASSL website, the Auditors outline the objectives of the investigation:

“Due to the public emergency the country is facing, following the Ebola outbreak, there is a sudden surge in the inflow of funds specifically for

that purpose from the government and other generous individuals and institutions. In this regard, it is not unusual for Supreme Audit Institutions such as the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL), to carry out audits as and when such funds are being disbursed. Generally, this is to ensure that funds are fully and solely directed to the cause at hand and where there are anomalies, these are promptly dealt with. As such, since the Ministry and the NERC have been in charge of the management of the Ebola Response Funds which are public funds, the ASSL conducted a real time audit.”

“The primary objective of the audit was to ascertain whether public funds allocated to the Ministry and NERC were utilised for their intended purposes in accordance with applicable public financial management rules and regulations. Other secondary objectives were to establish whether:

  • Donations received were receipted and banked promptly;
  • Correct amount of incentives were paid to the right healthcare workers and on time;
  • Expenditures were undertaken with due regard to the law, economy and efficiency, and were supported by sufficient and appropriate documentary evidence;
  • Goods and services procured were been done in accordance with the law;
  • Value for money was obtained in the procurement contracts awarded; and
  • There was interaction between the Ministry and the National Ebola Emergency Centre.”

The report covers the three areas of operations by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC): disbursement of funds; procurement of services; and the handling of donations. Below I have condensed each item of contention to the query and the amount in order to show the scale of misappropriation.

In the executive summary of the report, the auditor concluded that “There were inadequate controls over the disbursement of funds. In the absence of a well coordinated sensitisation plan to raise awareness on Ebola and its prevention, the auditors observed an overwhelming number of requests from various individuals, Non-Governmental Organisations, parliamentarians etc, for sensitisation activities to be carried out in different parts of the country.

Withholding taxes were not deducted and paid over to the National Revenue Authority from payments to various suppliers and contractors. Several weaknesses were observed in the payment of incentives to healthcare workers. Furthermore, a spot review of incentive payments at the Connaught Hospital revealed that the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police security personnel were included on the list of workers to receive hazard payment even though funds had been transferred to both forces to meet the deployment of their officers.

Procurement procedures were not followed for a number of contracts undertaken by the Ministry. There was a complete disregard for the law on public procurement in an emergency situation. For instance, contracts were entered into without any clear guidelines on the specification of items required. Furthermore, contracts were badly drawn up as if to allow for additional costs to be incurred thereby preventing a transparent, competitive and cost effective procurement. The Ministry failed to produce any documentation for contract agreements that amounted to Le17billion.

A review of the donations register and bank statements of the Health Emergency Response Account held at the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank revealed that a number of donations totalled at Le1,670,000,000 were returned dishonoured.”

A prĂ©cis of the risks mentioned in the report reveals the following concerns raised by the Auditor: “Monies set aside for the purpose of combatting the Ebola outbreak may have been used for unintended purposes, thereby slowing the government’s response to eradicating the virus,” whilst the “possible mismanagement of the procurement process creates a leeway for the wastage of limited resources. It ignores value for money and increases the likelihood of inappropriate service delivery.” These procedures “create the avenue for individuals to exploit the limited resources meant for the fight against the epidemic, thereby hindering the early response to the outbreak.”

It will be very interesting to read how this report progresses, and whether there are any serious allegations of fraud made by the Auditor. Whilst the Audit Service Sierra Leone is responsible for auditing public accounts, it does not hold any enforcement powers over those involved.[1] It will be down to those within government to decide upon the fate of those proved to be involved in the misappropriation, misallocation, and misuse of funds.

The Audit service notes it’s efficacy in the introduction of the report, and re-iterates its previous delings with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. It writes: The Ministry of Health and Sanitation being one of the key ministries with a large share of the National Expenditure Budget, has been classified as a priority audit for the Audit Service Sierra Leone. Over the years, we have identified a number of weaknesses and made an equal number of recommendations to improve service delivery by the Ministry. For instance, for the financial years 2010 to 2012 inclusive, we made a total of 76 recommendations to the Ministry, but only 26 (i.e 34%) were implemented.

As the documentary evidence is due to be returned to the ASSL on Monday 23rd February, we will wait to see how the investigation progresses and what steps are taken to resolve the key issues.


For those of you who are interested in understanding the key queries that the ASSL made against the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the National Ebola Response Centre, I have condensed the report in to the following bullet points, and included the total queried value in both payment currency and Pound Sterling for reference.

If you would like to view the report yourself, it can be found at this link.


