Over 70 children orphaned by the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic and the 2017 mudslide in Freetown have benefitted from critical supplies of school materials from the NGO FOCUS 1000 and its partner the UK-based charity Sierra Leone World Trust For Children (SLWT).
The presentation of the packages that included school uniforms, shoes, bags and books was done on Saturday, September 18. The ceremony which was also marked by presentation of awards to children who did well in public examinations in the last academic year, was convened at the conference hall of the YWCA in Freetown.
SLWT was established in 1999 by Sierra Leoneans resident in the United Kingdom whose goal was to promote education and health for children and youths.
Since then over 5000 people have benefited from their support, according to Trudy Morgan, one of the Trustees of the organization and whose family has been the main source of funding for the charity.
SLWT doesn’t operate an orphanage, instead it relies on institutions working on the ground with needy children. The charity said it decided to partner with FOCUS 1000 which was looking to expand its operations to cater for other vulnerable segment of the population like orphans.
FOCUS 1000, established in 2012, has until recently focused on the promotion of growth and development of children under five years of age through encouraging recommended health seeking behaviours among parents, with a focus on the prevention of maternal and infant mortality.
Mohamed Bailor Jalloh, Chief Executive Officer of the NGO, said their aim now is to go beyond that vulnerable age to help the children get a foundation at attaining good education.
“We know [that] after building the foundation of a house it is to build the other blocks. So we are now in the area of building the other blocks. That’s why we are dealing with orphans, to support them in terms of education, food and mentoring,” Mr Jalloh told KMN’s William Wise Koroma in an interview on the sidelines of the event.
According to officials, the beneficiary children have been under the SLWT project from young age. Each child is attached to a caregiver, some of them their distant relatives or other good Samaritans who are willing to help by serving as guardians.
During Saturday’s ceremony, each caregiver received a bag of rice as support towards their efforts. The beneficiary caregivers hailed the organisations for the support which they say will go a long way in helping the kids focus on their education.
Besides the supply of materials, some of the children had the opportunity to get registered for birth certificate for the first time in their lives.
According to officials, 80 percent of the children under the FOCUS/SLWT programme were not registered at birth, which meant that they were stateless.
A team from the Directorate of Births and Deaths, headed by its director, Brima Kamara, was at hand to conduct the registration exercise. Mr Kamara told KMN that registration of a child is the starting point of their legal identity, noting that as part of their effort to fulfil their mandate, they decided to work with institutions working with children like FOCUS.
“When you register the child, they become entitled to not only you as a biological parent but also as somebody who has been recognized by the state as a citizen of that country. And for all other subsequent identities, the source document is the birth certificate. So it is very fundamental,” said Mr Kamara.
Through its SLWT programme, FOCUS says it intends to establish a long-term relationship with NCRA, under which the directorate of Births and Deaths fall, to ensure that all children who do not have birth certificates are provided one. The NGO also intends to use its community engagement outfit – Kombra Network – to mount a campaign to educate parents on the importance of birth registration.
“We at FOCUS 1000 believe in the convention on the right of the child which says that every child must have a name and identity and that identity is the birth certificate,” Jalloh said, stressing: “If you miss that certificate, you will have denied the child a lot of benefits in life.”