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Helping students in Sierra Leone stick with school

The pandemic disrupted learning for all students in ways large and small, but for some children, it threatened to permanently derail their education. A recent UN report estimated that when public schools in Liberia reopened in December 2020, for instance, 43% of students did not return.

With support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), London-based nonprofit Street Child has sought to help ensure that young people in Liberia and Sierra Leone are able to continue going to school and to complete their basic education. All told, Street Child reached more than 16,000 kids.

In four counties across Liberia, Street Child enabled improvements at 40 schools, including by repairing essential school infrastructure like roofing, distributing classroom materials, offering stipends to volunteer teachers, and running teacher trainings on topics like lesson planning and teaching strategies.

In 40 remote communities in Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province, Street Child reached schools, individual students, and their caregivers with assistance, focusing particularly on facilitating the transition from primary to junior secondary school. This transition is a critical juncture where incidence of dropping out of school can spike as students face longer commutes to school and higher costs.

At 40 schools, Street Child provided educational materials like textbooks and exercise books, handwashing stations to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and classroom furniture. These straightforward interventions were correlated the markedly improved outcomes on the national exam students take to enroll in junior secondary schools, a process in which Street Child supported 450 children in the fall of 2021.

To overcome the cost barriers associated with enrolling, the organization provided these students with supplies including uniforms, backpacks, exercise books, and more. And to ensure that families are able to cover educational costs in the long term, Street Child offered students’ caregivers business skills training, individualized business mentorship and guidance, and cash grants.

The caregiver of one 12-year-old student in Kaliahun in eastern Sierra Leone, her grandmother, used her grant to set up a palm oil business whose profits support household expenses, including educational costs.

“I got up every day and went to work for people before going to school, in order to get our daily meal,” the student said. “I appreciate Street Child for helping me, as I can now go to school very early with the hope that my grandmother is doing very well in the business.”

Helping young people access education is a major focus of SNF’s grantmaking, and was a particular focus of SNF’s global COVID-19 relief initiative which included grants to organizations doing this work like Advocates for Children of New York, CAMFED International in Zambia, United World Schools in Cambodia and Nepal, Malala Fund in India and Pakistan, Ayuda en Acción across Central and South America, and others.