The queries over disbursements made by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation are:

  1. Withdrawals from Ebola Operations and Miscellaneous accounts without supporting documents (Le16,269,066,620 / £2,412,339);
  2. Payments from the Ebola Operations accounts without supporting documents (Le12,265,769,650 / £1,818,739);
  3. Loan to the Health for All Coalition made in the director’s name, rather than the organisation’s, and without any loan agreement or proof of repayment (Le7,827,000,000 / £1,160,514);
  4. Duplication of Ebola Sensitisation payment to MP for Constituency 93 (Le110,640,000 / £16,404);
  5. Payments for Radio and Television Ebola sensitisation made through the Ministry ICT Director rather than the service providers (Le171,360,000 / £25,408);
  6. Not withholding the 5% tax for the National Revenue Agency, nor paying across the amounts (Le525,721,555.36 and US$ 70,500 / £123,739);
  7. Not providing adequate supporting documents for the Hazard Payment incentives to casual/volunteer workers (Le25,500,900,000.00 / £3,781,213.31);
  8. Overstatement of Hazard Pay and inconsistencies in serial numbers of recipients in the Bombali District (Le216,800,000 / £32,146.59);
  9. Hazard Payments made to unauthorised recipients at the Connaught Hospital (Le 251,000,000 / £ 37,217.69); and
  10. Disparity between accounted surplus of Hazard Pay allocation and the money which was returned to the Ministry by Rokupa Government Hospital (Le 1,800,000 / £ 266.900).

The queries over procurement practices by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation are:

  1. Procurement documents such as signed contracts, test and examination report on delivery, procurement committee minutes, bidders documents, building plan etc. were not submitted for four contracts including: the construction of Port Loko Treatment and Isolation centre by the CL Group; purchase of 50 ambulances from Premier Logistics & Supplies; supply of chlorine powder from Amjam Company Limited, and the electrical works at Kenema Hospital by Echo Construction Enterprise. (Le 16,746,197,620 / £ 2,483,087);
  2. Payments to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation for the construction of Lakka Government Hospital made through the wrong account were not justified, and the construction process was not accompanied by progress reports nor expenditure returns including invoices and receipts. (Le1,225,685,300 / £ 181,742);
  3. Multiple issues in procurement of construction services the from CL Group for Kerry Town treatment centre, including missing records and reports, contractual errors, unverified performance incentives, early disbursement of contingency fee and several others. (Le1,760,000,000 / £260,968.65);
  4. As above, the procurement of twenty ambulances from Kingdom Security Logistics was riddled with missing minutes, reports, unverified advanced payments, and a lack of inspections and test upon delivery of the vehicles. (US$1,050,000 / £681,928.88);
  5. Again, the procurement process of thirty used vehicles from Royal International Supplies revealed several short fallings including a lack of minutes, invoices, and purchase orders. The vehicles were also not specified as to vehicle make, model, year of manufacture; this lack of information also suggests that there was no knowledge as to the road worthiness of the vehicles. (Le1,350,000,000 / £200,175);
  6. The procurement of 10 ambulances, 5 Toyota Hilux, 1 Toyota Landcruiser, and 48 Motorbikes from Ramesco General Supplies was not accompanied by appropriate minutes and reports of procurement meetings, nor procurement documents relating to the bidding process or specifications of services and goods. Nor were there any accompanied due diligence documents on the supplier company. (US$1,031,000 / £669,589); and
  7. The procurement for the supply of medical supplies from Ramesco General Supplies was, again, missing vital records. Aside from the same lack of competition evidence as above, the performance bond clause from the contract was not available for audit inspection. (US$6,465,424 / £4,199,009).

The query over the handling of donations by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation are as follows:

  1. Cheque donations not honoured by the Sierra Leone commercial bank; cheques totalling over Le50 million exceed the limit handled by the bank and were therefore dishonoured. The auditors managed to track over Le1.5 billion from donors and return it to the Health Emergency Response Accounts.

The queries over the Disbursements made by the NERC are:

  1. Payments from the Ebola Emergency Operations Account were made without adequate supporting documents, such as: expenditure returns, invoices, receipts etc. (Le7,252,309,452 and USD$ 6,183.53 / £1,079,371);
  2. The Ministry failed in its obligation to withhold 5% tax for payments made to various suppliers (Le72,891,142 / £10,808); and
  3. Owing to the vagueness of contractual agreement for the procurement of 20 ambulances, an extra US$48,000 was paid as air freight charges over the pre-agreed and paid amount of US$360,000. In addition, the amounts of Le39,330,000 and US$12,590 were paid to the IPC Travel Agency and Mr. Kawasu Kebbay of the MoFED respectively for air ticket and daily subsistence for 21 days. A review of the travel itinerary revealed that Mr. Kebbay spent only 8 days on this assignment and has not provided evidence of the return of US$7,546.50 for the daily subsistence allowance. (US$60,590 and Le39,330,000 / £45,182).

The query over the procurement procedures of the NERC follows:

  1. The NERC did not follow procurement practices in the sourcing of food supplies to quarantined homes, and only solicited one supplier despite the provision of a prequalified list of existing suppliers. In addition, the procurement of furniture, cleaning materials, and a generator for the Ebola Treatment Centre at the Police Training School did not include a technical valuation or pre-signed contract before delivery. (Le1,349,889,500 / £200,158).


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Largest Donation we’ve Ever Received

Vanessa Mason has long been involved with EducAid. It was her son, Swithun Mason, and James Boardman that were struck by the plight of the Sierra Leoneans, and compelled to help by setting up what is now the charity, EducAid. Since it’s inception Vanessa has always supported the charity, and those most centrally involved. Indeed, when her daughter, Miriam, took up the role as Country Director in 2000 she had an increasingly important job to do in the support of both of her children and the charity.

