Area: 71,740 sqr. km.
Population: 6,294,774 (July 2008 est.)
Official language: English
Ethnic groups: African 90% (Temne 30%, Mende 30%, others 30%), Creole 10% (descendants of freed Jamaican slaves)
Religion: Muslim 60%, indigenous beliefs 30%, Christian 10%
Human Development Index ranking: 177/177 (UNPD 2008)
Literacy rate: 35.1%
HIV/AIDS: 1.6% (Unicef 2003 est.)
Total orphans as a percentage of all children: 17.5% (Unicef 2006)
SOS Children’s Villages in Sierra Leone:
At the beginning of the ’70s, the idea was born to start SOS Children’s Village activities also in Africa. Sierra Leone was one of the first countries that the then project leader, Werner Handl, made contact with. After talks with the local authorities, SOS Children’s Villages received a plot of land in Lumley, outside the city centre of Freetown, for the establishment of the first SOS Children’s Village in Sierra Leone. Consequently, a village with an adjoining kindergarten was established in 1973/74. The first 45 children moved into the SOS Children’s Village Freetown in August 1974. In the same year, a national SOS Children’s Village Association of Sierra Leone was founded as legal entity for the work in this country.
Due to the very poor educational facilities for children and youths in Sierra Leone, SOS Children’s Villages decided later on to build a primary and secondary school and a Printing Press in Freetown. Over the years various youth housing facilities and programmes for assisting youth independence were also established. In February 1983, a second SOS Children’s Village together with a kindergarten and youth village became operational in Bo in the interior of Sierra Leone.
Because of the huge number of children that had been affected by polio, SOS Children’s Villages established a facility for the physically challenged in Freetown in 1988. Between 1995 and 1999, the situation in Sierra Leone was extremely unstable with periods of raging civil war. Being in serious danger the SOS Children’s Village Bo had to be temporarily evacuated for several times. Other SOS Children’s Village facilities in Bo and Freetown had to be closed down during the war.
The SOS Children’s Village Freetown also served as a temporary refuge for as many as 2,000 refugees. In 1999, SOS Children’s Villages organised an emergency relief programme for some of the 30,000 people that had fled from the street fights and had taken refuge in the Freetown sports stadium: medicine, food, clothing, blankets and tents were distributed. After the peaceful re-election of President Ahmed Kabbah in May 2002, life in Sierra Leone has slowly been returning to normal. In spite of the difficult situation during the war years, the work of SOS Children’s Villages in Sierra Leone has always been highly appreciated.
The renaming of the “Lumley Beach Road” in Freetown to “Hermann Gmeiner Avenue” in January 1997 is a token of this appreciation. The SOS Children’s Village Association of Sierra Leone which had been founded in 1974, had also no more possibilities of activities during the war years starting with 1992. Therefore between the years 2000 and 2002 this association was re-activated and in September 2002 a new trust was founded.
In order to address the bad situation of the many orphans and vulnerable children in the central part of Sierra Leone plans for a third SOS Children’s Village were developed in the following years. During 2006 a third SOS Children’s Village has been be constructed in the city of Makeni. The facility also comprises a Kindergarten and primary school which both started their first school term in the school year 2007/08.
At present there are three SOS Children’s Villages in Sierra Leone, two SOS Youth Facilities, one SOS Home for the Physically Challenged, three SOS Kindergartens, three SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools, one SOS Vocational Training Centre and one SOS Social Centre/Family Strengthening Programme.