In villages across Sierra Leone, most parents—and the burden is usually on the mother—must walk several miles to farm, carrying their children on their backs. Children are often left unattended or in the care of siblings as young as five years of age—who themselves need care, supervision, and schooling. Often, their only option is to leave them sitting under a hut while they tend to their crops, in hopes of providing food for their families. These children are at risk from countless dangers, including fire, falling trees, and exposure to mosquitoes carrying malaria.
The people of Sierra Leone have endured generations of trauma. A brutal civil war of unspeakable violence and atrocities raged through the country from 1991-2002, and an Ebola virus epidemic in Sierra Leone occurred in 2014, leaving in its wake a reported 12,000 orphaned children.
According to UNICEF, Sierra Leone had the second highest under age 5 mortality rate in the world in 2013. In rural Sierra Leone, the issues of food insecurity, poor nutrition and health, environmental degradation, and lack of economic access are directly connected with limited early childhood development and education, illiteracy, child labor, violence, and neglect within and outside of homes.
In 2012, SLFND founder Hindolo Pokawa was inspired to change the child mortality rate while also developing the foundation for a new democracy that integrates early childhood education with permaculture principles and civic engagement in rural farming communities throughout Sierra Leone.
"The idea to launch an initiative that would promote non-adversarial relationships and deliberative approaches to decision-making at interpersonal, institutional, and societal levels began in 2012, through a Human Rights Fellowship award. What I was able to achieve at that time was development of a process for the disability rights community to interface directly with local government. I returned to the United States to be with my daughter. Seeing her learn and grow in her daycare sparked in me the realization that laying the foundation for a new democracy required work not just with young people but also with very young children like my daughter. While my daughter is learning to read and write her letters, identify and label her feelings, and stay safe, most children her age in rural Sierra Leone are playing among themselves unsupervised while their parents tend to the farm. Even now after the war, many will have experienced the trauma associated with poverty and disease, particularly while the country is afflicted with Ebola.
After several conversations with those interested in Sierra Leone and Africa, early childhood education, nonviolence, civic engagement, and sustainable development, a small group of us decided to broaden SLFND’s work from my original vision as a training and advocacy organization focused on systemic change to an organization that included the delivery of services like early childhood care and education—as both an end in itself and as the means to an end in which poor people, especially women, could contribute to decisions that affect them and in which Sierra Leone’s next generation would be fully equipped to do so."
- Hindolo Pokawa
SLFND’s priority is establishing the country’s first rural early childhood education program on its first rural permaculture farm. SLFND's Dovalema Early Childhood Center (Dovalema meaning “where children grow” in the Mende language of Sierra Leone) and the Ta-Valema Permaculture Farm & Learning Lab (TaValema meaning “source of germination”), will serve together as a laboratory for children (age one to five), adults, and elders to cultivate non-adversarial ways of interacting with each other, with institutions, and with the environment.
We aim to ensure that 250 participating young children grow in a healthy, safe, and stimulating environment where their nutritional and other developmental needs are fed quite literally by the farm. Having the childhood center on the farm will allow village children to connect with the land and nature in an environment designed to foster their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth. It will also allow village adults to meet their families’ nutritional needs without compromising their children’s safety and development. Beyond their increased access to food from the farm, Mondema village's remaining (non-attending) 250 children between age 1 and 5 will benefit from Dovalema's parent education and child advocacy efforts.
We anticipate Dovalema and related work in the community will drive the improvement in participating and non-participating children’s survival and capacity to participate meaningfully in and contribute positively to their families, schools, and communities within three years. We will measure improvement through indicators that UNICEF already tracks longitudinally.
Work has already begun on 20 acres of land that the Gorama Mondema community has provided for this effort in Kenema District, Eastern Province. We have begun installation of a water filtration system, built the raised beds, and procured livestock such as goats, chickens, ducks, and rabbits for our sustainable animal farming program. We have identified teaching staff and started writing a culturally-specific, environmentally-focused and trauma-informed curriculum.
We have come so far, and now we need you - please help us to make sure we will open the doors of the Dovalema Early Childhood Center to 250 eager and deserving children in 2017.