Vanessa continues to do a lot of work for EducAid, even 20 years on. Since the beginning of the year Vanessa has been organising one of the biggest donation drives that our charity has ever encountered – a logistical operation that many would have been too daunted by. The shipment is due to leave the UK any day now, and last week I caught up with Vanessa to hear how she achieved such a feat, and how she felt now it was coming to a close.

Vanessa, I’d first like to thank you so much for the generosity of time and effort that you have put in to sending this shipment. How did you come up with the idea?

Back in November, when Miriam first talked about taking in Ebola orphans I emailed her this:

“It sounds silly to offer from here, but let us know if/when there is anything we can do by getting stuff to you, putting out messages - or anything else that occurs.” The reply was simple; “Might take you up on that and get you to ship clothes and other stuff.”

As Miriam is far too busy to be troubled with phone calls or emails every week from an anxious - or even just interested – Mum, I keep abreast of what is happening through the EducAid Sierra Leone Facebook page and the articles on the News section of the website. I was reading about the orphans arriving at EducAid with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, so when Miriam wrote to me and said that it would be good to organise some clothes, educational materials, and mp3 players to be sent out to EducAid we thought that it would be a good thing to get people involved with.

It seemed like an achievable feat. I have taken full carloads to be shipped before now, and had to load stuff into large flat pack boxes to be sent in one of the containers going from there, but I’m not sure that I was prepared for the amount that we were going to collect this time.

Well, it’s fantastic that you exceeded your expectations. It seems as though people really engaged with the cause and the charity, how did you go about getting people interested and ready to donate?

Recently I think that people have felt helpless to battle Ebola. With the wide news coverage, and such emotive and vivid stories on radio and TV, many have told me that they are very happy to find that there is something practical they can do to help. I think that most were really glad to have a chance to do something.

I most usually contacted people directly: by word-of-mouth, by phone, e-mail, and facebook. All of the people that I initially contacted already knew about EducAid and the work that Miriam is doing in Sierra Leone, but those people always go on to ask others who may not have known before. It’s a good way to grow awareness for the charity’s work as well as giving people a cause to contribute towards.

Aside from contacting people directly, the collection was announced in our RC Parish Church which serves a lot of the surrounding villages and that brought the collection to a lot of people. It wasn’t just my work though, there were many people involved. Kristina Cooper, who is also the editor of Goodnews Magazine, felt moved to ask her parish priest in Clapham Junction if she could appeal at the Sunday Masses, and she was overwhelmed by the response. Again, people felt that they wanted to give things, but also gave money donations, as well as their time to help deliver

What do you usually tell people when they ask about the Charity itself?
I usually tell them that Miriam is now running 9 schools, all of which provide free education yet regularly obtain the best results in the country. I tell them that EducAid is working with those who, by definition, are among the poorest and least advantaged in all the world. A big thing for me is that all individual donations go directly to the work in the schools, and that Miriam has built a really strong team to lead and teach. I tell people that EducAid may be a small charity, but it is a spearhead of hope fighting on many fronts: gender equality; anti-corruption; raising ambition; all the while re-establishing individual and national self-respect. Now, of course, I also mention the “After Ebola” campaign: the work in the community; the on-going teacher training; and the new work with the orphans. There is so much to say that it’s usually easy to give people reasons to support.

I have had very positive responses because many people where I live are aware of the comforts and advantages, particularly health and education, that we often take for granted. Stories of donations going astray or being swallowed up in admin costs often mean that people are negative about giving to charities, but they are much more happy to do so when reassured on these points. Usually, if people want to find out more I will direct them to the EducAid website, mostly to the News page or the facebook page.

So, what exactly did you send to Sierra Leone? And how did you organise collecting it all.
I sent out a brief letter explaining the situation in Sierra Leone and included a list of things that were needed by the schools. The letter said that the #AfterEbola programme needed to raise £150,000 for more building, furniture, educational materials, and that the collection would include such everyday things as clothes, shoes, books, toys, as well as the blank CDs and DVDs, radios, laptops and MP3 players. I explained that the latter of these are for the lessons she and her staff are trying to get out to the 2500++ of her normal students who are out of school, like all youngsters in the country!

We got a great response and, as far as we could see, though most items were second hand it was in good condition. People did also go out and buy new – including 6x mp3 players from one man.

Fantastic! So, once you had managed to spread the word about your collection, how did you actually organise the logistics? It must’ve been quite some operation!

We decided that we would aim to send the package in the New Year so that we would have the most time to arrange collections and organise the delivery schedule.

In the New Year we began to collect locally, and people were leaving bags of stuff at our house. I had received offers from friends scattered around the London area and began to realise it would be a major job to collect from a wide circle of venues, pack it all, and deliver to the shipping company. I asked 2 friends in London, Ruby Roach in Shepherds Bush and Claire Riche in Clapham, if they would be “clearing houses” and arranged that my godson, Robert, would take his electrician’s van to collect from them.

Ruby collected from family & neighbours; Farah, EducAid’s first UK recruit, also delivered to her house; Claire made her garage available and I told friends in the London area to deliver there.

