Sierra Leone, a West African nation, is one of the world’s poorest countries. As a consequence of the 11-year war that ended in 2002, the country’s 6 million people have suffered untold consequences. Unfortunately, the early economic development advances, that were well underway before the conflict, ceased.
It is estimated that over 300,000 children live without parents and child labor is common, including prostitution. Many girls fall victim to child marriage and teen pregnancy. There is also a growing incidence of child trafficking. Educational opportunities are severely limited because of a scarcity of schools and teaching professionals. Less than half of Sierra Leoneans over 15 can read or write. The country faces a health care crisis with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and an average life expectancy of only 48 years. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continues in many communities despite the dire physical and psychological consequences.
Women represent more than half of the population in Sierra Leone and they are the principal providers of care work, which often goes unpaid. Their participation in the political process is very low due to the oppressive cultural norms and, according to UN Development Programme, nearly all women in Sierra Leone will suffer some form of sexual or gender based violence by the end of her life span.
What Is KaWDA Doing to Effect Change?
Katanya Woman’s Development Association (KaWDA) was formed in 1996 to bring dignity and hope to women and children by providing access to education, skills training and support. KaWDA provides young women with courses in cooking, sewing and small business development so that they can be economically independent, avoiding prostitution. Children, including those who have been orphaned, are enrolled in the KaWDA Children’s Center, where they are provided with educational opportunities as well as basic needs. Over 300 youngsters attend the KaWDA Children’s Center each year.
KaWDA’s founder, Ann Marie Caulker, has had first hand experience with many of the misfortunes that effect women and children in Sierra Leone. She lost her mother at a young age due to domestic violence. She was forced into early marriage and became pregnant, only to lose her first child at birth as a teenager. In spite of huge obstacles, she completed teachers college and established a school, initially for orphans and young girls escaping FGM. She also founded an organization called National Movement for Emancipation and Progress (NaMEP) to advocate against FGM and early marriage. NaMEP successfully created a strong coalition of 45 organizations across Sierra Leone that worked to build awareness about the dangers of the practice of FGM.