SWAHP reaches out to schools in Sierra Leone

Lindsey Ahlen

Over the long winter break, several Lawrentians from the group Students War Against Hunger and Poverty made a service trip to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Associate Professor of Government Claudena Skran, who had previously lived and researched in this small country on the coast of West Africa, led the trip. The group of six travelled along with two other students doing separate studies and internships.
SWAHP was funded partly by LUCC and partly by Professor Alan Parks through the Pieper Grant. The rest of the students managed to compensate for themselves. The students’ mission while in Freetown and later in the town Mattru Jong was to assist Skran with the schools she had initially targeted for funding with her Kids Give program.
The students briefed themselves before departing for Africa. However, not many things could have prepared them for the crazy driving, overwhelming attention, dirt, sunburn, the dance scene and of course the unexpected stops along the way to wherever.
The best surprises came from interviewing students and their families at the schools.
At Comforti school in Calaba town, right outside the capitol city of Freetown, the Lawrence students interviewed around 25 students, aged 8-13.
Sixteen of the interviews were held in the children’s homes with their families. Questions focused on what the children were studying in school, how often they attended, where their families came from, and what sort of food they ate.
The scholarship day at Comforti school was accompanied by a sports day, led by LU Women’s Soccer Captain Sarah Ehlinger, who used money raised by SAAC to buy soccer goals and pennies.
Cleats and soccer balls were also donated to Comforti by the athletic department. Upwards of 36 scholarships were awarded to students at Comforti school.
This school has ranked first and second on the national test for sixth grade students, competing with 4,000 national schools and some international schools, even though, as senior and co-president of SWAHP Natalie Grattan stated, it is one of the “poorest areas of Freetown.”
In addition to Freetown, the students traveled all the way to the small town of Mattru Jong, where they were greeted by the teachers of FAWE school and their neighbors with singing, dancing and celebration.
Most children in small towns of Sierra Leone have never seen a Westerner, making the students from Lawrence quite a spectacle.
At FAWE, the scholarship day began late, as usual, with another sports day, and around 100 happy faces excited to receive pencils, study packs, and notebooks.
SWAHP paid for the activity fees of 200 children at the FAWE school for girls.
“Although FAWE is supposed to be a government school [and thus kids are not supposed to pay fees], the government has not actually sent them any money, so they were charging activities fees to pay for the upkeep of the school,” stated Grattan.
The money used for the school’s upkeep went towards 95 sets of benches and tables, made for the school at no profit by a local vocational school, OIC.
The negotiations between OIC, teachers of FAWE school for girls, and Skran, along with SWAHP, represents what people can do in Africa and how Lawrence has made a difference.