Initially we were going to go through a shipping company based in Rainham, Essex, about 130 miles from here, that Miriam has used previously. I have done it before with a single carload, but as the quantity of donations began to increase we realised that the charges associated with the shipment would be quite high. Then Miriam put me in touch with Alan Wolstencroft in Banbury who had a local contact with space in a 40ft container which would be shipped to Freetown when it is full. Alan, a local Rotarian, is a Trustee of the Westminster Group charity. Westminster Group plc. have the contract for security at Lunghi International Airport, Freetown. They have a 40 foot container going soon from Banbury, our nearest town, to Sierra Leone, and through Alan we managed to get a big part of the space. Not only were the logistics going to be simpler, but Alan said that he would arrange for it all to be collected from our house and shipped to Sierra Leone free of charge. Such a generous contribution!

Having spoken to both Claire and Ruby in London, we realised that there was an awful lot of stuff to collect. Robert’s van was not going to be big enough, so Maurice Owidi from Oxford volunteered to help. First we hired a Transit van, and then quickly realised that wouldn’t have been sufficient, so we doubled the size! Maurice covered most of the charge for the van, so we’re really grateful to him for that as well as his help arranging it.

In London we had people to help us load the van; special note to Armando, Stuart and Ed who did a lot of the work when we came to collect it from a very full garage. When we got it back to our house we had similar response from those around us. Two friends of mine - 78 and 82 years old - and I spent a whole day packing the flat-pack boxes as fast as Robert could make them up, then Martin continued every day for the rest of the week! We lost count the number of boxes, but we had something in the region of 150 boxes of various sizes, mostly around 25kgs in weight.

When all were ready, Alan Wolstencroft came four times with his van and took 30 – 50 boxes each time. Various people – our Parish Priest, friends, and neighbours – came to our help each time we had to unload or load a van. Once Alan had collected from us, he told me that the boxes we had made up were stacked on 4 x 4 metre square palettes, loaded from the bottom to the top of the container, then shrink-wrapped to hold in place. An enormous number of things.

I hope that it is clear to people reading this that we couldn’t have achieved this alone. There was so much support from so many, and we relied on a huge amount of goodwill – people giving time, energy, money and “goods in kind”. The flat pack boxes, for example, were gifted to us and made the pick-up, packing and delivery possible, not to mention the shipping of course. Without all of the help: friends in London, friends and neighbours here and, most of all, Alan in Banbury … it would have been a nightmare!

After all of the work and excitement it must be satisfying to get it all over, but have you got anything else in the pipeline?

We would be happy to have another collection drive, perhaps after Easter, if Miriam thinks it a good idea. I am sure that we would get the donations of clothes, books, toys, and everything else that we sent, but we would need to organise all of the logistics again!


It is such an inspiring story to hear individuals organise such a complex donation together, and to call on the generosity and initiative of so many of our followers to make something so huge to happen for EducAid. We estimate that Vanessa and her band of EducAid volunteers shipped over 3 ¾ tonnes of clothes, toys, books and vital mp3 equipment to Sierra Leone. From everyone at EducAid, we’d like to thank Vanessa and all of you who donated and volunteered to help this shipment get sent. It was a massive challenge, and a huge logistical operation, but this generosity will have an impact that far exceeds the effort involved for a very long time to come. Thank you.

If you would like to organise your own Volunteering or Fundraising project to support EducAid, you can visit our Fundraising on Your Own page to browse some ideas and examples of how you can contribute.

If you would like to support EducAid’s on-going programmes in Sierra Leone, you can donate on our MyDonate page here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Consciousness, Self-Awareness, and Impact: The Importance of Education

At EducAid we have been devoted to improving the lives of Sierra Leoneans through the provision of top quality education for nearly two decades. We often speak of the value of education to these young people who so often don’t have access to anything, but it is a difficult thing to encapsulate in words. Those of our supporters who have visited our schools in Sierra Leone return with a profound respect and admiration for the work that Miriam and her colleagues do, and the true value it brings. Education can work to alleviate poverty and in many different ways. When you consider the alternative situations and occupations of our potential students, the value that the space and time we allow for academic thought is almost inconceivably high.

The economic situation in Sierra Leone is such that families often expect children and young adults in Sierra Leone to work in order to raise money. It is not a lack of compassion or goodwill that prevents children from attending school, more often it is the cost of access to schooling or the very immediacy of financial need that prevents it. Unlike the UK, Sierra Leone’s industries are mostly in the primary sector. Broadly speaking, service jobs or trades make up the majority of work, and for these an education is not always necessary. Often, it is the skills acquired through working that will stand an individual in the best stead to make a living and a life for themselves. Whilst there is a broad acknowledgement that school is the best place for children to learn, the market for skilled jobs is far lower than in the developed world, and those skilled jobs are so often re-cycled within families and upper societal echelons by way of nepotism and corruption that the opportunity to succeed professionally is seriously obstructed. Add to the reduced opportunity, the very real struggle for families to provide food and shelter leads income to take primacy over the long-term development through a distant, or perceivably impossible, opportunity.

Unfortunately, low life expectancies, high child mortality rates, high birth-rates and lack of educational provision coalesce with the other factors to de-sanctify the reverence that western societies place on the experience and development of youth. These contributory elements lead to a lower regard being paid to the educational experience, whilst the lack of access to affordable schooling prevents many of those who would like their children to attend to do so.

