Guest blog from Sarah Alexander: "I witnessed how war continues to affect generations of children"
Sierra Leone is still recovering from a ten-year-civil war which killed 500,000 people, displaced about half the population and destroyed schools, hospitals and livelihoods. Even though the conflict ended 11 years ago, the havoc wreaked by the fighting is still very visible, and the country desperately needs rebuilding.
Actress Sarah Alexander, an ambassador for anti-poverty charity ActionAid, recently visited Sierra Leone and found that, in conflict, it's often children who suffer the most.
Actress, and ambassador for ActionAid
Tue 24-Sep-13 11:48:52
I recently travelled to Sierra Leone with ActionAid, to investigate how child sponsorship is contributing to rebuilding a country devastated by civil war. Throughout my visit I overwhelmingly had my eyes opened to how extreme the poverty is 11 years on.
I first came across ActionAid when I was just a child. My stepfather showed me a letter he had received from a boy he sponsored, Kabba - from Sierra Leone. They wrote to each other a few times each year and for my stepfather it was a wonderful way to feel connected to the charity he supported, and to follow Kabbas progress. For Kabba, I hope it was a way to tell him the world was thinking about him, and was prepared to help.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and destroyed by war, you can sense the strain. The capital is seriously overcrowded, unemployment sky high - but of course it is the children who suffer the most. They are being robbed of a childhood. The war is over, peace restored but conflict continues to affect generations of children long-term. Witnessing this as a person is hard, but as a mum it really hurts.
We headed out of steamy Freetown to rural Bo, where we visited the sponsored Blamawo community. ActionAid have so far provided water, a school, housing and a medical centre. The medical centre was basic. The delivery room wasn't what I'd been expecting - in comparison to what were used to in the UK it was shockingly rundown. I couldn't help but wonder what on earth it wouldv'e been like if ActionAid weren't there.
Before the centre was built, women often died during labour as they had to make a five-mile journey by foot to the nearest hospital. Having gone through labour twice I can't begin to imagine doing it alone, in the middle of the bush with no help, no support - let alone no drugs!
‘I couldn't stop thinking about how throughout the world conflict causes a massive loss of childhood. Within this next generation of children I met growing up since the war it was clear that there was still trauma and suffering.’
Mary the head nurse has a wonderful sense of humour, which comes in pretty handy given that shes got to deal with 15 communities at once - that's about a baby a day. She only has one pair of forceps and sometimes delivers two babies at one time.
I met Jane in the Mbundorbu community and I had a real trigger moment emotionally. She told me her desperate story about her time in the war, her escape to the bush with her eight children when the rebels came, her fight for survival and then she tells me she's hungry now. Her family hadn't eaten yesterday. Sponsorship is so necessary in order for everyone to have food security. As I left this village I couldn't stop thinking about how throughout the world conflict causes a massive loss of childhood. Within this next generation of children I met growing up since the war, it was clear that there was still trauma and suffering.
Every single child I asked about their parents told me one of them was dead. Not all to war, some to sickness, but this just highlights the need I saw everywhere - from the necessity of more medical centres, and re-education to housing. In the last decade, 10 million children worldwide have been psychologically traumatised as a result of war. Many children die or become gravely ill as a result of living in conflict.
Back in Freetown, I met Sahr, the head of the Mayemie Training Centre. It's funded by sponsorship and is for anyone who's on the streets, orphaned, homeless or has nowhere to go. A lot of the young people were former child soldiers or had turned to prostitution during the war. Here they are taught a skill: welding, carpentry, tailoring and catering. Orphaned by the war himself, Sahrs inspiring personality was stamped all over the place. He was caring and passionate about everyone who attends the centre so there is such a warm feeling.
On my last day I spoke to Kadiatu, 13, who's benefited from sponsorship at the Kola Tree School. Her mother was shot dead in the conflict while she was feeding from her. Fortunately she was found and raised by her grandmother. She loves Maths and wants to be a nurse. She is a remarkable girl, incredibly bright and switched on.
Finally I went and did drawing in a classroom with the little ones - some the same age as my son - they simply loved it. The children really are the future; this has been my reoccurring thought all along.
I met many passionate people who are all warm and dignified. They've suffered so much it just seems ridiculous that everybody isn't stamping and screaming all the time.
Now that I'm back in the world of scripts and filming I just can't stop thinking about those children and wishing I were back there with them. Please help us to give everyone the right to a happy childhood.
Sarahs trip marks the beginning of ActionAid's campaign to rebuild the shattered lives of millions of children growing up in countries scarred by war. Over 2,000 UK child sponsors are needed for children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda. Watch more of Sarahs story and help a child in conflict here.
To find out more information about the campaign visit: www.actionaid.org.uk/child
By Sarah Alexander
Thank you for sharing your experiences in Sierra Leone - great blog post.
I haven't visited Sierra Leone but spent quite a bit of time in northern Uganda which is recovering from decades of conflict. As you say, it is the children (and women) who suffer the most.
ActionAid is a great organisation - I've sponsored a child with them for the past 8 years. Hopefully your blog will encourage others to do the same
Sarah a very moving article. I am with you in all you say 100%. There is also Syria to think of. We are the ones that can and do the good. I wish your words could find their way to the screen of the people who cause these atrocities on humanity. I know it I that has to look within to be the change, but I can't help wishing that "they" should change, that innocent lives live without love, family, food and education because of "their" inability to meet and communicate, which is the beginning of the road to peace. Violence in one sense is the inability to make sense and articulate ones desire of power. It all seems so senseless when worldwide we know we can come to some arrangement to all live together, no matter how tough, we can do it. It's called compromise or perhaps humanity; and I would rather compromise and learn to live together than take a bullet. Thank you for your good work.
Thanks for this Sarah
I will look into sponsoring.
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