Interview by Kitty Parker Brooks, Safeworld Student Writer. February 2015.
We Yone Child Foundation (WYCF) is a charitable organisation* based in the communities of Kroo Bay and George Brook in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This group works tirelessly to “Provide sustainable, high-quality education and care to underprivileged children”, and to empower young men and women.
WYCF runs schools in both of these areas, alongside other important community based projects. For example, in 2012 they ran two different projects, one of which focused on sex and gender-based violence, run by a volunteer from Germany. She used tools such as “In Her Shoes”, training other volunteers to be mediators in situations of domestic violence.
The other project aimed to improve the health and hygiene of the children and their families by running after-school workshops, focusing on issues like cholera, HIV/Aids, food, and water. This project successfully reduced the rate of child absenteeism due to illness, and made the children and their families more aware of doing small but practical things, like using soap more frequently, as a way to improve general health.
Santigie Bayo Dumbuya is the founder and programme director of the WYCF.
Santigie was forced to be a child soldier during Sierra Leone’s Civil War, but was re-integrated into society whilst he was studying in Freetown.
In 2009 he decided to use his education and professional training to help children living in Freetown through education, using volunteers and his professional network of connections.
I was lucky enough to interview Santigie, despite him and his team dealing with the recent Ebola outbreak in Kroo Bay:
What are the biggest changes you see in the children that you work with and teach?
“The Number of children who had no access to education can now write at least simple words and also have a space where they can go and learn. Our relationship with the children improves immensely."
This is important because many of the children "find it very difficult to honestly communicate with you especially when they face problems at home and even at school."
"All the children have freedom to play with us and share with us their thoughts and even ask for help freely without hesitation when they need it. The children also slowly improve in their hygiene practices as we teach all the time to prevent them from any health problem."
WYCF is building schools in both Kroo Bay and George Brook, which Santigie feels “will change the feelings and thoughts of children about education and will increase their love for education”.
Is the local community involved in the running of these schools?
“Yes the communities and families of the children are fully involved in the running of the school and we make sure in all our agreements parental representation is always there”.
Does the recent civil war still affect the work of the charity today? And how do the schools deal with Sierra Leone’s recent history of violence?
“In Kroo Bay, 99% of the people settled there as a result of displacement during the civil war.
They have relied on free donations from charities, which makes it very difficult to change their mindset when it comes to project implementation that emphasises self-reliance. They are very accommodating though, and the children are friendly as well.
It requires good understanding of the people and the community for any person wanting to change or develop the community."
It has taken five years for the community to truly accommodate WYCF. Santigie has developed a level of trust that no other outsider has ever been able to build in Kroo Bay. This is what makes WYCF unique.
"We have a Child Protection Policy and our partners, like Fight For Peace International, help us to reduce the violence among children and also help greatly to stop the teachers from hitting the children during classes and playing. But it requires huge work to stop parents or carers from hitting children at home when they make simple mistakes.”
Has the local Ebola crisis affected We Yone Child Foundation’s work and if so, in what ways? Are you receiving less international support?
Although WYCF has been able to continue with the construction of the school in George Brook.
“Most of our planned projects, especially the construction of the Kroo Bay project, have come to a halt due to the Ebola outbreak”
“Our schools closed and children as well as parents continue to ask us when schools will reopen. There was a serious panic among teachers, parents, WYCF workers, and the children.
Unfortunately we did not receive any international volunteers due to the outbreak, and have fewer local volunteers to help with our projects. Our funds have been diverted to Ebola relief and Ebola community education programs, leaving other projects under-funded or with no funding at all.
As an organisation, we proactively engage our children, parents, carers, and the community as a whole on how to protect and prevent themselves from Ebola. Also, we use bleach to protect our children and distribute soap to encourage our children and their parents to practice hand washing and basic hygiene.
We also call Doctor Marta Lado, a Spanish doctor, to help us answer the questions posed to us by community, children and parents. We have trained 10 community-based organisations to carry out training and Ebola education in different slum communities around Freetown.
We partner with Street Child of Sierra Leone on feeding and relief programs and house to house Ebola education.”
Aside from the Ebola outbreak, what are the biggest challenges that the charity is currently facing?
“Overcrowded houses and very poor sanitation cause huge problems with preventable diseases. These cause untimely deaths of parents, leaving behind orphaned children. The Ebola outbreak has created triple the number of orphans children and single parents in the country.
The poor economic condition of the country has an adverse effect in our lives and our projects. Most of our children are exposed to dangerous drugs and alcohol and there is a high rate of teenage pregnancy among the girls. Unemployed parents often lead the children, especially the girls, to fall into prostitution - some as young as 12, while they try to survive. The education structure in Sierra Leone is in chaos and the demand for help from other communities is high.”
If people want to help, what is the most useful thing that they can do for the charity?
“People can help us by financing our projects, which they can find on our website.
They can also help with fundraising by working in close contact with Nick Mason, who works in the UK office of the organisation. We need both remote and in-country volunteers to help fill the gap within the charity’s activities and bring new innovative ideas in line with the charity’s vision and mission.
Lastly, we need help with recommendations and connections to donors and potential partners.”
There are a number of ways that people can help the organisation and its work. What is clear is that the work We Yone Child Foundation does is invaluable to these children and to these communities. With the recent Ebola outbreak WYCF’s work has become even more important, and the need for funding even greater.
* WYCF is a registered charity in Sierra Leone and a certified Community Based Organisation in Freetown.
WYCF has a board of Trustees in Sierra Leone comprised entirely of Sierra Leonean citizens and an international board of advisors consisting of senior leaders and former volunteers.
WYCF does not currently hold any legal status in the UK or USA and, as yet, donors are unable to benefit from any tax benefits.