The impact of not having an education is difficult to conceive fully as it impacts all aspects of both an individual’s life, and the society at large. It may have been a long time since you have engaged in any formal education, but what is undeniable is that dedicating time and effort to purely academic development is a truly wonderful thing. The sciences, mathematics, and language are all very real skills that can be carried through in to working life. It can arm an individual with the skills and knowledge to start a business or to achieve in a professional environment. We all live in a world where time is money; we are logged and accounted in terms of productivity, output, and generated revenues. If we are inefficient, we have not generated enough, but education does not work on these narrow terms, it has a secondary and entirely different objective.

The space afforded to creative and critical thinking generates a conception of consciousness, self-awareness, and impact on one’s surroundings. Not only will the educated individual be primed to tackle workplace challenges with greater efficacy, they will be in a better position to rationalise emotions and resolve personal conflicts, as well as be in a position to reference the wisdom and learning of others to develop a moral compass. By providing space and time for personal development, the individual will in turn be able to help those around them in more than just financial or business-related terms. It is so very easy to take literacy for granted, but the access that it provides the individual to access others’ thoughts, emotions, and ideas is profoundly important. I’m sure that everyone reading this will have come across a book that has changed the way that they have thought about things, or put in to words an idea that they have not been able to fully realise. As Western citizens we are afforded this ability by default, and to revere the impact and importance that learning from others has, but access to the most basic education for an individual in Sierra Leone is often left to chance and fortuitous opportunity. Whilst so many charities focus on short-term programmes, EducAid has taken a completely different approach to education and instrumented real change for thousands of children in post-war Sierra Leone.

As well as providing schools that tackle deficiencies in education and allowing space for the children to develop a self-awareness through learning, our education grapples with the poverty of ideas and values. Whilst Sierra Leone has severely needed the support of the world in recent times, the constant NGO presence and culture of aid dependency has reduced the incentive for people to stand up and lead the country by example. The constant presence of aid undermines community cohesion as regions and towns squabble over development fund allocations which in turn further destabilises society. At EducAid we teach our students the values of independence and self-support. From the beginning of their school careers we insist that all students undertake community service in order to understand the benefits and work involved in contributing something to the greater good. We teach the students that the support that they are receiving is not coming for free, or because it is deserved, but from the compassion of other humans. We ask them to emulate our generous donors and to give back to their fellow citizens in any way that they can. Our staff lead from the front, setting an example. During the Ebola outbreak our staff spent their spare time preparing the buildings for the OICC, and those staff that are creating the podcasts do so in their spare time – both of these groups have not asked for, nor expect, any extra pay for these tasks. Those staff members who have been unable to join either of these initiatives have even contributed their own salaries and time in order to build new tables and benches in readiness for the new students that we are anticipating to join after Ebola. This is almost unique in Sierra Leone. There are a handful of charities that initiate domestic volunteer work, but domestic NGO workers will generally only work on a project-by-project basis with no expectation of putting in any extra effort without extra pay. Testament to the unique attitude of our students and staff are single actions from certain people, such as the visit from the UN Ebola health inspector who was so impressed that she donated $1000 USD to the OICC. Ours is an attitude that has garnered note and praise from everyone that visits EducAid, and is one of the reasons that we are so well respected within the country. It is also why international aid organisations are now looking to work with EducAid to invest in sustainable long-term impact, and to continue to provide the access so desperately needed.

Ebola, of course, has disrupted the access to even those lucky few. Less than 1/6th of our school population has been retained within the schools, and we hope every day that each and every one of our students that has not been in school will return, but we fear that many of those will have forgotten the importance that education brings to them. We also worry that families will have become normalised to having another income-generating person around the house and will prevent their child’s return to us. It is from these concerns that Miriam and her team began the Education by Podcast programme – her team have been distributing these podcasts by mp3 player, WhatsApp, and on USB sticks on a weekly basis to keep our students engaged with the syllabus, and to remind them of the very real impact that education can have on an individual.

We’ve made one of our podcasts available below in which you can hear Miriam leading a discursive class from the ‘Education on the move’ team. This week they are discussing the poem Drought by Denys Lefebvre which is transcribed underneath.


Heat, all-pervading, crinkles up the soil;
A deathly silence numbs the molten air;
On beds of rivers, islands scorched and bare,
Warm scavengers of wind heap up the spoil;
And wide eyed oxen, gaunt and spent with toil.
Huddled together near some shrunken pool…
Paint for the shade of trees and pastures cool,
Lashing their tails at flies they cannot foil.
Whilst overhead, the sun-god drives his way
Through halting hours of blinding, blazing light,
Until his shining steeds a moment stay
And disappear behind the gates of night.
And still, no rain. A cloudless, starlit sky
Watches the veld, and all things droop and die.
Denys Lefebvre 

Education is in many cases the only time that our students have to focus on themselves. By accessing literature as illuminating as this poem from Denys Lefebvre, they are able to find focus and self-awareness in their own lives. So many of our students find such enjoyment and personal growth through these studies, and we hope to continue to support as many of them once this Ebola crisis is declared over.

If you think that you could help our students learn we looking for volunteers to come and support our schools in many different ways. You can see how by visiting this link.

We are always looking for book and school supplies, as well as financial support so that we can continue our programmes. As I hope we’ve illustrated, education is critical to personal and social development, and without nationwide and obligatory access to schooling Sierra Leone will struggle to improve itself.

Please continue to support our work in any way you can.

Remember our motto: Learning for life in Sierra Leone.

Education is hope.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Coventry City FC Spurred in to Action

Coventry City Football Club announced recently that they were commencing an exciting initiative to help orphans in Sierra Leone. Towards the end of last year Miriam visited a small village in a rural part of Sierra Leone called Kigbal. The plight of the town was covered in a video by the BBC journalist Andrew Harding, in which he reported the revealed the terrible situation in the village. The video was broadcast widely and attracted responses from many international organisations wanting to assist those trapped in such terrible circumstances.

The village was divided by a road; those suffering from Ebola on one side, and those not yet showing symptoms standing on the other. The chief had been calling the Ebola response teams for days to come and relieve the village with medical support and corpse removal, but only after a week in to the outbreak did they respond. A huge number of lives were lost, and left behind the dead were dozens of orphaned infants and children.

Kigbal is in the Port Loko District where EducAid has four of its schools. There are over 2000 children who have been orphaned by Ebola there. Miriam visited Kigbal shortly after the story had broken and before other international aid and support had started to come. EducAid was able to help some of the children by providing a safe place for quarantine; that was the beginning of our work with many more of the children whose lives have been devastated by Ebola. The number of children needing help is almost beyond imagination, country wide.

Simultaneously, the video was being broadcast via the internet in the UK. On watching the BBC piece, a member of Coventry City FC’s staff noticed that one of the young boys who had lost his father was wearing a club shirt. This simple image, one of a young boy left without a father and whose mother was suspected to have Ebola, spurred him and the club in to action. Mark Hornby, head of marketing at Coventry City FC, said: “It was a very moving report and to then see a boy in a Sky Blues shirt really brought it home and, as a club, we wanted to find out the best way we could help.”

The first point of contact they made was with Andrew Harding. Andrew promptly directed the club on to Miriam, as Country Director of this charity whose work with vulnerable children had touched him. When Miriam told the club more about the situation in Sierra Leone, and the work that EducAid was doing there, they were further compelled to act. After some investigation, the club identified that the shirt had arrived in the country as part of a shirt amnesty some years previously. The truth of Ebola is that when a house is identified as a contagious area, one of the first courses of action is for all of the possessions to be burned in order to stop the virus as early as possible. Upon Miriam telling them of this, the club decided that another shirt amnesty would be an appropriate way for them to help Sierra Leone again.

However, arranging a significant transfer of items to Sierra Leone is not as straightforward as it once was. The decision by the UK government to close flight routes from Sierra Leone in to the UK has made the provision of supplies, both medical and humanitarian, significantly more difficult. As we reported in a post some months ago, these decision are so often driven by political motivations and not by the desire to quickly paralyse the virus at it’s source. Frustratingly the decision has been made, and we are now facing these increasingly difficult supply routes in to the country.

The Coventry Telegraph reports that the club is currently organising the logistics of sending these shirts, but “In the meantime” Mark said, “we’ve purchased 12 copies of ‘Our World, Our Eyes, Our Imagination’ – which captures the story of people in Sierra Leone through a photography project. Two of those will go on display in the community area of our superstore and the other ten will be given to club partners.”[1] This is a great start for our affiliation with Coventry City Football Club.

We are hugely thankful for the support shown by CCFC, and for the support of their fans. We hope that we will be able to get the logistics arranged soon so that we can deliver some of the items that we so desperately need in our schools.

If you think that you would like to help, visit our Fundraising Page for ideas on how to contribute to EducAid. It’s not just about fundraising: spreading the message of EducAid in person and online; organising school talking events and assemblies; and supporting us in many other ways help us hugely.

If you would like a copy of the book that CCFC have purchased, you can find out how to do so here.

If you would like to help us financially, you can do so at our MyDonate page. You will be helping so many young people to fight for a life #AfterEbola.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Women and their Struggle in Sierra Leone

In the first part of this post we outlined the societal rationale that posits Sierra Leonean women lower than the men. This belief is the product of a lack of access to education, for both men and women, but also of the lower expectations of women held by both sexes. While it is difficult to identify what is a cause and what is a consequence of the gender-based discrimination, rape, objectification, family honour, and Female Genital mutilation (FGM) are all ways in which women are physically and psychologically damaged by their lower position in society. As we completed our previous post by saying, we are actively working at eradicating this perception of women as second-class citizens, and have been successfully empowering girls with the belief and tools to combat the discrimination that they are subjected to.

Nothing proves the belief of the international community in the capability of African women more than the revolution in Microfinance projects that has erupted in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 15 years. These Microfinance loans range between $50-1000 USD, and are used for financing small business or individuals. The lack of access to traditional banks, and a lack of infrastructure in the credit industries are creating space for profit-yielding and not-for-profit lenders to invest in human and market potential on a shallow but broad scale. It has been a common theme globally that women have been far more successful in forming groups, applying for loans, and administering the funds in the manner agreed with the lenders. So much so that, worldwide, 68% of Microfinance loans go to women. Due to this trend, it has become a secondary index of these lenders to track gender mobilisation and increased independence of these female-dominated groups. In a report on the Sierra Leonean Microfinance market by SPANDA, entitled Breaking the Cycle of Political and Economic Marginalisation, the author wrote the following:

“As women become micro-entrepreneurs, their household activity is replaced by commercial activity. Ideally, the iron grip of traditional culture on women’s lives is substituted by the freedom of market relations.”[1]

Microfinancing does come with it’s drawbacks, and it’s certainly not clear what all of the impacts are from this societal disruption[2], but the relative security that lenders find in the groups illustrates that Sierra Leonean women are capable of identifying market needs, engaging in organised business, and to run successful cooperatives without the oversight or assistance of their husbands. It also confirms that entrepreneurialism and economic success leads to a greater social independence through means of civic, economic, and social empowerment. Although this report relates directly to micro-finance projects, we draw comparisons between this empowerment to what we do in education.

At EducAid we provide our students with the best tools possible to succeed in Sierra Leone. We try to give our students a rounded education, focusing not only on the three Rs, but also centring their learning around a practical application as well. Concordantly, we have always taught with an emphasis on gender equality. By implementing a number of programmes, we have been able to find the platform and environment to allow girls and women to push themselves to succeed.

Girl Power Group

In this group we focus our girls on knowing their rights and responsibilities. This is both from a social and personal standpoint, and what they should expect from relationships and family.

Women’s Project

In this project we help secondary aged girls who have had their primary education neglected. We help them into mainstream classes through accelerated learning programmes coupled with self-esteem work.

Girls’ Safe House

In the safe house we try to teach the girls that they are strong, beautiful, and capable of anything. We teach our girls that the sky is the limit; here our girls are safe not only from physical abuse and overwork, but also of the emotional and social abuse of being treated as inferior. We teach our girls to believe in themselves, and to treat each other with respect and love.

As we provide a platform for our female students to thrive, it is also important for us to manage the expectations of our male students. If we simply empowered girls without helping our boys to understand the importance and relevance of it, we may only be feeding the fire of conflict. It can be difficult; many of our students will experience polygamy, FGM, and generally lower treatment for women in their everyday life. They may even be expected to participate in this treatment of women, so it is key to the success of our programmes that we give them a platform of understanding for the importance of equality. Equality is something that needs to be reciprocated in order to become effective. This element of our equality programme does come with it’s difficulties because much of the guidance comes directly from our staff who themselves have been brought up in a world of gender-based discrimination. We find that small but symbolic things help all of the students. For example, we make sure that both sexes go in to the kitchen and learn to cook; both sexes collect firewood; the head boy and head girl are equal; and there are both female and male prefects. These symbols are more than just gestures, because in our schools these positions hold genuine responsibility.

Our programmes are taking hold. We are immensely proud of our alumni, and the way that they lead our current students’ thoughts on gender equality. We have a unique and special world at EducAid that, bar the rare indiscretion, is a microcosm of what Sierra Leone should be like all over the country. We show mutual respect and consideration for each other as humans, one that is not dependent on gender, religion, or ethnicity. We know that we still have a very long way to go. We receive some girls who have experienced terrible situations and arrive with some very damaged views on equality. It is only with a supportive, caring, and empowering environment that we can effect real change in these girls.

Our vision for the future is big, but it is certainly achievable in the longterm. We think that gender equality is absolutely necessary to bringing about the reform so desperately needed in this country because, as demonstrated by the Microfinance loans, women in Sierra Leone are often the prudent and sensible parties. We believe that by introducing equality in to Sierra Leonean society from the grassroots we will help to transform this nation in to one that can prosper. We hope that by being centrally involved in empowering women, and sending them in to the workplace and political sphere, our alumni will embody our values and spread them to the nation.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Women and their Struggle in Sierra Leone

Gender equality has been a central pillar of EducAid’s mission since the charity’s inception. In a country with so many social, economic, political, and infrastructural problems, the intricate challenge of confronting this delicate problem is difficult to approach. There is a social mind shift that needs to occur in Sierra Leone, but much of the discrimination occurs within homes, families and communities, and is very difficult for traditional aid agencies to tackle. It is not through a lack of desire or awareness, but more of access and efficacy that they struggle with. Fortunately at EducAid we have a huge input in to our students growing up, and we hope to instil our morals and values in to our students from a young age. We believe that in order to achieve the goal of bringing genuine self-sustainable development to this country, we need to nurture and educate women so that they can take an active role in the reform that is so desperately needed.

It is very easy for those in ‘developed’ nations to look critically at the treatment of women in Sierra Leone. Whilst many would think that the UK and other Western countries are on course towards gender equality, there remains a huge issue of institutional and social gender bias. Women in the UK account for only 22% of MPs and peers, 20% of university professors, 6.1% of FTSE 100 executive positions, and 3% of board chairpersons. Even more drastically, women on average will still earn £140,000 less than their male counterpart over their career.[1]

Furthermore, within our own societies we allow, endorse and consume the sexual objectification of women more fervently than in Africa, in many cases reducing women to a commodity that is there for men’s pleasure – this case is no better highlighted than in News Corp’s The Sun’s Page 3 debacle that turned out to be nothing more than a marketing stunt to sell more papers; even making light of this manipulative tactic with the headline ‘We’ve had a Mammary Lapse’.

The source of gender inequality is the same worldwide, and is one of education, expectations, and empowerment. In Sierra Leone it is, however, a far less orchestrated enforcement of gender stereotypes than one bolstered by Western tabloids, but perhaps even more socially engrained. In Sierra Leone it is simply expected that a woman’s existence will be to cook for their husband and to mother their children.

In terms of education, where a family must purchase school clothing and books in order to participate, girls are in most cases second-choice to their brothers. It is expected that men are more likely to succeed in the workplace due to a woman’s perceived inability to operate in that environment. However, as we know from a Western education, this is simply not the case. A woman’s efficacy in the workplace is more likely attributed to the pre-existing sexism that is within those environments, as well as the self-imposed and lowered institutional expectations that influence their potential for achievement.

There is a general lack of expectation of women from men, and indeed from women themselves. Many believe that because of their gender women do not have the potential to contribute, achieve, or to participate equally with men. There is little expectation that women can hold their own if they stand on an equal playing field, and the lack of prominent established female business leaders or democratically elected female politicians does nothing to contradict this belief. There is an embedded social conception that undermines women, and the lack of successful independent women does nothing to change their own view of themselves as only fit for domestic roles. Although there are some female members of parliament in Sierra Leone, it is unclear what real influence they have and what political relationship they hold with the incumbent party.

Although more women in urban settings receive an education, the ingrained perception of inferiority, and the reliance of women in the professional environment on their looks or their connections further undermines the integrity of education as a genuine path to success. Simultaneously, those women who do make it in to the workplace may lack the competence, qualifications or indeed the inclination to succeed. They therefore further cement the misconceptions surround women’s professional capability, and re-enforce the gender stereotypes further.

There are instances of sexism that are not so easily explained or resolved. Rape in Sierra Leone is common and seldom punished. The legislation on intra-marital rape has not been brought up to international standards and therefore there is no such classification. Marriage is in many cases accompanied with the payment of a bride price from the husband to wife’s family: a gift of goods and / or money in exchange for their daughter. This commoditisation of the woman leads to a sense of ownership in many men, reducing the human value and attributes that women should be afforded.

In fact, rape and other sexual harassment such as touching, groping, or assault is common yet rarely prosecuted. Women are often implored by families not to pursue criminal convictions in order to maintain family honour, and regularly dismissed by police if they do pursue a criminal conviction. This objectification of women has been further exemplified in several rape cases in Sierra Leone over the past few years. In the case that the rapist has been a stranger or community member, rather than pursue the criminal for justice there is a commonly held view that he has damaged the family property. There have been cases when, if the rapist compensates the family with a bag or two of rice, depending on the negotiation, he can then take his victim with him - damaged goods are no use to the family any more….

While this sort of arrangement is not everywhere or in every instance, it is not nearly as uncommon as it should be. Miriam told me that she has seen several occasions when the father of a raped girl has negotiated with the rapist, and even pleaded with the police for the release of the rapist in order to finalise the exchange. A truly horrifying scene to imagine, and one where you must feel that the self-esteem and human worth of the poor victim is shattered, so far that it must be difficult to consider oneself human at all.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is another instance of gender-related control in Sierra Leone, and one that we campaign heavily against. The act is as symbolic as it is horrifying: by removing the sexual enjoyment of women they notionally become a purely functional vessel for procreation. The driving intent behind this savage act are, once again, to reduce the likelihood of promiscuous behaviour and demonstrate the familial control over the young woman. In effect, these are both once again designed to control and protect the family’s asset for financial gain. One of the most terrible realities of FGM is that the act is usually carried out by the women from within the family and community; usually, it will be a mixture of mother, aunts, and community elders that perform it on the young woman. I remember back to Sarian Karim-Kamara at the Overcoming Obstacles: Girls in Sierra Leone fundraising evening that we held last year giving us her personal memories of FGM. There she told us the chilling details of deception and community influence that culminated in her mutilation when she was just 14.

Poor educucation, low aspirations, rape, and mutilation: women face many external struggles in Sierra Leone, but Miriam notes that one of the most crucial elements of EducAid’s fight is to make women believe in themselves. Miriam writes:

‘The women are often their own worst enemy in terms of not actively contributing equally to society. Often, they sit back and behave like a second class of citizen - the men are therefore further armed to say that you can’t leave things to the women.

The reasons for this are many and complicated, but overall women are treated as lower from the moment they are born. They see their mothers and sisters treated as lower, and are subjected to mutilation by those ‘peers’ so it appears as though this is the natural order. Once again, education has not kicked in early enough to dispel these vicious perceptions, and the cycle continues to perpetuate itself. To go against this perception is very difficult when it is engrained from so young.”

At EducAid, however, we are actively against it. Find out tomorrow how we instil the lessons of gender equality in to our students.

In the mean time, visit us on facebook or on twitter.

If you can spare some money, please do help us to fight Ebola. You can do so by clicking on this link. Many thanks